By Deanne Converse This article may not be copied or transferred in anyway in whole or in part without the permission of the author.
We have been working with several organizations which support the poorest people across the Globe, teaching and helping them feed themselves and support livestock. This is a hand up, rather than a hand out. To do this it requires the knowledge and ability to have sustainable and good quality feeds available for livestock. We would like to share that info here briefly to encourage our friends who would also like to move toward sustainability. What we in the USA might consider food for animals, is actually a good source of nutrition suited for human consumption as well. And it actually is tasty. In this section we will address the many sources of feed we grow for our critters and also use abroad in our mission work. We will also mention human consumption use.
The sources of food we will present below are ones WE HAVE EXPERIENCE with, here on our farm in the USA, and/or in other countries in our work abroad. If you live in the USA, please join us for our Alternative Feeds workshops, were we will show how to grow the feeds featured below.
We also will soon have a Farm Resource Management text out which is directed for application in tropical and sub-tropical environments.
Purslane ( Portulaca oleracea)
I am always amazed in the USA how few people realize that the ‘weed’ they rip out of gardens with gusto, is actually one of the most beneficial and highly nutritious plants they could have. It tastes good too! It is a hardy plant grows all over the globe, even in cracks in inner city sidewalks. It volunteers in peoples gardens, and I have found it growing in sandy soil in an ignored corner of a yard in a poor mountain community in Honduras. IT GROWS EVERYHERE on its own. The plant has the distinction of tasting different depending on the time of day it is picked, due to the effect its photosynthesis processes has on its flavor. Picked in the morning, it has a citrusy flavor, and it is sweeter later in the day. It is very high in nutrients and anti-oxidants. It can be eaten raw or cooked. If you add it to smoothies, it will naturally thicken it, without adding unwanted empty calories, but it WILL add a nutritious punch. The stems cooked in stews will thicken them. In many central and south American cultures purlsane is added to egg dishes. Purslane in Spanish is Verdolagas, and also the name of the common recipe
Before you go ripping out the best thing in your garden, you might consider just relocating it instead. If you see it growing wild, dig it up and bring it home. It is often called “Chicken Weed”. The chickens know what is good, in this case. The anti-oxidants in the plant will translate to healthy birds and good quality eggs. It is good for any plant eating animal or fish. You can pick off leaves or branches of its low growing rosette form. It will regrow. It will reseed and spread as well. It makes a nice ground cover plant, and does not need special care. It produces a constant supply of tiny flowers which last 24 hours, and then go to seed. It has succulent
plant qualities. It will disappear at first frost and return in the warmer weather. It often appears in areas where the soil has been disturbed, such as along foundations or barnyards, or your flowerbeds. You can buy domesticated forms of this plant. Territorial Seed Company has two varieties in their catalog. We have successfully own both domesticated varieties (in addition to native varieties) in the PNW of the USA and in the tropical regions of Honduras as well as native varieties.
These days when many are concerned with preparing for an economic collapse, having a hearty plant such as purslane available is a huge benefit. Most people see it as a weed, not realizing it is even edible, which means it is one plant a family could have growing on their property, which would not be a target for thieves.
There are many varieties of duckweed. It is considered the smallest of plants, and it floats on the waters’ surface drawing nutrients from the water through its few tiny dangling roots. Duckweed can ‘reproduce’ via plant division, allowing it to double the plant population in 24 hours, if conditions are right. The fact that it is high in nutrients, especially protein content, which out-paces alfalfa, puts it in the ring for top grade animal feed that is sustainable. AND IT IS SUITABLE FOR HUMANS to eat.
We grow duckweed in kiddie pools. It is fed mainly to our fish, and farm fowl. We collect the extra and freeze it in ice cube form. This allows us to plop cubes in with our fish for an off-season fresh greens diet. Duckweed can also be dried and stored for later use (think, ‘hay’). Duckweed is a simple and non-fussy crop to grow, as long as you meet its few parameters for successful growth. We can skim duckweed off half the surface area of the water, and in 24 hours it is covered again by new growth. n advantage of keeping duckweed covering waters’ surfaces is that it also keeps mosquitoes from being able to easily use that water for reproduction, making it good water management tool.
Duckweed is actually suitable for any animal that eats vegetation, and fish and yes, obviously, ducks. We especially like this for our quail, since they need high protein content in their feed for consistent egg production, which this plant provides. For human consumption, it is usually cooked in soups/stews.
Duckweed is easily grown. Any container, or even a hand dug shallow hole of any size in the ground that hold water will work. A little bit of urea or animal poo or worm castings in the water will feed these plants. These plants are used in water treatment plants to clean water! It needs dappled sun in areas of intense light, and shelter from strong winds. An air-stone helps or mechanical aeration increases growth and plant division. Some people will grow it right in their fish ponds inside protective floating baskets ( the fish will eat it all otherwise), with the fish providing the nutrients for the plants and the plants cleaning the water for the fish.
Most people think of duckweed as the plant that covers the heads and beady eyes of gators in swampy everglades as they peer up though the floating layer of duckweed. Yes, it grows in the swamp land of Florida, but it also grows in the PNW. I grow duckweed outdoors every year, and bring a patch of it indoors in winter to safe-guard my crop that dies back outside in the ice of winter. So far, my outdoor crop has re-appeared each Spring on its own when it warms up enough….But during the winter I keep my small patch of indoor duckweed going in a pitcher by a window just in case.
For more information on duckweed as feed and other uses, please refer to the Feedipedia link http://www.feedipedia.org/node/15306 . Because this plant is considered invasive in some regions of the tropics and warm regions, good environmental stewardship practices need to be in place when managing this plant. This is easily accomplished.
Azolla Also called Duckweed Fern or Fairy Fern. This plant has very similar needs as duckweed, and often the two grow well together. We have also found that in locations where one may not grow well, the other will. This gives hope to people who say that they just cannot grow duckweed. On our farm we just do not seem to have difficulty with either, but I do know many people do have challenges, so I do not want to diminish their plight. My recommendation for those who want to grow aquatic plants for fast production and high quality food, that if duck weed is not growing, move to Azolla. My best recommendation is to grow both. Azolla is actually a type of tiny floating fern plant and is highly nutritious as is duckweed. It lacks the lignin content of duckweed and many other plants, putting it ahead of many in the category of being easily digested. It is edible for humans also.
On our farm, we feed this to all our livestock. This is another plant I favor for our quail flock due to the high protein content they require. It frees us up from dependency on commercial feeds. There are many varieties of Azolla. The photo at right shows some azolla growing for fish food in Honduras. Notice the varied coloring.
For more information on using Azolla for feed, and on its production and other uses, please refer to the Feedipedia link: http://www.feedipedia.org/node/565 .
Because this plant is considered invasive in some tropical and warmer regions, it needs to be managed with good environmental stewardship in mind (contained), which is easily accomplished, and an important part of managing this crop.
This plant is one that in many areas of the tropics is a nuisance, because it grows rapidly as a plant that floats in calm waters, and can block waterways. It is also an important crop for food and a great ‘green manure’ for building soil. It is a good nutritious food for fish, ducks, chickens, cattle and pig fodder and chickens. Some people feed this to their livestock raw, as we have done. Most people cook the plant before feeding it, which does increase palatability. It can be dried as a hay, but due to its thick leaves and stems with high water content, the manual labor in turning it as it dries is very labor intensive. It does however make excellent silage for later feeding.
We grow this on our farm in kiddie pools. It is food for our pigs and chickens. At the Children’s Village in Honduras we grew this in an unused swimming pool and also in halved 55 gallon barrels. The tilapia readily ate this plant as did the pigs I recommend that everyone watch the video I have linked here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1kkn5Sz4MI. It is called ‘EatTheWeeds: Episode 38: Water Hyacinth’. This presentation covers restrictions on this plant, how to prepare for human consumption, and safety cautions when collecting the plant to eat. Why would I include such a plant in my list? Because where I live it can be controlled and useful. In places where we do our work to help populations in need, it can solve so many issues of hunger, animal feeds and soil remediation, and bio-gas production. In the instance where there is a total economic collapse, this plant can be very useful. I am NOT advocating anyone break the law to use this plant.
