You already may know that our family strives to eat the largest portion of our food from what is grown on and around our property. I spend little time or money at the grocery store, but until recently I hadn’t applied the same concept to my animals. Below are my motivations for spending less on animal feed and how you can easily benefit from this too.
1. You Will Save Money
After grumbling to a friend about my pricey hobby, she said:
“Why enclose animals only to feed them store-bought food? You have plenty to feed them from your garden, orchard and kitchen scraps!”
-Veronica Shukla, Project Food Forest; Sioux Falls, SD
I asked myself: Could I really feed my pets and farm animals with garden produce and leftovers? And then I realized the absurdity of the question. Of course animals can survive without supermarkets and pet stores- they have been doing so for millennia!
I mentioned this concept to Dr. Jennifer Stevens, one of our Labrador’s veterinarians, who helped me recognize safe food scraps. Dr. Stevens has worked at Horizon Pet Care since July 2011 and she admits that her patients’s meals are almost exclusively store-bought pet food. Nevertheless, she humored me and gave the food-scrap idea some serious thought. Below is a chart I compiled with her guidance. However, this chart is not meant to replace your own research and can be edited as you like. We printed a copy to keep on the fridge.
She confirmed that generally, kitchen scraps can be fed to your dog with some notable exceptions. Dogs are lactose intolerant so avoid giving dairy to your dog. Do not feed dogs anything from the onions/garlic family or grape/raisins as they contain substances toxic to dogs as well. Almost all of our meals include garlic or onions so we do continue buying Science Diet in bulk at about the same amount as previously. However, I’d admire any family who was able to feed a dog simply on food scraps and “to-go” bags. To me, the remainder of excluded foods make sense- such as NO raw bread dough, sharp bones, banana or avocado peels, caffeine, or alcohol. More commentary on this chart below.
2. You Will Save The Planet
Like almost every other American, a third of my garbage consists of uneaten food. Spoiled meat, rotten produce, potato peels, egg shells, apple cores and scrapings from nearly every family meal fill the bin. Considering the cost to feed our cats, chickens and pigs an expensive omnivore diet AND how much food waste our home produces, it seemed these two problems could solve one another.
In the USA more than 40% of all food is thrown away, worth $165 billion per year. Half of this waste takes place in the home. The average American family spends $2,275 per year on food that is never eaten.-
Also, when eating out, we always box up the leftovers. It is easy to forget that the origin of the “doggie bag” truly was to minimize waste and maximize all calories by feeding it to the family pet.
3. You Will Have Fewer Farm Chores
Generally, we like our cats hungry so they keep the mouse and rabbit population in check. I know several farmers with thriving feline populations who don’t provide any cat food- and now, I suppose, I’m one of them! In fact, since we stopped buying cat food, we’ve discovered our outdoor cats to be the most independent animals on the homestead; but if you want to set out food scraps, consider glancing at the list above for guidance. Then again, if you have an outdoor kitty and some available rodents, you might find they are a pleasant farm-hand!
As you’ll see from the list, chickens eat most anything. They are natural omnivores (eat both vegetable and animal matter) and could eat their weight in bugs if given the chance. I had mixed emotions upon hearing tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are bad for chickens- maybe a mix of dumbfounded stupor and an enraged temper-tantrum. NO ONE told MY free-range chickens not to eat nightshades! This summer my New Hampsire and Cornish Rocks devoured half my salsa patch! So regardless of what the experts say, I throw virtually all kitchen scraps into the coop and let them decide for themselves what they like. With this approach, all are growing and laying fine.
With regard to how they help on the farm, Chicken Tractors are my favorite discovery. These “tractors” are portable chicken coops with an open base. Below is a photo of our homemade version using PVC pipe, plastic netting and zip ties. We place 2-3 chickens in a 4’x4′ coop with a little feed and plenty of water between garden rows. During the two days, our chickens will eat all the weeds and insects they can find, and gently aerate and fertilize the ground. Plus we usually get 2-3 eggs during that time too!
4. Life Is More Fun
After hearing we had new piglets, a family friend suggested we use his feed corn. He is a lawyer by trade, but enjoys farming and hunting on the side.
“Please stop by and take as much as you’d like. Anything you pick is less corn I have to harvest!”
-John B. neighbor and friend
My husband, girls and I stopped there on our way home and filled the pick-up with a pig, chicken and duck buffet.
John also encouraged us to take as much hay as we’d like. An acre of grass can support five Kune Kune pigs. Since grass in our area has died back or is under snow, a few bales of hay protect them from wind until consumed.
Last week, I cleaned out my fridge and pantry and set full containers aside for the pigs. Meanwhile, my daughter played chef, combining expired sour cream, moldy tomato sauce and stale cereal (“as a garnish”) to proudly share outside. My mom saw how fun this was for her granddaughter and now sets aside her larger quantities of food meant for the trash. Today Betty fed the pigs her sour grapes and expired dry milk.
I’m certain Christmas will provide abundant meals and loads of left-overs. If we don’t get through all my sister’s apple salad before it wilts and rots, you know it won’t be wasted.
With our growing season over, I continue to purchase chicken feed with oyster shells and dog food in generous quantities, but we have cut back significantly the last three months. Also, we’ve thrown away almost none of our feed bags because…
Call me a total food waste dork, but we converted the feed bags into a reusable tote.
Instructions abound on how to create these, but click here for the Fresh Eggs Daily post I love! Give totes away or sell them as you wish. Photo is of my daughter making her first sale at the 2017 McKennan Park Family Night Youth Arts Sale with a goat feed bag. Our good friends Kara and Susan humored us by completing Claire’s first purchase.
I usually think of dogs as man’s best friend, however, your pet can be the environment’s (and your pocketbook’s) best friend too! Dogs, Cats, chickens and pigs may be the secret to consuming 90% of your food waste. Put them to work as responsible citizens and feed them your kitchen scraps with gusto!
Let’s reduce waste, spend less on pet food and resurrect the “doggie bag” for the benefit of us all! Let Glean For Good know what you feed your pets!