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Raising Livestock without Grain — The Grow Network Community
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Raising Livestock without Grain

Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 321 ✭✭✭

I watched another video that really got me thinking. I’m moving across country and hoping to get settled and buy a house with some pasture soon. I know nothing about growing or maintaining pasture, but I’m guessing that’s a discussion for another thread.

I’m concerned that buying chicken feed will be either difficult or prohibitively expensive by spring. I hope I’m wrong. But if I’m right, what other suggestions do you all have?

I’m looking into geese which I read recently can be mostly raised on pasture. I believe the same is true of lamb. I’d like to keep dairy goats again once I move, but how much milk will they still produce without grain? I don’t know because I had to bring in all their hay, alfalfa, and grain.

Here is the video that got me thinking.

So what are your thoughts and suggestions? Am I being paranoid? What are good options for raising animals without buying outside feed?


  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,438 admin
    edited August 2020

    I think that first of all, a person has to be careful what they watch or hear. I think to go about this idea in a clear, sensible, thought out manner, you need to research what you want for type & breed of animals, the amount you feel that you need, what your animals need for feed (type & amount) & know how to properly store it so that it doesn't go bad...and factor in costs. You need to also factor in availability even in normal times.

    If you want to do grain free, you get animals that do well without grain. If it was beef, you do Galloway or Longhorn. Some breeds of pig are known to do better on a no grain diet...others, not so much. I know nothing about goats.

    I don't know about birds not having grains. Wheat and grass have niacin. Wheat also has protien. Both are needed for healthy ducks...protien for chickens. I think that at one point I had read about no grain chicken rearing, but I would have no idea where that was, most likely because it would not be possible in my climate or something of that sort, and there is always grain nearby in my area. I think that grain is important in a bird's diet for a few good reasons. Even a lot of folks who are rearing grain free are not doing truly grain free.

    If you are moving anyway, you may have to look into the possibility of growing your own feed on your own land. Research so that you would have enough to grow it & have suitable land for doing so. Neighbors are generally good sources, but having your own feed is better.

    Here are some interesting resources to check:

  • Bryce LangebartelsBryce Langebartels Posts: 47 ✭✭✭

    I don't have a great answer for you. However, I know that when I'm moving my chickens, ducks, geese and goats around the property and giving them fresh forage, their feed/grain consumption drops dramatically! So whatever you do, don't keep the animals in the same spot. Keep them moving around your property. Also, I have boer goats. They can go without grain no problem. Hay and fresh forage - especially if you have woods with brush - will keep them happy and healthy.

  • jodienancarrowjodienancarrow Mid North Coast AustraliaPosts: 712 admin

    @Megan Venturella so you're going to need fertile soil with access to good water. You need to learn how to love and nurture you're land. Inquire locally or online re courses you can do to help you with that. I'm guessing you want to be self sufficient, eat as healthy as possible, no chemicals, stress free animal raising etc. Absolutely wonderful goals to want and a journey to attain. Ask all the questions you want on this forum, read all the books you can, pick people's brains. Like @LaurieLovesLearning suggests have a clear cut vision of what you want and don't sway. Raising grain free chickens on pasture and household scraps will enable your pasture to be fertilised by them, so your dairy goats and lambs will have abundant, healthy pasture to thrive on and by them thriving on that pasture, they will mow it down to start the cylce once again. It's all about recycling and rotating and once you get the knack for it, you won't look back.


    Here is some vids that we watched. We are in the process of figuring out how to feed with no grain too!

  • maimovermaimover Posts: 307 ✭✭✭

    @Megan Venturella I don’t believe you’re being paranoid. Personally I think it’s good that this information gets presented at all in this format. When little things are done, here, there, and everywhere they might not show the underlying realities for the world. Some say it’s conspiracy theory. I think it’s reality. I know nothing about cows and very little about raising pigs (we did a couple many years ago) but feel grain free or at the very least non gmo grains (if you’re gonna use them) would be best for the animals health then ultimately for you and the environment. I so admire your ambition 😊

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,438 admin
    edited August 2020

    Hmm...I just remembered that wheat germ makes thin shells thicker. That's a tidbit that I picked up from a friend. So...that is where wheat would also come in. In whole grain form is as fresh as it comes.