This is a high protein Brazilian grass that is a hybrid developed for drought resistance and good production of nutrition. There is another similar variety that tolerates water logged conditions. These both grow in tropical regions and the warmest regions of the USA.This is a grass well suited for a cut-and-carry fodder crop management situation. In many areas where we do our work outside the USA, this is a good grass and management strategy for many reasons. When keeping valuable livestock penned and close at hand provides better security from predators and theft, this is an excellent combination. In areas where natural resources are difficult to protect such as in areas where water is scarce, managed and drought resistant grasses are the perfect answer to consistently feeding livestock, and keep soils from being harmed. And keeping livestock contained allows farmers to manage the grass crop for optimal production.
Feed which livestock? Cattle, horses, mules, any ruminant, and hogs are the primary recipients. It is also suitable for chicken fodder, but must be chopped before being presented to fowl, which is easily accomplished with a machete or a weed-eater.
Being a hybrid, Mulato II does not produce seed as a repeatable crop generator. It is best established by seed to begin with that is purchased commercial. It then can spread and thicken through clum spread. I can be transplanted in this way also. When the grass is managed as a cut and carry crop, once the crop is planted it keeps on growing, so there is a one-time investment for a continuous and sustainable crop.
It should be noted that any grass crop can be managed for a cut-and-carry fodder crop. This grass is especially suited for tropical and hot environments, drought stricken, where others fail or are susceptible to disease and pests in those region. Other grasses on non-tropical regions can be managed similarly, some better suited for cut-and-carry than others.
In my Sustainable Farming Resource Management Plan, I describe and instruct in detail the easy method of planting and managing this crop for a successful and productive cut-and-carry management system.
Here is one of my all-time favorite plants. It is an all-around powerhouse! Super food for humans and fish and livestock. Source of a highly valued oil. Seeds that will purify water. Live fence production. Medical wonder. Fire fuel. Bio-fuel source. Income generator. Thrives in the harshest and poorest of growing conditions. Phenomenal growth rate!
The nutrition and health benefits of this plant are nothing short of amazing! While this information is too vast to go into detail here, it is described in more detail in our Sustainable Farming Resource Management Plan.
We planted many, many moringa oleifera trees in Honduras. The photo at right is me planting moringa seedlings to be managed as an understory growing among banana trees. We adopted two management strategies for this tree, utilizing its rapid growth characteristics and varied crop benefits to fit the needs of the people being served. It grows in Florida and other similarly warm parts of the USA. We also grow it on our farm in the Pacific Northwest in the USA, which many people do not think is possible. It is, but you just need to meet its needs, which is VERY do-able.
as a short green fodder crop. Here, it is planted close together (about 4 – 7 inches apart), and in groupings allowed to initially grow to 1 1/2 – 3 feet tall, and then cut down to about 7 inches tall. One grouping or strip is cut down to 7 inches tall each day. The next day, the next strip or group is cut, and continued, one strip per day. By the 35th day you are back in rotation to cutting the first group again, which will have re-grown branches and leaves. The harvesting rotation continues. Managed in this way farmers will have a constant supply of highly nutritious food for themselves and family, for market, for storage or for livestock. The target is the leaves and tender branches. We feed the moringa to our chickens and fish and pigs and children.
Moringa as a ‘taller’ but managed tree: Moringa is a rapidly growing tree. It will grow 15 feet in one year. It needs to be trimmed more frequently than people in the USA are used to doing. The trimming keeps the valued leaves and also the seed production within reasonable reach. Kept short, the tree can also put its energy into seed production rather than height growth and maintenance. Within the first year it will produce edible flowers (pregnant women should not consume flowers), and also seeds. The seeds can be cooked and eaten. The seeds are also highly valuable for purifying water, which in 3rd world countries where clean drinking water is not readily available, this can save many lives. They will clean out turbidity in dirty water and kill bacteria, making it 99.9% pure! The seeds can also be pressed to give valuable oil. The oil can be used in cooking and machinery, for lamps and as a source income. At the first orphanage we worked with, the plan was to grow the taller trees among the managed cut-and-carry Mulato II fodder crop. Also, the tree can be grown as a living fence, doing double duty in a person’s yard or farm.
