Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Growing Animal Feed

As the price of grain continues to rise with the ever evolving energy prices here in Hickery Holler we start to think of ways to grow animal food to supplement the grain we have to purchase. We know that we must become more self sufficient in not only feeding ourselves but also our livestock in order not to fall prey to those ever rising grain prices. We look back to the past and how they were fed before the invention of the local corner feed store. How did our grandparents feed their flock?

I remember as a child having a feed room at the back of the barn with an attached corn crib which stored dried ear corn. On the wall was a wooden box with a corn sheller attached. This was a metal device with a handle that you dropped an ear of corn into and turned the handle and it took the dry corn kernels off the ear.  Another box was beside it that had an attached grinder with a handle. If you wanted cracked corn you ran it through the grinder and turned the handle and you had cracked corn come out into the box. From there it was fed to the chickens, hogs or whatever livestock you needed it for. That setup sure saved a sore thumb from taking those kernels off by hand. 

Grandma also saved that curdled milk and extra buttermilk for the pigs and chickens. There were even special feeders made for feeding clabbered milk to chickens. And those table scraps always went to either the pigs or chickens. Today here in Hickery Holler we also feed scraps, old bread and pastries to our livestock. Like grandma before us nothing goes to waste. Now that the weather has warmed we also pull weeds regularly from the garden and flowerbeds. These tender young greens are great fed to the chickens and rabbits while also helping to keep the gardens clean and cut down on feed bills at the same time.

In the garden this year we will be planting some new crops and increasing some old ones just for the animals. Here are some crops we are considering.

 Sunflowers : I buy sunflower seeds every winter for feeding the songbirds but never considered feeding it to my livestock. This year we will be growing sunflowers to feed the heads to our chickens and even rabbits. Sunflower seeds provide high-energy feed for livestock due to their high fat content. According to the National Sunflower Association of Canada "one pound of fat contains 2.25 times as much energy as one pound of carbohydrates from feed grain or forages".

  Field Peas are part of a class of cover crops, the legumes, and are grown for their super-duper nitrogen fixing ability. Plants like peas, clover, and beans have little colonies of bacteria living on the roots of the plant that take nitrogen from the air and supply it directly to the legume plant. By growing legumes as a cover crop, however, you add significant quantities of nitrogen fertilizer once the nitrogen rich plant tops and root systems are dug into the ground to decompose.
The benefits of cover crops are more than just recycling and adding nutrients. They can be used to suppress weeds, control erosion, discourage pests, and greatly increase soil organic matter.  They say that after the peas are picked that the remaining stems and  leaves can have as much as a 35% protein level. Here in Hickery Holler we will be growing field peas not only for a cover crop but also to feed the chickens, pigs and us.

Nothing like a big pot of purple hull peas cooked in a cast iron pot with onions and a ham bone. Served up with a big slice of buttermilk cornbread. Yum..... 

    Mustard (Brassica spp.), is a native to temperate regions of Europe, was one of the first domesticated crops. This crop's economic value resulted in its wide dispersal and it has been grown as a herb in Asia, North Africa, and Europe for thousands of years. Here in Hickery Holler we grow mustard every year and pick for the tender young greens which I can in jars or freeze for winter greens. From experience we know that the chickens love the leftovers. So this year we are planting a little extra for both the chickens and pigs.

 Squash ( yellow crookneck, zucchini, pumpkin) I group these all together as they are all in the squash family. Every year we grow these three squash in our gardens. This year we will be planting extras. Not only do they provide vegetables for my freezer and jars but seeds that we roast ourselves as healthy snacks. Last year our supply of leftover pumpkins alone supplemented our chickens diet clear into mid December. I grow Yellow Crookneck squash, Black Beauty zucchini and Long Island Cheese pumpkin . All three of these varietiess are heirloom and open pollinated which means that I can save my own seeds for these from year to year. Thus saving me the expense of having to re buy seed every spring. If allowed to stay on the vine can reach substantial size and the chickens and pigs will eat all three. All three do well in this climate and can be grown for both human and animal consumption.

REID'S YELLOW DENT (Zea Mays) was the Grand Prize Winner at the 1893 Columbia Exposition (Chicago World's Fair). Developed by James L Reid, it was noted as the first hybrid corn -- that "changed the face of corn in America." Of course it is now a stabilized open-pollinated heirloom, very dependable and adaptable to various growing conditions. This year for the first time we will attempt to produce our own field corn. We have not grown field corn in the past because of obstacles of storage. This is an open pollinated field corn and we are at least hoping to get a start of seeds from it. It may take a year or so to save an adequate amount of seeds but at least we are on the right track and this will allow us time to build a corn crib. The other obstacle is rodent control. So we have lots of research in our future. Anyone out there grow and store their own field corn please feel free to share any tips.

This is just a small start in our goal of self sufficiency with our livestock. Hopefully as time goes on we will be able to add other crop such as sorghum, amaranth and other small grain to our food stores for our animals. We will always have to purchase some grain but it is always nice to know that with allowing them to free roam for small amounts of time each day and supplementing their diets we can reduce their grain consumption without compromising their health. And maybe in the long run many of these crops can also feed us as well as provide support to beneficial insects and many of the cover crops also helping to enrich the soil for future crops. 

Sounds like smart farming and a winning situation for all of us living here in Hickery Holler.

Anyone have mwemories of what was grown in the past for consumption by livestock.

Blessings from The Holler

The Canned Quilter  


  1. Wonderful ideas. We still have our corn sheller so it won't be difficult to start this again. We always shock the stalks for the stock anyway.

    I believe people who have this knowledge will fair better in the coming times.

  2. As expensive as everything is getting-this is a super idea! Loved seeing all the things your going to grow this summer below : )

  3. Thanks for all this great information, CQ.
    I will need to get a corn sheller.
    It's amazing how much field peas look like wild peas.
    We have hundreds of wild peas on the farm here, but according to google, they're poisonous. :(
    Happy Thursday to you! :-)

  4. I grew Reid's yellow dent this year. I had pretty good luck with it for the first year. I planted it to feed my chickens, but the rabbits like it more and they eat the cob and all. I had an old piece of 1/4 inch wire that I laid on scrap 4X4,s then I placed old car tires on top with another piece of wire on the top. They hold quite a lot of corn and it keeps the rodents out and allows for good ventilation. I planted a 5o'X50' area and filled 9 tires. Just an idea for a cheap corn crib.


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