Having livestock on your homestead or farm can be a wonderful source of meat, eggs and dairy — not to mention that animals are fun to have around!
But livestock love to eat, and if you’re feeding your animals through the winter, or feeding them primarily store-bought grain, their upkeep can get expensive fairly quick. If you want all the benefits of having livestock, but want to save a little money while doing it, there are several things you can incorporate into your feeding system that will help cut down the bill.
Free-Range and Pasture
Perhaps one of the simplest ways to cut down on your feed bill is to make sure your livestock have access to fresh pasture. In addition to your typical grazers like goats, horses and cows, poultry thrive when they have access to the protein-rich bugs and worms found in healthy pasture. If you live in a climate with lots of creepy crawlies like spiders, grasshoppers, etc., you won’t need to purchase as much grain. Not only will it save you money, but the extra protein will keep your birds healthier, too!
In addition to whatever pasture may naturally occur on your property, you can plant specific fodder crops in your field that will cut down on your store-bought feed bill; it also will increase your animals’ nutrition, even during winter when natural pasture is scarce.
For the growing season, plant tasty forage species in your pasture like Timothy grass, alfalfa and clover. During the winter when your grain and hay feed bill would be the highest, you can plant cold-tolerant species like cereal rye, winter wheat and rape. If you have pigs, cattle or sheep, then plant the fodder varieties of root crops like beets, turnips or other brassicas for winter grazing. It’s best to have a mixture of annual and perennial, and cool-weather and warm-weather species in your pasture to ensure that there is plenty of variety for your animals year-round.
Grow Your Own
Many farmers feed their animals hay, but hay can be expensive, depending on that year’s prices, and you’ll need to have storage for a fair bit of it. Growing or sprouting your own fodder grains during the winter is a great, fresh alternative to feeding hay. It’s also a great solution if you don’t have access to a significant amount of pasture.
Fodder can be grown from a variety of different grains, including barley, wheat or whole oats, although barley is often cited as one of the easiest to grow. Fodder grains for sprouting are often inexpensive for a 50-pound bag, and that 50-pound bag of grain can turn into almost 300 pounds of sprouted fodder for your animals! Not to mention, it’s a fairly simple process.
Simply soak the grain in water, spread the grains out in a tray, water occasionally and reap the rewards 7-10 days later!
Fodder can be fed to a wide range of livestock, including goats, pigs, chickens, cows, horses, llamas, geese, rabbits and turkeys. Do a little bit of research to see just how much of your particular livestock’s feed you can replace with fodder.
Feed Kitchen Scraps
Rather than composting them, consider feeding your kitchen scraps to your chickens or pigs. Both chickens and pigs love to go through a wide variety of vegetables, including garlic, leafy greens, tomatoes, squash, onions, etc. It is usually safer to stick to only vegetables and avoid dairy and meat products when feeding scraps to your animals, but you’ll be surprised by the wide variety of scraps your animals will appreciate getting.
In my experience, pigs are much more likely to chow down on kitchen scraps when they aren’t being fed on free-choice grain, so if you’d like to save on your feed bill by feeding them kitchen scraps, consider putting them on a rationed grain diet.
You also can scale this up beyond your own kitchen. Talk to your local grocery stores and restaurants to see what excess food or scraps they may have available. Not all restaurants and grocery stores allow this, but it’s worth talking to them to see if they do. You may end up with a steady supply of perfectly good food for your animals to enjoy.
In addition to vegetable scraps, contact your local breweries for spent brewer’s grain. This grain is a by-product of the brewing process where brewers soak the grain in hot water and then harvest the sugar that is produced from the enzymatic activity. What is left is a fiber and protein-rich grain mash that is great for chickens, pigs, cows, ducks and more. Many breweries are happy to give this by-product to farmers at little to no cost.
Although I mentioned avoiding dairy products above, it should be said that pigs, in particular, seem to grow well on some milk products. If you have excess milk from your own animals, or know where you can get milk that is still good but maybe just past the sell-by date, feeding it to your pigs can reduce their grain consumption.
How do you save money on animal feed? Share your tips in the section below: