In the spring when everything was turning green, I started gathering grasses and weeds to feed the chickens. Our chickens are not out ranging at this time, but they do have a run outside of the chicken house. We need to add a chicken proof barrier along the bottom of a couple of gates to keep them on their side of the yard and out of the garden. So, for now, they get some kind of greens almost everyday along with other garden or kitchen scraps as they come along.
In the early spring, I started to feed them beet greens as soon as the plants were big enough to spare a few leaves.
I also planted some new comfrey roots to expand our ability to provide more animal feed. This patch had really done well. For most of the summer, the chickens received a handful of comfrey leaves almost everyday. This was a great addition to their feed. The goats like them as well, but since they had lots of good things to eat out in the pasture, they were not a crazy about these leaves as the chickens were.
We grew some sunflowers this year to be used as animal feed for both chickens and goats. Our patch was about six feet by thirty feet with four rows of plants. Here is our harvest. All of these plants were grown from seeds we harvested last summer from our very first plants. I think there were about six of them. It's good to know the seeds are easy to save and replant. If we wanted to grow enough to feed a little all winter, we would need many, many more plants than what we grew this year. But it is a start.
The corn we grew ended up being dried for the animals instead of canned for humans. Sometimes things just end up that way. It is interesting to see how it has dried, and figure out an easy way to remove it from the cob. Once it is this dry, the kernels separate from the cob fairly easy just by rubbing two cobs together. I will keep the dried shucks to see if the goats will be interested in them this winter. Another thing to learn. This small amount of corn won't go very far as animal feed, either, but it has been a very interesting learning experience.
Now that the fall crops are up and growing well, I pick a batch of greens for the chickens every morning. They get a bucket full of turnip greens.
|Turnips, Kale & small Swiss Chard|
Add a handful of kale.....
And a handful of beet greens.
The fall carrot crop is growing pretty well. It will be interesting to see how the animals take to carrots, turnips and Mangel sugar beets as a source of winter feed. Very interesting. This is something I have wanted to try for a long time.
Our patch of purple hull peas has been taken over by the grass and weeds. But before that happened, we were able to pick several batches that had dried on the vine and fed them to the chickens and goats. They were all more than happy to eat them, the chickens just the seeds, but the goats, pods, seeds and all. This is a very easy crop to grow that is highly nutritious, for both animal and human.
I still throw in a few comfrey leaves every now and then, but I am letting the comfrey put energy into their roots for winter. The original comfrey plant I added to the herb bed about four years ago stays green until about January when our weather turns cold. I have been surprised every year that it takes that long for it to die back. It starts peaking out new leaves in late March when it starts to warm up, but doesn't produce enough leaves for fresh feed until sometime in April.
The amount of feed we are harvesting each day for our animals really doesn't amount to a whole lot, but it is a start. There are some other things we also want to try. Our friend Grace found a article in Mother Earth News that talked about Austrian Winter Peas that can be used for chickens and deer. Some folks also eat the shoots in salads saying they taste just like peas. It is better known as a cover crop for fixing nitrogen in the soil. After Grace told me about them and I read about them, we ordered some seeds. It will be another thing we can try for animal feed. Thank you, Grace.
If times get hard and we have to provide for ourselves and our animals, this small amount of experience will hopefully help keep us on our feet while we learn even more. Challenges will always come our way, and we have had more than a few this year. Even so, our little animal feed growing project has taught us a lot. And we hope to learn even more through the winter and during the growing season next year.
Until next time - Fern