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feeding livestock in a world of peak oil

 
Mariah Wallener
Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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So I've recently read a couple books on peak oil, including "Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller" and I'm quite convinced that oil prices are going to continue their upward trend, and that at some critical point it's going to really impact our lifestyle.

While permaculture can get us away from needing combines, tillers, fertilizers, and other fuel-using management tools for growing plant food, I'm starting to wonder about livestock.

We live on an island (a large one) and are fortunate to have a local feed producer. They depend on the island railway to bring in the grains, etc. We just got notice from our MLA that the railway is planning a huge increase in freight fees which is going to seriously impact our local producer. It got me thinking about bringing in more animals to our farm who will depend, at least in part, on commercial feed.

I'm fairly convinced that we can grow enough food (and protein) on our 4 acres to feed chickens, but not sure I can grow enough fodder beets (or whatever else pigs need) for even just 2 pigs who are here for 4 or 5 months without a monoculture of them. Then I think about goats and wonder what's going to happen to the price of hay when fuel is so expensive. That's a fuel-intensive crop if I ever saw one. I'm wondering if getting goats is going to commit me to buying hay no matter what the price.

So I'm wondering if anybody has thought about the sustainability of having animals that require huge amounts of grain, and what that might mean in a world without cheap oil.
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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I'll only discuss chooks as I don't know much about feeding hoofed animals, except that here organic farmers don't feed grain in any quantity to grazers/browsers.
Chooks don't need, or thrive on 'huge amounts of grain'.
They need protein, and plenty of it. Many plants are quite high in protein. Can you grow amaranth? Great people and animal food.
But you'll get by far the most "bang for your buck' using and encouraging on-site concentrated protein sources. Maggots. Worms...
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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As Leila points out, feeding alternatives to grains is the paradigm shift we will have to go through should availability/prices of grains & hay become an issue.  Of course we know there was a time when grains were not fed to animals 

I would say we should transition now.... because it is more sustainable and healthier than buying and feeding mostly grains, so why wait?  It's the learning curve, unanswered questions and the unknown that stops us usually 

There are other feed stuffs - renewable hedge fodders, herbs/weeds, bugs, ect.  The Food Forest system offers a good intensive model for growing sustainable food both for people and animals on limited acreage.  I would recommend you look up the plants you have growing on your property now and eliminate/reduce any which might be inhospitable to other plants such as fir/pine trees, and learn about any that may be an unknown (to you right now) food source - this is a good place to start.  Next look up good hedge (berries and/or animal fodder) species for your climate and plant those (cows, goats and sheep enjoy these).  Also plant nut and fruit trees as these take time to get producing.

Experiment now, while you have the grains/hay to fall back on in an emergency - as you say this may be ending for us all real soon.

 
Mariah Wallener
Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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I knew chickens could likely be fed "from home" even on a small acreage like ours, especially if you don't have very many of them. But I'm wondering about the bigger animals. Like goats, for example. I've heard that hedges and other shrubs, can be used as fodder (saw a video of a permaculture property where they would just lop off huge branches of the small trees growing next to the paddock, chuck them over the fence, and the animals would start eating) but I didn't think that this would be sufficient to supply them with all their nutritional needs. And seems to me you'd need some pretty fast growing plants to keep up with their appetites, not to mention what would you do in winter unless they like evergreens.

The suggestion to get rid of firs is a timely one. We live in an area where Douglas Fir predominates. My husband thinks them weeds, while I hesitate to get rid of something that is obviously so well suited to our climate. In other words, he wants to get rid of every one on our site (we have Grad Firs as well) which I thought was a bit extreme. Paul's recent video on the subject was a boon to my husband's POV.
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
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Fast growing - no, but well established yes.  A varied diet of many plants + kelp or dried seaweed for minerals would do nicely.

To start down this new path limit your animals until your confidence builds, then add to your flocks/herds accordingly as your food forest grows.  Ducks can be added as they are super at foraging, as well as geese.  And these birds along with chickens can provide a lot of food in the form of eggs and meat.  Goats can then provide your milk and meat. 

There are trees/woody stems that goats like which you can cut and-come-again.  They will send out many fast growing shoots each spring and summer.  I have a type of maple, I don't know the species, that makes great fodder.  My rabbits, chickens and ducks just love it, and it grows like a weed.

