Feeding the Hungry

(This post first appeared on this blog in 2009 while we were still on the Arizona Homestead)

Now, anyone with common sense would move to a place where green stuff actually grows right out of the ground, if they were planning on raising a whole bunch of ruminants.  Mrs. D’s first consideration, however, was to find affordable land.  Any affordable land.  It just happened to be here in Northern Arizona. 

Hay – haul it or buy local?

We do have some wild grasses that grow, slowly and sparingly, but certainly not enough to support much livestock.  So we import hay.  Lots of hay.  At nearly one ton of hay a month, sometimes it really becomes necessary to shop around.  For example, locally sold hay runs about $13-$14 per approximately 100 pound bale.  Hay from Missouri is about $5 a bale. Much smaller bale. Shipping on a months worth of hay from Missouri runs about $2,000.  Going to pick it up myself would run about $1,000 just in gas (3/4 ton pickup hauling 3 tons of hay on a trailer).  We are really in a quandary here.

This is just one example.  The point is that it all evens out to being just as well to buy the hay locally. 

Surplus and scraps

So we improvise to try to supplement the hay until there’s a little bit of grass growing again.  The goats, sheep, and cows love to eat any surplus veggies or fruits we might have.  We occasionally come into several cases of cabbage or potatoes or the like, which are a great treat to them.  The rabbits and chickens enjoy them, too.  Any surplus from large canning projects gets distributed amongst them as well.  We suspect the oils in lemon and grapefruit skins may help them stay healthier, in the bargain.  Onions and garlic are always a good supplement for animal health and variety in the feeding program.  If there’s a bumper crop of eggs, all the animals’ coats benefit. 

Rotational grazing

A new experiment we’re trying this year is to seed between patches of grass and start a rotational grazing system.  This, of course, is old hat to the experienced farmers out there.  Our particular challenges here on the homestead are:  getting the seed to sprout and establish itself, getting water to the grass, keeping it growing, even as enormous creatures such as horses and cows are wandering amidst it.  The first problem, getting the seed to sprout and establish itself, is under experimentation.  We are raking the seed into the soft ground during milder weather and covering it with plywood, plastic, metal, or whatever other covers we can come up with, to keep the birdies out and kind of insulate it from freezes (and from the sun, come summer).  Hopefully, this will help it establish good roots, too, by keeping the large animals from ripping them out as they walk across.


Problem two, getting water to the grass, we kind of worked out last summer.  We are blessed with lots of moisture this winter, but come the dry season, we will haul an extra load of water and put it on the grassy areas in rotation, so as much of it as possible gets plenty of water.  The theory being the extra $4 of water should save much more than that in hay. 

The last challenge, keeping it growing, is ongoing.  The sheep and goats have a low impact on the land.  Allowing them to free range over our ten acres keeps them healthy and well-fed, saving on the need to buy so much hay for them.  Last summer, we started letting the horses out to graze in rotation, and also letting the cows graze daily.  This had the effect of grazing out our ten acres in less than a month.  Yet, the horses and cows eat the most hay, and great savings would be realized by raising more grass for them to graze on. 

New paddocks

The horse and cow plan for this year is still not fully formed, but several options are being considered.  The large round pen was broken down and made into two small portable pens that can be more easily moved around the property.  We are considering fencing several more paddocks, or possibly running a solar-powered electric wire to create another moveable paddock.  The idea being to allow several paddocks to rest and replenish themselves while other areas are grazed.  It has also been recommended to have the goats graze, then the cows, then the horses, as they tend to choose different forages.  We’ll keep you up to date on our successes and failures in this area, for now, it’s back to work! 

(This post first appeared on this blog in 2008 while we were still on the Arizona Homestead)


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