    I agree with the non-GMO. I don't like corn fed anything in particular for that very reason. GMO corn has something in put into it that will destroy the digestive system in the worm that ingests it (thus reducing the need for sprays, supposedly).

    This same field corn, tasted by a local producer in his field, caused him to get literal holes in his stomach (he had a hospital stay), just as the worm would get holes.

    This made him wonder about what it would be doing to his cattles' stomachs. I do not remember, though, if he kept feeding them corn or not.

  • Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 321 ✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning That’s pretty scary! I have so far managed to steer clear of GMOs.

    Thank you everyone for the links and videos and advice. I’m going to look at it all right now!

  • Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 321 ✭✭✭

    It’s interesting, my assumption when I first posted was that I wouldn’t be able to raise chickens without buying grain- so I was looking into other animals, but from the videos and articles I see I was probably too narrow minded in how I thought about feeding chickens. Planting forage, giant ragweed, roadkill, duckweed, acorns- there were so many good ideas! I think I will have many more options than I realized. I need to learn to think unconventionally and start out small. I will also do more research into heritage birds I haven’t explored before.

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,438 admin

    @Megan Venturella Heritage birds...now that's my language. 😁 If you have any questions about those, send them my way!

  • Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 321 ✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning Well since you’re offering... which heritage breeds would you recommend that are excellent foragers? I’d love to know your thoughts if you’ve raised them. I’d would be interested in raising some for eggs and some for meat. Thanks!

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,438 admin
    edited August 2020

    Here is a good article that has a lot of answers from MEN:

    I always say...don't buy from hatcheries. They don't care about purity nor traits, just kicking the volume of chicks out. Beware of your breeders. Are they good breeders, really working on the breed to make it better, or just into it to make a quick buck & don't really care about traits & quality? In some breeds (most likely all), know about the lines. That may cost more, but the quality is better. "Breeders" who buy from a hatchery won't know the lines, because most likely, it isn't known even by the hatchery. Ask lots of intelligent questions before you buy.

    As far as dual purpose, the breed that I hear most touted right now isn't actually heritage...and I am trying them out. I have one problem...none of those eggs have been fertile, so I keep troubleshooting & looking for more birds to correct what might be an issue with my rooster. The hen lays very well. The rooster is large. The chicks are auto sexing. Mine are inside, but they are good foragers. They are super docile. These are developed in Germany. They are the Bielefelder. They sounded "perfect" enough that I wanted to test them out.

    As far as heritage, Cornish Game (not cross) are supposed to be good for meat. They are not known to be a docile breed, however. Marans (not sure if this is across all variations) are supposed to have tender meat, but a smaller bird. They are supposed to lay dark red eggs, and don't have a great rate of lay (ROL). Jersey Giants are huge (rooster up to 15 lb or more), but you will get big drumsticks & not a "beefy" bird at butcher time.

    I keep both the French Black Copper Marans & JG, and some color variations of each.

    Now, dual purpose usually won't give you the best of both traits. They will be lacking in both to some extent. Barred rock are usually the darling of the dual purpose birds. They are not docile. The roosters can be quite aggressive.

    Black Australorp looks similar to the black jersey giant & has some size. It doesn't have yellow bottomed feet as the JG does (one way to tell if your black bird is JG or Austra). These originate in Australia.

    Bresse are French & are supposedly very good. It is a good idea to finish them similar to what the French do. I have mentioned that process elsewhere on TGN.

    Buckeyes (again, not hatchery) are popular.

    This should give you great information on breeds & comparisons:

    Henderson's Chicken Chart by Sage Hill Farm is another really good chart.

