If the grid goes down, war breaks out or civilization simply collapses, you may be forced to fend for yourself and secure all of your family’s needs for a very long time. A nice little menagerie of livestock will help you do so, by providing meat, milk, hides and muscle power.
But, livestock is a double-sided issue. On the one hand, cows, goats, chickens and other animals are a valuable resource that will help your family survive for a long time; but on the other hand, these animals all have needs of their own. Among other things, they’ll need water, shelter and food to survive.
Providing your livestock with food is likely the most challenging need to satisfy, but with a little preparation and effort, you can produce more than enough food to keep your animals healthy and happy, so that they can do the same for you.
In the following pages we’ll talk about the best way to grow food for your animals, discuss the types of food that will work best for different animals, and explain a few ways to leverage the free food Mother Nature provides to keep your animals well fed.
Typical Diets for Different Types of Livestock
Obviously, different animals require different foods to remain healthy. Your cows, for example, have different nutritional needs than your pigs do. There is a bit of overlap between the diets of the most commonly kept livestock, but we’ll discuss the preferred diets of various animals below.
Cows require a couple of different types of food. A large portion of their diet should be comprised of roughage, which is high in fiber while being relatively low in calories. Hay and grass are two of the most common choices for satisfying a cow’s need for roughage.
Additionally, cows also require grains. Corn is probably the most common grain to provide to cows, but they can also subsist on milo, barley or oats. Oilseeds, such as canola or soy, are also important for cows, as they provide a lot of fat, protein and calories to help round out a cow’s diet.
Goats are foragers who typically require a wide variety of food sources to remain healthy. Left to their own devices, goats will forage widely, consuming a bit of this and that, as they work their way around a vegetated area. However, few properties or farms will offer enough variety and calories to sustain goats in this way over the long term.
Additionally, most goats also require hay. The hay can be derived from grasses, but legume-based hays are more nutritious and make the better option. Goats can be fed a small amount of corn, but it should only form a very small part of their diet.
Chickens will eat a very wide variety of foods, including grasses, weeds and other broad-leafed plants. They can also be fed corn and other grains, as well as basic kitchen scraps. Do not feed them beans, as they may compromise the taste of the meat, and avoid feeding them potatoes, which are toxic to chickens.
You can also feed chickens protein-based foods, such as hardboiled eggs. Just be sure to cut them into bite-sized pieces to make it easier for the chickens to eat.
Pigs are omnivores who need a wide variety of foods to remain healthy. Leafy green vegetables should form a significant part of their diet, but you’ll also want to provide them with plenty of protein too. This means supplementing their vegetables with grains. Corn is okay in moderation, but they need more protein than corn provides, so mix in soybeans or some other legume too.
Also, you can feed pigs food scraps in a survival situation. This is illegal to do in many places for pigs that are being raised for meat, but you don’t have to worry about the authorities knocking on your door if the SHTF.
Rabbits usually require a broad selection of vegetables and grasses to remain healthy. Try to stick with as many green, leafy vegetables as possible, including parsley, mustard greens, green leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, celery tops, carrot tops and collard greens. You can also feed your rabbits grasses and hays.
Producing Food for Your Animals
Now that you know what your animals need, it is time to begin growing the necessary crops. There are obviously dozens of different foods you can grow, but we’ll explain the basics of growing the most widely used to feed livestock.
Grass and Hay
Different types of grass must be grown in slightly different ways, but the basic process is pretty similar in most cases. You’ll begin by clearing the land to expose the soil. You’ll then want to spread the seed (typically, you’ll want to shoot for about 16 seeds per square inch), and then cover the seed with a very thin layer of soil. From there, you only need to water it regularly and wait. You can plant grass in the spring or the fall, as necessary.
To turn this grass into hay, you must cut it and then allow it to dry. This is a very important process, as damp hay can cause toxins to build up, which may sicken your animals. Invest in a good moisture meter to help ensure you only provide your animals with safe and healthy hay.
Corn is actually a grass, which means that you’ll plant and raise it in a relatively similar way. Prepare the ground as you did for growing grass, but plant seeds directly in the ground instead. Bury the seeds about 1 to 2 inches beneath the surface, depending on the local temperatures (hotter temperatures require deeper planting).
Plant the corn in small “blocks,” rather than long rows, to help ensure maximum fertilization. Weeds will often out-compete corn, so be sure to remove weeds frequently while the corn is growing. Additionally, corn requires a lot of nitrogen, so be sure to fertilize it well.
Soybeans are grown in a similar manner to many other beans. Plant them in rows that are spaced about 2 feet apart. The individual seeds should be buried about 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart from each other. Soybeans grow into very large plants, which may be up to two feet high. So, be sure that you don’t overcrowd them, as this will cause them to languish.
Note that soybeans take much longer to sprout and mature than many other popular crops, so you’ll need to be patient while waiting for the harvest.
Leveraging Mother Nature’s Bounty
Although you’ll need to produce most of your animal’s food yourself, there’s no reason you can’t take advantage of the naturally occurring resources found around your home and property. There are quite a few calories lurking outside, and it makes good sense to use them to help feed your animals.
For example, cows, goats and rabbits will all consume short grasses, herbs and weeds. If your property features a large grassy or weedy field, you may want to routinely take your large animals (primarily cows and goats) to these areas to graze.
Rabbits are a different story, as they aren’t easy to herd or drive like larger animals are. Take a dozen rabbits out to a field and you’ll likely return with only a fraction of the number you started with. Instead, it makes better sense to harvest a collection of grasses and weeds and bring them to your rabbits.
There are also a variety of foods in forested areas and along fence rows, including small trees, shrubs, vines and other vegetation. Cows are unlikely to eat many of these foods, but your goats will act as though they are at an all-you-can-eat buffet and begin chowing down rather indiscriminately. In fact, goats are often used to clear these types of areas.
If you simply tie your goats to a tree in such areas and move them as they clear the land, you may be able to keep them fed solely through this technique. It will just depend on how many goats you have and how much food you have available for them. Note that goats will even eat poison ivy, which provides additional benefits.
Pigs will also subsist on a wide variety of foods they can forage for in forests and fields. They’ll dine on acorns, fallen fruit, underground tubers and just about anything else they find. So, if you have a safe and secure way of letting your pigs forage in productive areas, it is a good way to supplement their diets.
However, it is important to understand that pigs can be quite destructive to the environment. So, don’t place them in places where their activities could cause severe erosion or undermine structures, thereby making them unstable.
You can also allow your chickens and ducks to forage a bit. Ducks and chickens will both search for seeds and other edible bits if allowed to roam in productive areas, although chickens will obviously do so on dry ground, while ducks will forage more extensively in the water.
And, while these birds primarily feed on plant-based foods, they will also take the occasional insect or invertebrate. In fact, large chickens will even feed on rodents, small lizards and snakes. These types of prey items will contribute quite a few calories to your animals, thereby reducing the amount of food you must produce for them.
It is also wise to supplement your animal’s diets with the portions of your food that you can’t or won’t eat. For example, vegetable trimmings – including everything from carrot tops to celery stalks – will be relished by your cows, goats and pigs. You can even give your pigs animal-based leftovers – just avoid giving them large bones which may cause them to choke.
Producing food for your livestock may not be easy, but if you plan well, it is certainly possible. Just be sure that you grow the type of food your animals need and that you take advantage of every calorie available.
This article was originally published in Survival Dispatch Insider magazine Volume 2 Issue 7.
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