As we discussed in the last article, foraging is a useful skill and a fulfilling hobby. Foraging is a wonderful excuse to spend time with the kids or to take a quiet walk in the woods. At the same time, it can provide a great deal of diversity in your diet, a great source of vitamins, a hot drink on a cold morning, and even medicinal supplies. All these benefits and there is still more! If you keep livestock, foraging can have the same benefits for your stock as it does for your family.
The most important step, as always, is to do your homework. Learn what plants live in your area, and what the potential benefits and dangers are to your stock. Fortunately, your critters can teach you a lot. Observe them as they forage, see what they are eating, pay attention to what they are ignoring, and tailor your foraging to meet their needs.
Rabbits are about the easiest livestock to forage for. Rabbits love fresh grass. It is a simple matter to leave an un-mowed patch near the hutch and to pull handfuls to supplement your rabbit feed. They also like a lot of herbaceous plants, including Queen Anne’s lace, and chicory or dandelion greens. In a pinch, you can easily forage enough feed to meet all of the needs of a mid-sized batch of rabbits.
We also forage quite a bit for our young turkeys. The GMO-free feeds we use for raising birds are quite expensive, so any supplements we can gather are extremely helpful, particularly while they are still in the brooder. Turkeys stay in the brooder for six weeks, and during this time we feed them a lot of the same things rabbits eat, mainly grasses and greens. When they are older, we move them onto pasture and they forage for themselves.
The first step with larger animals is to select breeds for their ability to forage. Again, do your homework; there are regional variations in which critters do best. On our place, we tend towards heritage breeds in hogs and turkeys. Most heritage breeds do well on forage as compared to their modern counterparts. We have also selected goats as our primary dairy critter, mostly for their ability to forage efficiently. This step alone saves us a ton in feed bills.
The next step is to provide your critters with areas in which to forage for themselves. Our goats are easy. We give them the run of the property, with the exception of garden and orchard areas (goats are hard on gardens and orchards!), and they require little or no help from us. Given enough space, you will hardly have to feed goats at all, and should never have to forage for them. The possible exception to this is medicinal plants. Should a specific need arise you may have to seek out appropriate medicinal plants.
Our hog pen is about an acre and includes both pasture and woods. This provides them with a large variety of foraging options. The hogs, however, still need more feed than they can forage for, especially at finishing time. To meet this need, we supplement feed store feeds with an assortment of food that we gather in nature. In the fall, we gather large quantities of acorns. We try to use acorns to finish any hogs that are close to ready at this time. We get our acorns anywhere we can, including our church’s parking lot!
We have a large number of persimmon trees around the property. These are the wild type, and very astringent. We have tried them in a number of recipes, but the bottom line is that they are close to inedible for humans. Hogs, on the other hand, love them! The persimmons fall in large numbers in the fall. Some we leave for the goats and horses, others we gather for the hogs. Wild plums are handled the same way, although we do gather some for our use. Wild plums are quite tart and we only use so many in our canning. The rest go to the hogs or are allowed to fall for the chickens and turkeys. Both plums and persimmons can be frozen for later use if you have the freezer space. We haven’t tried drying yet, but I see no reason why it wouldn’t work to preserve these fruits for later feeding.
I have mentioned chicory a number of times in this and the previous article. I love chicory! Chicory makes a good cup of coffee (a great cup of coffee!), and it is good for your stock as well. Chicory is a natural wormer; studies indicate that animals that ingest chicory show a reduced worm burden. The chemicals that are toxic to endoparasites are found in the entire plant. This means you can feed your stock the leftovers after you harvest roots to worm them. It is also a highly digestible food source for ruminants.
Another natural wormer is black walnut husks. When you harvest nuts in the fall, save your husks and incorporate them in your feeding regimen. You may be able to get husks at local walnut hulling stations to augment what you gather. In conjunction with chicory, you may never need commercial wormers again. This could be very important to you if self-sufficiency ever becomes a mandatory endeavor.
Honing your foraging skills is an often overlooked aspect of homesteading. Preppers tend to pay more attention to this lost art, but it can be a much larger part of your self-sufficient lifestyle than even they give it credit for. Foraging is not just an arcane wilderness survival skill. If you learn the craft well, foraging can yield huge benefits. Our Creator has supplied us with a wide range of foods and medicines that are just out there for the taking, foods and medicines that can care for both your family and your livestock. I have covered a very few favorite forage items that occur in my region, but no matter where you live, there is plenty out there. Now is the time to gain your knowledge and put it into practice. Foraging will save some money today and may save your life in the future.
Oh, and it can be a lot of fun too!