Do We Feed Our Animals Crap?

{Note: As a result of last week’s popular 21 Things To Stop Saying Unless You Hate Fat People I got a lot of new followers. ::waves:: Hi! While I write about fat acceptance often, I also write about homesteading and parenting. You’ll see many more fat-related posts from me in the future, and today I hope you’ll stick around today to start learning about what goes on at The Wallow, my little homestead in Tennessee.}

A friend of mine recently made a reference to how Joshua and I are raising animals without feeding them crap. Are we? That’s an interesting question.

Since most of the people I talk to about homesteading know much less about the topics than I do, I am extra careful to be honest. Several times I’ve heard someone call our operation organic, for example. The person speaking may not have any idea what organic means or that it is an official government certification. Maybe they are using it as a synonym for the uselessly vague “natural”. However, The Wallow is in no way organic. Not even close! And so I’m very quick to correct people.

How about “free-range”? Our birds are all free-range if you mean not cooped up. They have the complete run of the place, as evidenced by the amazing amount of poop on the porch and patio and other miscellaneous horizontal surfaces. But free-range could also mean “forages for their own food”. The birds do that some, but we also put out a bowl of feed for them. The chickens could probably do without it, although they’d probably be a lot scrawnier. The ducks on the other hand seem much more dependent on the feed.

The sheep aren’t free-range. They stay in an area back in the trees where they can have reliable shade without requiring a lot of labor from us. We periodically let them out onto the pasture so they can snack on grass. In the meantime, they eat hay.

The pigs definitely aren’t free-range. They stay confined to a pretty small area. Free-ranging pigs would take much, much more land than we have. I rotate them frequently onto new land as a parasite-reduction technique. I frequently stare at my land while frowning trying to figure out how to keep my pigs on grass. But, it’s not going to work. They definitely love the new grass when they get a new spot, but it’s gone in hours and doesn’t make up a significant portion of their diet. The pigs eat a commercial feed mix.

How about that feed? Is it crap?

It isn’t organic. I wouldn’t mind feeding organic feed, but that would be much more expensive, and I don’t value organic enough to pay so highly for it for my animals.

It’s local. Er, maybe. Sort of, sometimes. When we feed the pigs a complete feed, it’s a big-brand, non-local feed. That’s the style what we give the poultry, too. Most of the time we feed the pigs a corn-plus-concentrate mix. In that case, the concentrate might be local. We buy it through the co-op anyway. The corn is… corn. Who knows where it comes from. The concentrate is about 20% of the total mix, so the pig feed is maybe 20% local.

It isn’t medicated. Amongst the available choices, it can be hard to find a non-medicated feed. I want the food to be food and the medications we give to be deliberate, so I do take care to use non-medicated feed.

Kitchen scraps add variety. The ducks don’t seem to recognize anything extra we give them as food. But the chickens and the pigs love household scraps. Practically the only thing that goes in the compost at The Wallow when pigs are around is the coffee grounds. Everything else – questionable fruit, less yummy veggie parts, bread loaf heels, and meal scrapings – finds its ways into one belly or another. Lately, the pigs have been getting all the duck eggs, too, since Joshua and I don’t like them enough to keep up with eating them all.

What’s the bottom line? I think there are lots of positives to how we raise our animals. But, we’re not too lofty about the feed. I don’t think we’re feeding them “crap”. But, we’re not feeding them some specially chosen organic, non-GMO, local, {insert hip word here} diet, either.

When you think of a small farmer and her animals, what do you imagine she’s feeding them? If you buy local, do you check into the animals’ feed, or do you just assume that it’s “not crap”?