I feed plants from my garden to my livestock. I have done it with caution but as I’ve studied the subject for this blog, I have found out just how complicated the topic is. Alfalfa is on the poisonous list and yet we feed million’s of tons of it to livestock. How can that be? What I’ve learned is that plants are healthy in one state but not another.
Alfalfa fresh in the field can cause bloating and possible death. Yet after a killing freeze of 24 to 24 F. then the alfalfa growth is killed. A few days later it is safe to graze or bale. When alfalfa is cut, it dies, and then is safe to feed. So a more accurate statement would be that alfalfa is safe if handled properly.
The same could be said for beans. I’ve read that the plants are poisonous. I feed small amounts of the plants to my beef but only after they are at the dying stage and yellow. University studies confirm that beans plants after a freeze can be fed in small amounts to livestock. See the similarity? Think what a blessing this would be after an early killing frost like the one we had a few years ago on August 21. The garden would not totally go to waste.
Some dried beans can also be fed in small quantities. I would not recommend kidney beans as uncooked thoroughly, they are highly poisonous. The thing that struck me the most about studying this subject was that in certain states things are highly poisonous and in another nutritious. Knowledge and wisdom are powerful things.
Then there are plants that are just not suitable to be fed at all to stock like onions, my favorite vegetable or rhubarb leaves. Others like Pumpkins and squash are loved by livestock and have been fed for centuries. Turnips can be fed but in small quantities. Of course members of the nightshade family are a taboo. They include tomato and potato plants along with eggplant and yet the fruit if fully ripe is safe. So feed the fruit but not the plant.
Field peas are regularly fed to cattle but they are fed in the dry state. Which since they are in the bean family, that makes sense. Green bean plants are poisonous. It’s why I feed my yellow or dry. Cabbage is also a good feed but also in small quantities as too much causes bloating and gas. As with every feed change, start out really small at first and then build. Allow the stomach time to adjust and keep the amount to a low percentage of their regular diet.
But don’t shy away because feeding appropriate plants from our gardens to our livestock is a great way to add a variety of nutrients and recycle. Plants to animals and animal waste to garden. It’s part of my ‘waste not want not’ goals.
I hope to start a small garden for the rabbits next summer. I also hope to be able to build a solar dryer to dry some of the harvest. Both would save economically and give the rabbits variety in their diet and boost nutrient levels. What they eat we in turn will eat as they are meat rabbits.
So when you have gleaned the cobs from your corn, pass it on. The livestock will love you but remember in small quantities at a time. Get the most from your garden. Do your own research. What you can grow will likely be different from my garden. Where you live might even change what is poisonous and what is not. For instance clover in the south is toxic but here up north nutritious. It really is a bit complicated.
But don’t let that make you shy away. The reward is great and I’m not just talking about economics or nutrition. There is something nurturing to our souls about gardening. We build the virtue of appreciation when we use it to its fullest. And respect for all that we have been given develops when we see and experience the whole cycle of life. So pass it on, your livestock will love you.