Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Grass Clippings for Livestock Feed

Many folks have asked me if its ok to feed grass clippings to livestock. I've read many dire internet warnings about this very issue, but I've also read several professional ag reports about the positive results of experiments utilizing grass clippings as feed. It basically boils down to .........maybe.........it depends. 

I decided to give it a try, not that I heartlessly jeopardized my livestock's wellbeing. I read everything first, took steps to be as safe as reasonable, and started slowly. 

Nowadays when the weather cooperates, daily I feed a trashcanful of fresh clippings to the herd which currently consists of a dozen sheep, one horse, and two donkeys. During the summer it's one trashcanful morning and night. In winter it is only one in the morning because the grass doesn't grow very well, so my supply is more limited. 

Things I keep in mind........
1- the clippings must be extremely fresh and not allowed to heat up at all, nor clump. They are fed immediately. 
2- the clippings consist of the same sorts of grasses and herbs found in the regular pastures. 
3- noxious weeds are eliminated from the areas where I mow for the clippings.
4- clippings are collected via a mower bag to avoid raking up stones along with clippings.
5- care is taken to avoid sucking up trash as I mow.
6- I don't feed clippings from other people's land because of possible poisonous weeds and plants that the animals are not use to eating. 

Things I need to be concerned about and aware of........
1- greedy eaters may not adequately chew grass clippings before swallowing. Incompletely chewed or rapidly eaten clippings could result in choke. This has not been a problem with any of my animals. 
2- livestock might overeat resulting in bloat, laminitis, or colic. I have not had this problem because I limit the amount of clippings plus do not have any greedy gulpers. 

There can be dangers in feeding grass clippings. But my current livestock are sensible eaters. The clippings are just a chopped up version of their regular pastures. And the clippings just serve as a novel snack morning and evening. One trashcanful shared by so many animals means that no one gets too much. 

So why bother to make the grass clippings? Because I have sections of old pasture that I no longer allow the livestock access to. Why? Because I've converted parts of that pasture area to vegetable gardens and orchards. But the grass that's in between and around the trees is perfectly usable as livestock feed. I could use a sickle bar mower, like one used to cut forage for hay making, but the lawnmower works ok for me. It's quick and easy. 

Besides the sheep, goats, and equines, who else likes grass clippings? The chickens. The pigs will eat a bit, but they primarily play in it and make nests. Since they get out to graze in the afternoons, they don't find the clippings all that attractive. And neither do the rabbits. Hands down, the rabbits prefer long grass, not mutilated mower clippings. 

Oh, one more point. Equines (horses, donkeys, etc) are the primary livestock class that may be the most apt to have problems with grass clippings, especially because they can tend to bolt good tasting foods and over indulge. If you notice in the photo, my livestock have to eat the clippings through the fence. Not a problem for the sheep. But the horse and donkeys can only nibble small mouthfuls through the fence since they can't simply bury their noses into the pile. Perhaps that helps prevent the problems associated with feeding them clippings.

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