Pigs, chickens and ducks are all fairly grain intensive animals to raise. Unlike cows, sheep and goats, they are not able to survive on grass alone, though they can derive a portion of their diet from the pasture. We do focus on poultry varieties that are better at grazing and gleaning insects. We have hopes of switching to raising a variety of pigs such as the American Guinea Hog in the future because they are excellent at deriving most of their feed from forage alone. Growing enough grain to feed our animals on our land base and at our scale of production is not practical at all. However, we have experimented with a few crops and sources of food that help supplement the grain and improve diet diversity without taking up too much precious garden space.
Mangel Beets– We seeded some of these giant beets along the edges of beds in spots where they would not compete. Pigs love them, I imagine meat birds would peck away at them too. We’ve found they do need
garden space to be successful, when we have tossed seed in bare spots after pigs have turned the soil they never seem to amount to much. We’d like to do larger plantings in the future. The upper leaves can be picked repeatedly before the root is pulled as well.
Sunflowers and other choppables– This spring when our swales were dug it created a lot of exposed soil that we quickly covered with a wide variety of seed, some perennials like clovers and grasses that we hope will hold the soil in the long run, and other annuals like sunflowers, radishes, sorghum sudan grass, lentils, and peas that grow quickly and create another yield. We also stuck in some extra winter squash transplants, but they were not able to compete with the cacophony that erupted. The sunflowers, radishes, and sorgum sudan did great though. We have been pulling off the mature sunflower heads which are devoured by pig, chicken, duck and wild birds all. The sorgum sudan we have chopped and thrown to the pigs which they relish just like corn stalks (which they also get). Even though we will be planting the swales with trees in the spring, I’m sure there will be plenty of self seeded radish and sunflower for years to come.
Amaranth– We experimented with growing some rows of amaranth in a garden bed that would become over run with squash vines, figuring that their tall skinny stature would complement the ground cover. We picked the leaves and sold bunches as a cooking green early in the season, then let the plants mature to make seed heads. Once the seed heads were mature and squash harvested, we cut whole plants and threw them on a tarp, shaking out some of the mature seed, which is a teeny tiny grain. I’m guessing we only got 50% or less of the seed out. We’ll save this to grow again in the future and may sprout some to feed to the chickens. The rest of the plants were thrown to the chickens and pigs. The chickens made a good show of pecking at the seed heads and leaves, but I’m not sure how much of the tiny seed they actually found. There will be amaranth self seeding in the chicken yard forever I am certain. The pigs skeletonized the stalks- mostly focusing on the leaves. This crop doesn’t seem worth growing for grain alone, but with the yield of a marketable leaf and some animal feed its value increases.
Apples- What an amazing year for apples! The pigs especially enjoyed many apple drops and mash from cider making. In this picture we fenced them around an old apple tree and shook it twice a day. We never dared to fence them around the tree before for fear that they would do too much damage, but so far it does not appear that the roots were unearthed. Also in the picture is a pig with a milk slopped head. The milk is a treat that does not come from our farm, but we trade vegetables for it from friends.
Chickens, Compost, and Sprouts– This year we tried something new with our laying hens, since we are only raising a dozen at the moment. Instead of rotating them on pasture, we kept them in one spot and were sure to bring them plenty of fresh veggie scraps, weeds and sprouts to eat. Our sprouting operation generates some waste from the cleaning process, credits that come back from stores, and the stubble that is left in trays after harvesting shoots. We made a compost holder from pallets and always added the food scraps/sprouts in that spot. The chickens were getting fed, scratching and breaking down anything left into smaller pieces, and adding their manures. We also added their bedding, hay, and other plant debris in layers to fill out the pile. Once the pallet pile was full it was taken apart and reassembled nearby. The old pile got scratched apart by the chickens as they found mycelium and little bugs growing in it until it was a fairly fine compost that can now be spread around nearby trees and bushes.
Slugs and Bugs– While we certainly are not trying to propagate slugs, they are ever present, especially in wet years. They are a favorite of the ducks and all we have to do is station them in areas where slug control is needed. Here they are working the area around shiitake logs, but they spend most of their time rotating the perimeters of gardens, and now as crops are finishing they get more free reign over garden clean up.