Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Feeding Pets Self-Sufficiently

According to most veterinary experts, dogs and cats need to eat 2-5% (preferably meat) of their body weight daily depending on their activity level and general climate. Ripley weighs just shy of 100 lbs, is rather active and the climate is cold most of the year... so we're planning on an average of 4% or 4 lbs a day. This equates to about 1 fryer rabbit or broiler chicken (3-5 lbs) a day or 1 chum/dog salmon (8-15 lbs) every 2-3 days. This can be supplemented with tablescraps, slaughter offal, wild game, as well as surplus eggs and dairy... but those are harder to factor into a plan since their amounts vary.

Cats have similar dietary requirements; but considering a cat seldom weighs more than 10 lbs, we can easily lump one cat's feed (4 oz) in with Ripley's calculations. If we have a whole herd of cats, we'll have to refactor for more food. Chicken or rabbit hearts should always be fed to the cat in preference to the dog, since hearts are high in taurine and cats have a greater dietary requirement for it.

Wow! That's a lot of critters to raise or catch.

Salmon & other Finfish: It is illegal to use King salmon as pet food in our district; and Kings don't run our portion of the river. Silver, Pink and Red salmon don't run on the Tanana either. Chum (dog) salmon run July to Mid-August and again in November. The daily bag/possession limit for Sport Fishing both summer and fall chum salmon is 3 per day. The annual bag/possession limit for Subsistence and Personal Use Fishing chum salmon (with permit) in the summer run is 500/year for the summer run and 2,000 for the winter run.

Grayling and Sheefish run the river and creeks June through September; while lower consistent populations of Northern Pike and Burbot can be found year-round. Sport bag limits are low for these species and gear is restricted. There are no bag limits for Subsistence and Personal use unless noted on your permit; however, populations in the creeks are not very high, so you aren't likely to get a huge take even though you are allowed to use gill nets.

Regardless, with the ability to use gill nets and fish wheels with a Subsistence or Personal Use permit, harvesting enough fish to feed Ripley should not be overly difficult or time-consuming as long as we have the means to preserve the take.

Rabbits:non-commercial breeding doe averages 8 kits per litter every 10 weeks with conservative breeding practices (4 weeks for gestation & 6 weeks for weaning). In our extreme climate, we don't feel that breeding during the winter months is wise for the health of the mother or the kits; so at least 2 breeding cycles are forfeit, most likely 3.

It's generally light enough by March for a rabbit to breed, and warm enough by April to kindle in an unheated barn without supplemental lighting. Light and temperatures begin to plummet after mid-September, so the last litter we can responsibly raise should be kindled no later than October 1st, in order to grow out (12 weeks) before the truly bitter cold sets in.

Breed the doe March 1st, the first litter will kindle April 1st and be grown out by July 1st.
Breed the doe May 15th, the second litter will kindle June 15th and be grown out by Sept 15th.
Breed the doe Aug 1, the third litter will kindle Sept 1st and be grown out by Dec 1st.
There isn't enough time before freeze-up to breed the doe again and raise another litter.

We could tighten the schedule by weaning and rebreeding at 4 weeks instead of 6 and slaughtering at 8 weeks instead of 12. That schedule places a lot of stress on the doe during the breeding period, and requires intense feeding for rapid weight gain of the kits which we don't feel is reasonable or responsible for homestead production.

Three litters will average 20 kits (conservative loss estimate of 20%); which means we'd need to breed 18 does (and 3-4 bucks) on this schedule each summer just to feed Ripley if rabbits were her only food source.

Rabbits have a feed conversion rate of 4:1 (4 lbs of feed = 1 lb of growth). You should budget 150-200 lbs of feed for a doe and her litter (for each litter from conception to slaughter); and budget 1/2 lb of feed per day for open (unbred) does and bucks. For us 54 litters, 4 bucks for 12 months, and 18 does for 3 month comes out to 9,640-12, 340 lbs of feed a year.

Chickens: Given the sheer amount of birds required, it may be wise to consider breeds that mature quicly, and to plan on purchasing broiler chicks every summer rather than attempting to hatch and brood our own flock naturally. Because we don't intend to keep the broilers over the winter like we would our laying hens, it is less important that they be cold-hardy and robust breeds; however, we do intend to house them in portable tractors on pasture, so they can't have any serious health or vitality issues.

