Commercially available animal feeds offer balanced diets, but some hobby farmers like to explore growing and preparing their own feedstuffs or supplementing pre-mixed diets with homegrown additions. Here are three nutrition-boosting foods that you can grow on your farm to benefit your farm’s new additions.
1. Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
Black oil sunflower seeds, aka BOSS, offer immense amounts of nutrition. According to the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, they’re packed with protein—about 20 percent—but also contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids; vitamins A, B6, E and K; riboflavin; and minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.
Chicks, lambs, kids and calves can all eat these seeds, which are high in fat and don’t need to be hulled (shell removed) in order to be digested. Benefits include shiny coats, healthy weight maintenance and fiber content. Feed black oil sunflower seeds in small quantities appropriate for each breed. (Research your specific baby animal or ask an expert.) Do not allow free feeding, as BOSS pack a lot of richness into their small shells and can cause diarrhea if overeaten.
To grow, select a well-drained plot with six to eight hours of sun per day. Sow seeds when soil reaches around 70 degrees F; insert three seeds 1½ inches deep in hills spaced 6 to 12 inches apart. Plant rows approximately 3 feet apart. When seedlings are 3 to 4 inches high, snip off all but the strongest at ground level and mound the soil up around the remaining stalk. Once flower petals begin to fall, wrap the seed head in netting or cheesecloth to prevent seed loss, and allow it to ripen on the stalk. When the back of the head is yellow and the stalk is dry and brown, harvest with loppers. Store seeds in a dry, pest-proof container until ready to feed.
Harvest celebrations and Halloween might be what you think of when you hear the word pumpkin, but they have long been a viable animal feed and offer some real benefits for your farm babies. According to the University of Nebraska Extension, most varieties of pumpkins are high in fiber; offer roughly 14.5 percent digestible protein; and contain various vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and K, beta-carotene, zinc, manganese and copper.
Pumpkins can boost the daily diet for chicks and other poultry babies, piglets, kids, and lambs. Even calves and young horses enjoy nibbling these treats, and bunnies love the tender leaves and tiny new fruits. As an added bonus, pumpkin seeds contain curcurbitin, a deterrent of internal parasites, such as tapeworm and flatworm (though solid proof of efficacy has yet to be established). No need to peel pumpkins before feeding. Feed farm babies small chunks and seeds, or blend fruit and seeds together before adding to feedboxes.
Pumpkins grow best in loamy, well-drained, neutral pH soil but can be coaxed into growing in heavier clay soils if not too waterlogged. Plant in hills 8 to 10 feet apart. Take proper precautions against the squash vine borer, a sneaky pest whose larvae eat the nutrient-bearing insides of the stem. Store pumpkins in a cool, dry place, such as a root cellar; they should keep all winter.
Historically, livestock owners planted root crops, such as mangels (fodder beets), to help supplement hay and forage. As hobby farmers move to greater self-sufficiency, the benefits of these root crops, also known as mangel-wurzel, are surfacing again. According to the Washington State Extension, protein content is 11.3 percent for the roots and 17 percent for the shoots, and both contain valuable fiber and minerals.
Grate or cut mangels into small pieces, so calves, kids, lambs, chicks, piglets, foals—pretty much any farm babies—can munch alongside their mothers. As with any other foodstuff, introduce slowly and don’t overfeed, as too much can cause various health issues. That said, the Washington State Extension states that historically, milk and beef cattle were fed up to 30 pounds of mangels per day with good results, horses can eat up to three beets a day, and hanging a whole mangel for chickens to peck on not only gives them additional nutrients, it seems to aid in preventing aggression in the flock. What’s not to love?
Mangels tolerate various soils, but prefer full sun. They grow best when kept moist. Zones 8b and higher should sow in early winter, while 8a and lower should sow in early spring. Allow approximately 63 days to maturity before harvesting, then cure in a cool, dry place for several weeks before feeding. Curing allows for chemical changes that make mangels more palatable and reduce possibility of scours in young animals. Store mangels up to two years with little nutrient and moisture loss.
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About the Author: Leslie J. Wyatt is a freelance writer with more than 200 stories and articles in publications like Children’s Writer and Cat Fancy. She lives on a micro hobby farm in northern California and can be found online at www.journeywithhonor.blogspot.com and www.lesliejwyatt.com.