You will need to learn how to add supplemental foods such as a bit of whey, apple cider vinegar, garlic and herbs to keep your animals strong and resistant to disease.

 
John Polk
master steward
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Posts: 8011
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Look on the sunny side.

As you transition your flocks to their normal diet, your feed costs will become a thing of the past.  The million broiler a week grower can only operate on a grain diet.  Most of them grow their own grain, but tractor/combine/truck operating expenses will force them to raise wholesale prices a lot.

You will be able to sell your meat birds for higher prices.  BigAg's price advantage should start to dwindle.  Your cheaper to raise flock becomes a better option for the end user.
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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We don't need to buy any grain. I have raised multiple batches of pigs on just pasture. The sheep, of course, only need pasture. The chickens do fine with just pasture in the warm months since they are there to eat the insects anyways. Ducks and geese just need the pasture. In the winter we feed meat to the chickens as well as kitchen scraps.

There are a lot of free things you can get that are part of the "waste" stream but are good food. Stick with the pre-consumer "wastes" not post-consumer (e.g., plate scrapings). Pasture/hay+dairy is almost all of what our pigs thrive on and we have a herd of about 300.

You can grow, without any diesel or tractors, a lot of stuff. Depends on your climate what you should choose. For us pumpkins, sunchokes, turnips, kale, rape, etc are all great producers and make for excellent fall and winter fodder.

Peak oil problems will crush Big Ag because they're founded on energy intensive operations from start to finish. Small producers will do well - they're more adaptable.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
 
Terri Matthews
Posts: 468
Location: Eastern Kansas
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South of me goats are kept mostly on pasture. Would that be possible for you?
 
                                
Posts: 62
Location: Western Pennsylvania
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I think this is why, many years ago, large animals were not the norm.  Small foraging animals that can be easily moved through pastures are more feasible than large feedlot animals.  Also the dress weight will change.  My dressed chickens are NOT like any grocery store bird, but man do they taste better.  I may not get as much meat to bone, but my bones make an amazing stock, vs. a grocery store bird's stock is quite tasteless. 

Tami
 
Kay Bee
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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J. Russell Smiths book "Tree Crops" has quite a bit of info concerning replacing current annual livestock (and human) feed crops with sustainable tree crops.

Well worth the read and online for free!

http://www.soilandhealth.org/01aglibrary/010175.tree%20crops.pdf
 
Mariah Wallener
Posts: 167
Location: Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, Canada
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Thank you K.B.! That's exactly what i was looking for.

We only have 4 acres so doubtful we can maintain enough of it in pasture to be fully self-sustainable. I don't particularly like goat meat and prefer pork and fowl, so perhaps we'll stick with those.
 
Gary Stuart
Posts: 27
Location: Wakefield, Quebec, zone 3b/4a CAN
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Whilst we are stocking up on pellets and feed as back-up, we're aiming on feeding our livestock through the next Quebec winter from our land without the use of gas.

The first step towards this was choosing the right animals and breeds. We went with Nigerian Dwarf goats, Plymouth Barred Rock chickens and NZ/Cali rabbits. All of them can pasture April-Oct and then be kept on leaves/hay/pine branches/fir branches/leftovers and some grains from Nov-Apr.

The next step is choosing your breeding times. This was our first winter with livestock and we learned the hard way to avoid kidding in February. During pregnancy our two Nigey does were eating a bale of hay every 4 days, since kidding it is every 2. This year we wont breed until late November for an April kidding. We're also going to stop rabbit-breeding through the winter because my God do they go through a lot of food, especially when 25lb bags aren't easy to come by.

So, scything our own hay, bagging dried leaves, cutting pine/fir branches as needed and growing excess veggies through the summer can get small herds of small livestock through even the toughest winter as long as you plan it all out beforehand.
 
Gary Stuart
Posts: 27
Location: Wakefield, Quebec, zone 3b/4a CAN
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I should add that the logistics get tricky unless you have neighbors you can work with.

Breeding goats means you have to keep at least one buck if not two (as un-related as you can get them so that they can breed each others kids) as well as a rooster and buck rabbit. The roo and buck rabbit aren't too bad to plan for but the bucks are pretty much useless eaters for 364 days of the year and then on day 365 they are nothing short of essential. They stink. They require their own housing and pasture. They stink. They get bucky. They stink. And they are essential.

Good luck!
 
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