The plan to produce and manage all this is detailed in our Sustainable Farm Resource Management Plan.
Why the excitement about Moringa? Isn’t it just the newest fad? While it is fast becoming a ‘hot topic’ it is not a fad. And most what you read about moringa is true (there are some exaggerated claims out there), and the medical research field is discovering more uses for this all the time. I am excited because this tree grows with little care in poor conditions. Meaning even in the back yard of a poor family that lives and survives in a trash dump. The dried leaves when added to the formula of malnourished infants who are starving not only keeps them alive and solves the malnourished state, but it brings them to a thriving state It increases milk production in lactating mothers. It is high in essential vitamins, mineral and antioxidant array, and complete protein not found in any other plantlife. This tree alone can solve the malnourished population issue in most areas, and all that is needed is the Johnny Appleseed movement done with moringa seeds. What I have noticed though in the poor 3rd world countries (Honduras specifically), is that a few people know about the PKN1 seeds will not sell the seed, but will sell the leaves…I realize they want to guard the wealth in the specialty crop they have. Here is where this crop can be kept from the poor. The tree does grow wild in these countries, so even using the indigenous sources rather than the PKN1 seed sources will be helpful. Moringa oleifera PKN1 seeds are readily available online and in the USA and from India.
The nutritious meal below was grown completely on the sustainable farm. Features moringa cooked in the eggs. Eggs with moringa leaves and peppers on a chaya leaf for a delicious and nutritious wrap. Cucumbers and tomatoes on the side.
This plant has many varieties. The best varieties to work with are those which do not have the irritating hairs on the leaves, although with cooking (brief boiling or frying, which is necessary anyway– importantly, in a non-aluminum pan.) the hairs are not an issue for consumption. Varieties of this plant grow as a native all over tropical regions. It can grow in the USA, and even in colder regions if it is protected. The care needed to grow this in the PNW I feel is worth the nutrition and volume it produces for livestock feed and for humans and varied way this delicious plant can be used in cooking.
Chaya is a champion plant when it comes to food production and help as a hedge.. The beauty of this plant is its ordinary appearance, in that some may not recognize it as more than ‘just a garden or wild plant’, so it will not be a target for theft. From just a few 7 inch cuttings you can grow many more starts and a hedge and still be reaping tasty edible leaves that are replaced and ready for re-harvest in one week or less, all within a month or two from first planting. It does exceedingly well outdoors and even more-so in an aquaponics system. It can be grown from seed, but the seeds which are rarely produced take months to germinate. The most common way this plant is propagated is from cuttings which readily begin growing once planted. The leaves of the plant remind me of maple leaves.
We got our first starts from ECHO. I received them in mid-Dec.. It was not until the 25th of Jan. that we were at the Village in Honduras where they were to be planted. Even with the wait, all the starts flushed to life within 24 hours of being planted in the aquaponics system.
These were used with great relish in the kitchens at the Honduran orphanage. We also cooked some on our outdoor firepit and fed them to the pigs and chickens. The nice thing about these leaves is that after the initial boiling, they do not loose their body, and can be used like cabbage later cooled or in cooked dishes, or as a wrap.
One of the outdoor uses planned for the chaya was to create a tall hedge around the moringa tree patches, so that the moringa would not be seen and less likely targetted for theft of their valuable leaves and seeds. The chaya hedge would be planted thickly enough that the leaves could be harvest on alternating days for a constant daily harvest that would still shield the moringa trees from view, and yet provide nutritious chaya leaves for the children and livestock.
Mealworms are a very good source of live protein. These are a good source of food for farm fowl, fish and pigs. If they are raised cleanly, they are also a great source of nutrition for humans. They are mainstream fare outside the USA. In a survival situation more people in the USA would be favorably disposed to considering mealworms as regular items on their plates.