    I am trying to attach a great & relevant pdf, but for some reason, it is just not happening. EDIT: It is at the bottom of this post. Whew!

    BYC is a great American based forum for all things bird.

    Here is a rundown of a few breeds:

    Here is a discussion:

    Finishing a heritage bird is often important to reduce it being tough. Also, you don't want to wait too long to butcher a heritage bird, as they tend to be more tough, especially if they are free range. They work those muscles!

    The following is a tidbit that I have heard from others in the past about how it might be worth crossing a few to make a better meat bird flock, and it was repeated to someone here: "I know you are against crossbred animals, but for meat please rethink that. Hybrid vigor will give you faster growing animals." -from BYC.

    I was told a long time ago to use a heavy bird breed (JG in my case) and cross with a faster maturing one for meat. I have never done that, but am considering doing some of that, keeping my pure lines separate to keep "new" blood on hand if needed. I have a few large birds, both hen & roo that I might consider experimenting with. If I use a barred breed, then my results should also be auto sexing at hatch.

  • Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 321 ✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning Thanks for the response! I have lots of homework to do now. This will be really fun. I have only ever bought chicks from a hatchery, so I’ll have to look into breeders next time.

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,438 admin
    edited August 2020

    @Megan Venturella It is fun (and addicting)! Enjoy the journey.

  • Brueck.irisBrueck.iris New ZealandPosts: 139 ✭✭✭

    We've been raising ducks, chicken and geese for 9 years. The geese are perfectly fine on a no grain diet - Pilgrim variety.

    Ducks and chicken are more difficult. The nutrient value in your grass and greens play a big role. So soil is key as usual. Since our soil still has deficiencies I need to add purchased grains.

  • Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 321 ✭✭✭

    @Brueck.iris I will have to look up pilgrim geese! We are moving, not sure what the soil will be like where we land. Something to keep in mind, thank you!

  • Brueck.irisBrueck.iris New ZealandPosts: 139 ✭✭✭

    Good luck @Megan Venturella. Pilgrim geese are also smaller than other geese, very gentle in nature and best of all: male are white, females are grey - so you always know who you have in front of you.

    We even used one of the girls a few years ago to hatch some chicken eggs. My neighbour wanted to get chicken very early in the season and nobody had a broody hen yet. So we used the goose. She trusted me enough to let me take her giant eggs ( I didn't want more geese) and replace them with chicken eggs. Of course the poor girl got a shock when they hatched and neither looked nor talked like she expected. We removed the youngsters immediately, so that she couldn't take them swimming. She might have been smart enough not to do that, but I didn't want to risk it.

  • HassenaHassena Posts: 299 ✭✭✭

    We are reducing our chickens feed by increasing their access to the compost pile.

    On one side of this coop, it opens to a fenced of pasture.

    The other side is also a fenced pasture but the compost pile. :) We are hoping the compost pile will supply yearound bugs fest. In the winter we'd like to cover with plastic for a greenhouse effect. Keeping chickens and their buffet warm.

    It really depends on where a person lives and what's available on the land.

    Happy growing

  • Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 321 ✭✭✭

    @Hassena Thanks for the reminder! My family just moved and I am living with my sister whose compost pile is literally alive with maggots right now- yuck! But it's every chicken's dream!

  • LongTallDrinkLongTallDrink Posts: 17 ✭✭✭

    My pastured dual-purpose birds do get organic layer or grower mash, but it's very expensive, so I soak it overnight with a bit of kefir to get things working and have cut my feed costs by more than half as a result with no loss of production.

    I still don't have a permanent coop, so for now my girls live in the greenhouse in the winter, where I've dug a 4x8 hole in the ground and covered it with plywood. I put horse manure from my neighbour (and now rabbit poop from our nascent bunny empire) in there for the worms. Now there's a live protein source for the winter and great compost in the spring right there in the greenhouse - that's stacking functions!

    I got the idea for the wormhole (does not work for time/space travel 😕) from Harvey Ussery's most excellent book The Small-Scale Poultry Flock.