Cornish-Rock hybrids are genetically programmed for rapid growth (particularly breast meat), and can reach slaughter weight in 6-8 weeks. However, I have some serious ethical issues raising a non-viable animal that could not survive reliably on its own... and Cornish-Rock, or Cornish-Cross, are notorious for heart, lung and bone/leg disorders due to such rapid growth. These birds are approaching geriatric at 8 weeks and need to be slaughtered before succumbing to health issues... the only reason their meat could be considered "succulent" is because they can't really move around very well.

Brahma, Jersey Giants, and Langshans were considered "Meat Birds" before Cornish-Rocks came along; but they are even slower to mature (12-14 weeks) than many other Dual Purpose/Heritage breeds.Orpingtons were also considered "Meat Birds" and they are reasonably fast to mature, normally reaching slaughter weight in 10-12 weeks. And really -- what's waiting one more month when the birds will be happy and healthy?!

So, perhaps I should be looking for heavy Dual Purpose/Heritage breeds that are considered "fairly fast maturing" - like Australorps, Chanteclers, Delawares, Dominiques, Faverolles, New Hampshire or Rhode Island Reds, Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Sussex and Wyandottes. All these breeds are considered cold-hardy, and most are also winter layers (except Australorps)... just in case we want to keep some for the laying flock or eventually consider a flock large enough for natural brooding. Really, the only breed I'm interested in for layers that is missing from the "early maturing" list are the Buckeyes.

Since we'll be purchasing chicks and brooding them ourselves, we certainly want to wait until it warms up a bit because we most definitely don't have room for 400 chicks in our cabin!! It would probably be better to raise these guys in batches to help spread things out a bit. I think it's safe to assume the chicks will need some supplemental heat for 6-8 weeks until they're fully feathered before leaving them outside in a tractor, and it's really not warm enough (overnight above 40F) to do that until mid-May. Again, we aren't overwintering these birds in an insulated coop, so the last batch needs to be fully feathered and out on pasture before it gets consistently below freezing at night (around Halloween).

We can brood in 3 stages: (1) three weeks in a brooder indoors when they're really fluffy and tiny, (2) three weeks in a larger pen on the enclosed porch with constant supplemental heat, and (3) three weeks in an even larger covered pen with supplemental heat only at night. And then (4) three weeks out on pasture in a tractor until (5) slaughter time. 

Raising the broilers in continual batches allows us to have less dedicated equipment because each batch can be moved into the next stage when the previous batch moves on.... it also means we don't have to kill and slaughter 400 birds all at once, which is emotionally draining as well as physically exhausting. Spreading out the harvest also allows us to spread out the preservation of all the meat; much of which will need to be canned since we have limited freezer space.

Batch 1: (1) March 15, (2) April 5, (3) April 26, (4) May 17, (5) June 7
Batch 2: (1) April 5, (2) April 26, (3) May 17, (4) June 7, (5) June 28.
Batch 3: (1) April 26, (2) May 17, (3) June 7, (4) June 28, (5) July 19.
Batch 4: (1) May 17, (2) June 7, (3) June 28, (4) July 19, (5) Aug 9.
Batch 5: (1) June 7, (2) June 28, (3) July 19, (4) Aug 9 , (5) Aug 30.
Batch 6: (1) June 28, (2) July 19, (3) Aug 9, (4) Aug 30 , (5) Sept 20.
Batch 7: (1) July 19, (2) Aug 9, (3) Aug 30, (4) Sept 20, (5) Oct 11.
Batch 8: (1) Aug 9, (2) Aug 30, (3) Sept 20, (4) Oct 11, (5) Nov 1.

So it looks like we've got enough time to do 8 batches of 50 chicks, with a conservative loss estimate of 10%, to feed Ripley for a year if all she eats is chicken (with a bit left over for us too!).

Chickens have a feed conversion rate of 2-3:1 (2-3 lbs of feed for every lb of growth). You should budget 10 lbs of feed for each broiler chick. Each batch of 50 broilers will need 12.5 lbs of starter feed, 287.5 lbs of grower feed, and 300 lbs of finishing feed. So, for our 400 broilers, we're looking at 4,000 lbs of feed plus the cost of the chicks.


jeff myrick said...

Really enjoyed your post. One question though, will you be able to grow any or part of the feed required.

Plickety Cat said...

