Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Setting a Feed Budget - A Work in Progress

It's hard to believe it, but it's not quite been a year that we've been goat owners. We've come a long way, baby! Last night's milking was yet another record setter - 72 ounces total from our two milkin' Mamas, Chardy & Fritzen.

In the event that you don't follow the day-to-day deets of our little farm over at The Bog Blog, you may not have been privy to a few goaty change-ups that we've made lately that have increased our milk production and simplified our lives just a smidge.

First of all, all the boys are together at the moment, and in spite of Spike being the devil incarnate, it seems to be working out fairly well.

Secondly, we finally separated the doelings from their Mamas. The wee ones were not at all pleased by the new arrangements, but the Mamas seem to have taken it in stride. The amount of milk we're getting per day has more than doubled since the babies no longer nurse at all. I hadn't thought that they were really nursing all that much anymore anyway, but apparently they were still getting a good bit. The Mamas produce enough milk now that we could actually milk them twice per day, but since we are approaching breeding season and will soon begin to work toward drying them off, we're not going to bother with twice a day milking.

Anyhoo, now that you're up to speed on our ruminant living arrangements, I'll now get back to the original point of this post - feed costs.

The cost of good quality, local hay, alfalfa, minerals and treats adds up. It is not uncommon for us to spend $120 on a hay run, and we buy hay on average 2 times per month. Ouchie. I can assure you that we're not getting $240 worth of dairy products out of our goaties (not that that is the entire point of our having them), which means that the money being spent on them lands under the heading of "pet food". Love them though I do, these goaties are not technically our pets, they are our stock. Stock are supposed to earn their keep. We're not there yet.

So constricting the outflow of dough spent on feed and other critter essentials - even just a little - has the potential to put us leaps and bounds closer to our eventual goal of having an affordable, self-sustaining farm set-up. So Bill and I (mostly I) have decided to buckle things down and attempt to grow, forage, glean and trade for as much of our fall and winter critter feed as possible. Here are the angles I'm working right now -

*I've been posting to CraigsList, seeking windfall and slightly damaged/bolted fruits and veggies for critter food, and actually scored a few wheelbarrows full of bruised apples that way.

*I've told all of my friends with gardens that I will gladly accept their buggy, wilted and gone-to-seed produce and repay them in kind with eggs and dairy. Got a nice big bag full of bolted lettuce for the goats & bunzos just the other day.

*I've been picking berries for my family like crazy, and after weeding through them, keeping the weird/mushy ones, leaves, etc. for the critters. I've both fed them to the critters fresh, and started dehydrating some for winter supplements & snacks.

*I've been eyeballing abandoned and unpicked fruit trees and making a mental list of the places I need to hit to forage and glean. I'm wondering if folks would be more apt to let me scoop up their windfalls and/or pick their unwanted fruit if I came a-knocking with some eggs in hand to trade?

That's as far as I've been able to get with this. I wish we could have hayed our own pasture this year, but the layout of our property would make it hard, if not impossible to get a good-sized mower and baler in here. And for maybe 2 acres of harvestable grass, it hardly seems worth it.

I've toyed with the idea of doing the old school scythe & stack with our pasture, but for one thing, we have no idea of what sort of grass we have, or what nutrient content it has, and for another, with as soaking wet as this place gets, there is really no great storage space for great quantities of hay until we get our pole barn built.

So I'm scavenging, bartering and stocking up when and where I can for now. I hope to put together an official critter food budget THAT WE ACTUALLY STICK TO for this coming fall and winter.

What about you? If you can't grow your own animal feed, how do you source it? What do you do to trim costs?

I'd also love to hear how you store and use any produce, grain, etc., that you put up for your animals. I'm pondering trying a homemade rabbit pellet/treat. Are there any good recipes out there for homemade farm animal treats?