  • AngelAngel Posts: 61 ✭✭✭

    @LaurieLovesLearning Where do you source your heritage breed chicks? We've always just bought from hatcheries (with good results), but I'm not opposed to trying something new.

  • LaurieLovesLearningLaurieLovesLearning Moderator Manitoba, Canada 🍁 zone 3, PrairiesPosts: 3,438 admin
    edited October 2020

    @Angel I will post my answer in another thread.

  • Suburban PioneerSuburban Pioneer Posts: 193 ✭✭✭

    I've had a mix of about about 25 ancient, heritage and modern breed chickens so far, mostly eggers but also dual breeds, and my experience is that each and every one is an expert forager. From grass leaves to plant seeds ( I have a mix of mostly cool season bunchgrasses and odd grains, weedy perennials and so on in my orchard pasture) to fallen fruit to worms, grasshoppers and mice, they eat it all (and heartily, I might add!) I do feed commercial organic ration and soaked organic grains ad lib, because I don't think our pasture can support all the birds on foraging alone. Make sure you have plenty of space for your girls because they do need to roam pretty widely to avoid exhausting all the edibles in one confined space. They will also eat planted greens like lettuce, kale and even clover, but like them so much they devour the poor things before they get a chance to seed. Think about planting some fruit trees and berry shrubs to help feed the poultry in the fall, too. We've started getting apricots and elderberries, and both are a hit when the over ripened or damaged fruit falls, especially if there's a tasty earwig inside. I planted two SIlky Dogwood shrubs this spring and expect them to start fruiting next year. The berries are said to be beloved by birds and full of calcium to help their eggs and skeletons. Also, sunflowers are great, as long as you can cut them down before the wild birds strip away the seeds for themselves, LOL! A stand of thornless cacti are also good, if you can get them established before the birds consume them. A couple of years ago my girls ate all the pads I started sprouting, so I resorted to planting established heavily thorned cacti but they still try pecking around the edges sometimes! Prickly pear cacti are a good source of human food and emergency liquid for both people and livestock, as well. Just burn the thorns off before feeding to your animals, of course. And last but not least, be sure to plant plenty of flowers that attract pollinators to your pasture, as the birds love insects. I have enough floral infrastructure in place now to support both domestic and wild bees, so I'm going to try installing a beehive in the pasture next year. A friend who's really into small-scale permaculture recommended that I put the hive in the pasture because the birds will eat the dead bees, getting protein for themselves while keeping the hive area clean and reducing the chances of mite infestation. That's one more potential step towards self-sustainability. I'm going to see if it works. And I agree with you - the more self-sufficiency for the animals, the better. There's no good reason to just keep assuming that an abundant supply of good quality, affordable animal feed is going to be around forever. I think the "affordability part is already in question...


    Another idea that I actually just started doing (finally!!!!!) is fermenting the feed. It makes it go a lot longer and saves money. And, it's so much healthier for them! Here's a link for anyone that is interested:

  • TaveTave Posts: 392 ✭✭✭✭

    That is cool about fermenting grains for chickens. They made this video in Japan, and it describes what they're doing with non-conventional rice and apple pulp. The chickens absolutely love the fermented rice that would typically be wasted after making alcohol. The fermented apple pulp waste is mixed in with cattle feed, and they love it.

    Our goats were always pastured and given a little grain with blackstrap molasses as a treat while my Dad milked them. It was not GMO, and it made up a very small part of their diet. Our pastures were seeded with clover and alfalfa, and they did fine.

  • Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 321 ✭✭✭

    @LongTallDrink Thanks for sharing a great idea- also just love seeing the words “nascent bunny empire” strung together! Lol

  • Megan VenturellaMegan Venturella Posts: 321 ✭✭✭

    Here is something I just came across.

  • TaveTave Posts: 392 ✭✭✭✭

    @Megan Venturella Great video. Thanks for sharing.

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