by Jan Hatchett
Many families that are moving toward a homesteading lifestyle or who just want to have more control over the quality of the foods they eat will eventually dabble in keeping livestock. These animals provide much more than food. They are amazing entertainment, wonderful for teaching children discipline and life lessons, and enhance the usefulness of your property. All in all, a good thing, right? The costs of livestock feed for typical farm animals can become quite expensive if you must purchase all of the foods that your animals consume. Looking for ways to supplement the feed budget is a frugal activity that is often overlooked and undervalued. There are many ways to save money on livestock feed.
11 Easy Livestock Feed Money Saving Tips
1. Consider Where You Keep Your Animals
First and foremost, consider where you are keeping your animals. Is there adequate grazing for cows, horses, sheep, and/or goats? Are there good resources on your property to locate and cut greens and leaves for bunnies? These herbivores need lots of leafy greens to munch on during the growing season and quality hay or forage for winter months. Is it possible to rotate their pens so that forage is maximized? Even omnivores like pigs and chickens appreciate a good area of grass and shrubs to chew on. Every bite helps to minimize your livestock feed budget.
2. Optimize For Nutritional Content
When you must purchase commercial food, are you reading the nutritional tags to ensure that you are receiving the most nutrition for the money you are spending? Beware of false economy at the livestock feed store! A cheaper food that is not nutritionally sound may only result in needing to feed more of it, costing you more money than another higher-quality feed option.
3. Prevent Spoilage
How are you storing your purchased livestock feed? To minimize spoilage, feed must be stored in rodent proof and insect proof containers out of sunlight and protected from weather. Spoilage and contamination are the enemies here. A shaded barn or covered lean to area can be a good choice. Most foods can be stored in galvanized metal trash cans with tight-fitting metal lids. They are not overly expensive and a bungee cord from handle to handle, through the lid handle can add an extra means of protection.
4. Measure Portions To Prevent Overfeeding
Don’t overfeed. Measure or weigh out what each animal needs at a bare minimum and begin supplementing with lower cost or free items from that point forward. Overfeeding is just as bad for animals as it is for humans. Chunky laying hens, for example, have a decreased laying rate when certain fat stores in the abdomen begin to become overly large.
5. Keep Feed Off The Ground And Use Hay Rings
Keep livestock feed off of the ground and that will help to prevent urine and dirt from getting mixed into food. Healthy animals don’t require as much medical care! When feeding large, round bales of hay to horses, cattle, etc., use a hay ring. A University of Missouri study concluded that 9 percent of hay presented in a hay rings was wasted, compared to an average of 45 percent of hay just put on the ground. Less waste is a great way to save money, especially if you are not able to grow your own feed hay for the winter months.
Omnivore Options: Pig and Chicken Feed
It is just plain easier to supplement the diets of omnivores on the homestead than it is to supplement herds of animals like horses and cows. It’s relatively easy to provide supplemental feed for pigs and chickens.
6. Clearing Overgrown Property
Pigs will consume any vegetation in their area (our personal production piggie is helping a friend clear additional garden space for next year, along with his pig) and can be rotated around to help clear overgrown property rather effectively. They will consume brush that is added to their pen from trimmings, etc. They are voracious feeders that seem to greatly enjoy some variety in their diets.
7. Take Advantage Of The End Of Gardening Season
Chickens are not known for their land clearing abilities, but many breeds can forage well and find small lizards, insects, grubs, and other items to feed themselves on if they have the space to move around. At the end of a gardening season, release chickens into the fenced area and let them make quick work of dying plants, herbs, insects and dropped vegetable matter. They will donate a bit of good fertilizer to mix into your soil to rest and break down over the colder months until you are ready to plant again.
8. Don’t Forget About Table Scraps
Pigs and chickens love your table scraps. Onion skins, carrot tops, celery leaves, tough outer cabbage leaves, and even dried eggshells will be consumed with glee. Many homesteaders will not give damaged eggs to chicken until they have been cooked and the shells broken up into small pieces because they believe that chickens don’t need to be encouraged to break and eat viable eggs. Others don’t seem to have a problem with the practice. You will have to make up your own mind about this.
Pigs love eggs no matter how you deliver them and make good use of old or damaged eggs and their shells. Even cooked meat scraps and leftover foods that are not rancid can go to these omnivores whenever you clean out your refrigerator. Tough biscuits and dried out tortillas make great additions, too. Avoid excessive amounts of fruit (particularly the seeds and pits) and other sweets. Too much of a good thing can cause health problems. Dole out those bruised apples and windfall peaches a bit at a time over several days for the best results.
9. Garden Waste And Co-op Castoffs
Garden waste is good supplemental livestock feed. Corn cobs, outer leaves, and stalks can go to the pigs or chickens. Insect-damaged vegetables are often enjoyed for both the food and the insects that are still inside. Some co-op members can’t use up some of their foods before they begin to go bad. Those foods make perfect animal feeds. My cousin brings me her co-op castoffs and I will share some home grown pork with her family. This has included case loads of lettuce that was starting to turn, parsley bundles, large cucumbers that were getting a bit too soft to pickle, artichokes (mostly after I cut out the hearts), and other items.
10. Grocery Stores, Farm Stands, and Gardens
Smaller grocery stores, farm stands, and friends with gardens are great sources for more vegetable matter that, while not fit for human consumption, are perfectly suited for livestock feed. It never hurts to ask if they will save their inedible trimmings or questionable product for you. Build relationships by being prompt to pick up and showing kindness with your actions.
Some bakery outlet stores will sell very cheaply or even give away products that can no longer be sold to people or that have just passed their freshness date. Be ready to assure the manager that this food will not be fed to humans and only to your animals. It never hurts to have a photo or two on your phone that you can show them. In a society that is as litigious as ours, it is only fair to make sure that these people who help provide food for your animals know that you won’t misuse their waste or sue them for making someone sick.
Observation and frugality may lead you to other alternative livestock feed sources in your area. Please share them with us here at Molly Green in the comments section below!
Jan Hatchett is a Christian wife and homeschooling mom of two amazing sons. She enjoys log cabin living, writing, quilting, crafting, sewing, reading, and horseback riding. For more of Jan’s exploits, check out: anotherhatchettjob.wordpress.com