Hi Jeff, we should be able to grow a decent amount of the livestock feed here at the homestead once we're set up. The chickens require less feed overall and they eat many more things since they're omnivores; but the rabbits are more easily home-bred and make better use of garden waste.

While corn, soy and sorghum don't grow well here; we should be able to grow oats, barley and millet fairly well for the grain portions of the chicken's diet. Grass & legume hay for the rabbits is also do-able. And a percentage of garden produce & waste can be used for both (beets, carrots, squash, sunflowers, etc).

Anonymous said...

I need to grow barley.. For beer. Just stopping by to say hi..miss you guys..

Plickety Cat said...

Yup - barley and oats (and wheat if we decide to grow it) would all make some good beer.

And the spent brewers mash can still be used as chicken and hog feed!!

Miss you too :)

Plickety Cat said...

Other things to consider with raising chickens if we wanted to do it sustainably with natural breeding and brooding:

1/2 of each hatch will be males, you only need 1 cockerel each to replace your roosters and not every year... so all the rest would always be "broilers".

The other half will be females, but you only need 1 pullet each to replace your hens and not every year... so all the rest would be broilers unless you wanted to increase your laying/breeding flock.

Old hens and roosters past their breeding prime will also go in the food dish. (same with rabbit does & bucks)

Culls and losses (if not diseased) will also go in the food dish. (same with rabbits)

You and your critters can't eat all the eggs lain if you want some for hatching, so you'll have to adjust accordingly. Of course, not every egg will be fertile or will hatch properly... eggs that are fertile, but dont develop properly will also go in the food dish if they aren't spoiled (candling your eggs has more than one benefit!)

Jim Lister said...

Very interesting post. I would be interested in seeing your plans for a Bear proof chicken tractor - unless you plan to post an armed guard 24-7 - Ha! I really enjoy your posts. I assume that you also have plans for Moose proof fencing all of your garden and crop fields? I am loosing most of my garden each summer to the neighborhood moose here in Wasilla and the cost for a tall electric fence around my property is a necessity that I have put off way too long. Good Luck and thanks for posting your progress... - Jim

Plickety Cat said...

Jim - I don't think you can really make anything bear or moose "proof", the best we can hope for is "resistant".

We're looking into portable solar-powered electric wire for the chicken tractors. Since we have plenty of sun during the summer season, that option should work even off-grid and out in the field. It shouldn't be too hard to incorporate the panel and power pack into the tractor design, even if a portable fence needs to go around the pen instead of using electric poultry netting as an integral part of the pen.

We've found that wide seems to work better than tall for moose. We've noticed that the moose avoid the area where we're temporarily storing our brush pile, about 5' high but 3-4' thick.

So I'm thinking that we'll put dead hedge "fences" from brush, or jack leg fences, around the perimeter of our fields & pasture. It doesn't have to be particularly strong or high, it just has to LOOK like a significant barrier to our hooved foes.

Of course, the other option is to eat the moose that's eating your cabbages =) Would that be considered baiting?!?

Multiple nested fencing works well as a deterrent, too. It makes particularly tasty things too much of a bother to get to. So our kitchen garden will be separately fenced (woven wattle or wire) within the fenced home acre (dead hedge or jack leg). Garden fence inside yard fence inside perimeter fence would work even better.

A few strands of solar-powered electric polywire could add some muscle where needed.

Misty Pines Homestead said...

Sorry I haven't been posting alot lately,been beading my butt off.Making a hatband for my cowboy hat.We didn't get our property cause our pickup died and we had to use that money for another and she is pretty.A Dodge Ram 1500.
I was wondering do you two do any hunting up there?I don't know what the permit laws are there or if it's a lottery like some of the lower 48s.I heard the hunting is really great in Alaska.

Plickety Cat said...

Amanda - we haven't been on any large game hunts, just plinking grouse and such around the property.

In the game unit we're in, if you're a resident you only need a license for the general hunt, and tags for grizzly. There are other hunts, with special conditions like females or higher bag limits or extra tags, and those are usually registered (pay-to-play) or lottery.

In more populated game units and on native lands, the general hunt is much more restricted and there are more registered and lottery hunts. It can get pretty confusing, especially since we have Sport plus Tier I and Tier II Subsistence hunting licenses with different regs; but it's nowhere near as strict as many of the L-48 hunting regs.

Hope you get your land soon and nothing else puts an obstacle in your path :D