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Monday, September 10, 2012

What our farm animals eat, why they're fenced, your questions answered.

I've had a few people question me lately on what our farm animals eat and why they're fenced in.  So much news & media these days focuses on the pitfalls of feeding grain to farm animals, but let's remember that it's only the ruminant animals who can thrive solely on grass / pasture.

There is a certain category of animal, Ruminants, whose stomachs & digestive systems are designed to eat only plants.  I'll borrow an answer I found online here:

A ruminant is a mammal that digests plant-based food by initially softening it within the animal's first stomach, known as the rumen, then brings back the semi-digested mass, now known as cud, and chews it again. The process of again chewing the cud to further break down plant matter and stimulate digestion is called "ruminating".  Ruminating mammals include cattle, goats, sheep, giraffes, bison, yaks, buffalo, deer, camels, gazelles, dik diks, mouse deer, hartebeests, wildebeests, etc. 

So, the only ruminant animals we currently raise on our farm are goats.  I say currently, because who knows what animals we're raise in the future!?  Our goats are not fed grain, they graze & prefer the really scrubby stuff... leaves, brush, and they get hay in the winter.  (Except when they steal the chicken's feed, which they love to do... so much so that we've had to move the bags of chicken feed into metal trash cans to keep the goats out!).  So, given the chance, goats love grain.  I try my best to keep them out of it.

Currently, here is how our goats are raised.  We have a large fenced-in area, and I hope to expand that area as we increase the size of our herd.  Ideally, I'd love to have the portions of our farm fenced-in that are really scrubby & overgrown (the goats would LOVE that).  Since we're new to goats, and have just recently fenced in a large area for the 2 of them (I'd say it's about 1/4 acre), there is no shelter within their fence.  We're working on that.  But for now, what we do for shelter is very high-tech.  It involves opening the fence and leading the goats back into their shelter.... a very nice horse stall inside our barn.  I do this every night.... lead the goats back inside, usually by attaching a leash to their collar, but sometimes they'll simply follow me.  And then, each morning, I lead them back outside and into their fence.  If it rains, or we have bad weather, the goats stay in the barn and have access to the attached outdoor barn area (fenced in as well).  The goats are fenced because they would eat our vegetable crops.  A bite here & there, poop in the gardens.  Plus they would leave our farm & wander off down the road.

We raise chickens.  Meat chickens as well as laying hens.  Chickens are omnivores.  They are not ruminants.  They eat plant and animal.  Crazy carnivores!  Given half a chance, I think they'd eat each other.  No, don't get any ideas, the chickens here at our farm don't eat each other, it's just a joke, no need to call the animal rights groups.  Our chickens are fed primarily chicken feed, which is grain-based and perfectly balanced with the amount of protein they need.  When I give them freshly-ground grain, they also need grit & oyster shell.  Grit is fine rock or cherry pit, which chickens store in their gizzards and it allows them to grind their food before digestion.  Chickens don't have teeth.... so this is how they grind their food.  Oyster shell is a source of calcium, which they need for the egg shells (the shells of eggs have a lot of calcium, and producing those eggs can sap a chicken's calcium supply).  Our chickens are also supplemented with some farm veggies, occasional weeds (when I hand weed the farm fields, which isn't too often), and they adore kitchen scraps.  This applies to the egg layers.  We raised a couple hundred meat chickens (yes, they are totally different, meat chickens & egg layers), and the meat chickens would barely touch anything besides chicken feed.  Some of them would forage around, but mostly they wanted to simply eat the grain.  They're bred for this. 

Our chickens are not allowed unrestricted access to our farm because they would destroy our farm gardens.  They would eat all the vegetable crops, scratch the vegetable plants to death, and poop right there on our crops (No way!  Huge no-no, fresh manure on the vegetables.  Not only would their high-nitrogen manure kill the vegetable plants they would poop on, but really fresh manure on food could lead to sickness.).  Thus, our chickens are fenced-in.  They have a very large chicken run (fenced in area), which is attached to their coop.  So, chickens are not grazing animals.... yes, they adore eating grass & weeds & seeds, but can't thrive on it alone.... if allowed to range unrestricted they would also eat things like bugs, snakes, & even small rodents (I have heard stories of chicken catching a mice or two, but I've never seen it myself).

We also raised a handful of pigs this summer.  Pigs are mammals, but not ruminants.  They are another example of an omnivore.  They root around, foraging for food, and tear up the ground with their strong snouts.  Ours are raised outdoors, with a shelter from the elements.  They are fenced.  Why?  They would tear up our gardens... literally.  And then run away to the neighbors yards, and tear up their gardens.  Then they would poop all over our vegetable crops, and then run to the neighbors houses and poop on their gardens. And trying to catch a runaway pig is a horrible experience (ask me how I know!!!). You get the picture.  They look cute & innocent, but that snout is like a small bulldozer!  And of course, our farm animals are not potty-trained!  :-)  So, what will pigs eat?  Just about anything.  Grain. Ours loved any farm vegetables we gave them.  Kitchen scraps are a great treat.  Small children (kidding, just making sure you're paying attention).  Again, they're kind of like a chicken this way, eating just about anything.

So, now you have it.  This is what our farm animals eat, and how they are housed.  If you have any complaints, please contact me first with questions before reporting us to animal rights groups (joking, sort of... I've had a bad summer with people out here, and that's all I'll say about that).  Thank you. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Made me laugh out loud several times but also very informative.