Sustainability: Closing the Circle with Animals

Sustainability > Keeping Critters > Closing the Circle

Closing the Circle: Finish what you start, in sustainable/regenertive agriculture it means supplying all inputs from your own property and handling all your outputs on property as well.

This post is about how we attempt to close the circle with our critters and where we can make improvements. Closing the circle on human needs is impractical for us at this point and not really something we see ourselves capable of doing even in the future. So we make the most ethical choices we can. But that’s for another day and another post.

I talked a little about this in the post on compost. That, more or less, only dealt with outputs. Things like: manure, bedding, weeds, food waste, material, paper products, urine, etc. This post will look at rabbits, chickens, Jasper (dog), and budgies.

Rabbits

Rabbits are one of my favorite farm animals. I spent some time learning about what rabbits really eat and then figuring out how to grow that food here. When I feed the rabbits from our property and then collect their waste . . . That is closing the circle. As a reminder for rabbit outputs: we scoop up rabbit manure every month and add it to the compost piles; when a rabbit dies, their body is buried under a newly planted tree. Thank goodness, we don’t lose rabbits very often, but it has happened and will happen again.

So what do rabbits eat, and what can I grow to feed them?

  • Hay (90% of diet) — Grass, clover, weeds, plantain, wheat grass, sprouted wheat, dandelion, clover (white and red), timothy hay
  • Apple sticks, peach sticks, maple sticks
  • Willow branches with leaves
  • Vegetables & Fruit — leafy lettuce, carrot, apple, garlic scapes, beans plants, beets, parsnip, peas, pumpkin, radish, summer squash, winter squash, tomato, turnip,
  • Herbs —anise, hyssop, arugula, borage, sage, german chamomile, thyme, sorrel, lemon balm, peppermint, rosemary, genovese basil, queen anne’s lace

I have all this on the farm, with the exception of the wheat for sprouting and making wheat grass. We have started transitioning them by feeding them greens, herbs, and some veggies all summer. I have wheat ordered for the sprouts and wheat grass. I’ll get them used to that all fall and hopefully we will be fully transitioned by winter. I am not sure that we will ever grow our own wheat, we certainly won’t even try until after retirement.

Chickens

The chickens we currently have were raised on a homegrown diet supplemented by some scratch grain to train them to enter the ark and leave the ark (what I call their house). We planted several things specifically for the chickens this year in the garden.

  • For keeping clean — dirt, sand, a bit of grit.
  • For housing — to keep dry and shade, add insulating hay for winter
  • Protein — bugs, earthworms, mice (ick!), homemade yogurt, maggots, slugs, snails, ants, sprouted pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds, mealworms, and grubs.
  • Calcium — ground egg shells, homemade yogurt
  • Fodder — yard greens (grass/weeds/leaves), leafy garden greens, most vegetable and fruit scraps, hay in the winter, bread crusts
  • We keep scratch grain here for getting them up in the morning and back in at night.
  • Compost— The composting chicken project seems to be going really well. I am amazed at how many bugs and worms I see in their yard. They seem satisfied and not hungry.

Pets: Jasper and Budgies

Our pets are still mostly on commercial food.

Although Jasper (5 year old chorkie) has been on a home-cooked diet a lot. I sort of rotate him. He eats whatever he is fed and is particularly fond of yogurt and carrots. His home-cooked food includes: chicken, fish, eggs, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, peas, blueberries, and a dash of oil. His commercial food is a salmon/sweet potato mix.

Jasper’s waste is not composted. It is picked up and put in his own little septic that we made. We call it the “poo pit.” We’ve been using it 3 years and it hasn’t even reach the top of the lowest tire. I throw grass clippings or wood chips in there weekly to keep the smell down.

The budgies can easily be fed with the greens, herbs, and vegetables we grow. The biggest thing we would need to add would be the variety of seeds they love. Right now we feed them a quality food from the pet store. They did not approve of a sprouted food we tried.

The budgie aviary has a tray for droppings. We add a layer of used paper over the tray and that is emptied into the compost every evening.

Conclusions: I am pretty happy with where are right now in our attempt to close the animals circle. Next Spring my goal is to grow enough for the chickens and rabbits except the hay. I’ll get that from Hay Bob. Jasper will go back on a home cooked diet later this Fall. He’s looking a little plumper than I’d like. The budgies won’t have anything changed. They eat just a couple of teaspoons a day. Not worth trying to fix.

 

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