I grow mealworms on our farm in the PNW. I have not taken this endeavor with our work outside the USA simply because the places we have worked are subject to high temperatures and high humidity, but I do know they grow in places that experience this.. This combination, coupled with frequent and extended electricity outages, makes it troublesome to consider the options of keeping a viable mealworm population alive and thriving as a feed source to be of value, in a high needs situation (so far , however we are working on a simple remedy for this). However this is not the case in the USA. I can grow mealworms year-round. Outdoors in the summer and indoors in the cooler time of year. They thrive best in temperatures of 70 – 85 degrees. Quail really go after mealworms.
I have kept mealworms in plastic shoe-sized boxes and a bit larger. Currently, I am using a plastic drawer set (wardrobe sized) with bran and/or cornmeal for bedding. I am also using the spent grain from a local brewery, which I dry, as bedding, and doing very successfully with it. I dry it on our wood burning stove, then heat treat it before it goes to the mealworms. Rice hulls, oats are also excellent bedding. A piece of carrot or other cut vegetable suffices for their water source. I also keep mealworms in a small plastic drawer set up where I am experimenting with feeding a smaller population some Styrofoam. Current research shows that mealworms can successfully consume Styrofoam, so my efforts are to confirm that, and also see what effects it may have on the mealworms and also the quality of frass (poop) that is produced from this process. The worms being fed Styrofoam are not used as feed for livestock.. Mealworms will become pupea, and then go through a metamorphosis state, turning into beetles, called darkling beetles. Once the pupae turn into beetles they should be separated into their own box, with bedding and cut veggies for water. The beetles will lay eggs. After about 2 months, the beetles should be transferred to a different box, allowing for the eggs to hatch, and the juvenile mealworms to mature. Some of the maturing mealworms will make a good feed source, and of course you will want to reserve some to keep a viable mealworm population.
We started out small, and built up our mealworm population (and still are). We went from the small set up pictured above, and moved them into an insulated cabinet I built inside our quail coop. This cabinet allowed me to keep up mealworm production over the winter. I used one inch thick, 2’X3′ Styrofoam insulated boards which I bound together with duct tape to make the cabinet. It sits above the floor on 2″X4″s that cross the coop. It lets me use the floor space for the birds, making maximum use of the coop space. The interior of the cabinet is heated with a heat lamp. The photos you see here of the cabinet are when we first began using it. You can see there is lots of room for expansion ( we are now using) for more mealworms. The beauty of the construction (duct tape) is that I can easily re configure or move this set-up as I desire, and all materials are re-usable – except the tape).
Ca/P ratio % 0.040
BSFL is a wonderful source of sustainable feed that can be managed almost anywhere in the world. They naturally occur in the USA and all over except the coldest regions on earth. Starter colonies can be purchased, but they can just as easily be started by attracting your own. BSFL are maggots, but are very clean, as compared to others. The Black Soldier fly is the only fly which is not a disease vector. The adults have no proboscus (mouth) and the only mission for this stage in life is reproduction. They also do not prefer to stay around household environments. The flies are attracted to smelly fermented odors, seeking out suitable ‘gross stuff’ for their eggs to hatch over so the larva will have a food source to grow up on. Once the larva hatch they drop onto the putrified matter in the vicinity and ravenously eat, going through many growth changes.
Once the BSFL lava have established themselves, they give off a pheromone, which repells all other fly species. This keeps the BSFL bin from becoming a horrendous fly factory. Once the larva are ready to pupate, they completely evacuate their guts, and exude an anti-bacterial ooze, making them a clean source of food at this stage in their life. They seek out a place to pupate and instinctively climb. The ramp leading out of the box is at a 30 degree angle, which is too steep for any other fly larva species to climb, further eliminating reproduction of other fly species. Only the BSLF will self harvest out of the box. The end of the ram leads to a collection bin, where the BSFL drop into when they reach the top of the ramp. They are ready to feed to the livestock. The photo to the right shows the end of a BSFL box in the coop that feeds the hens. The box is on the left side of the photo.
Commercial BSFL bins are available on the market, but they can also be made for much less cost and very functional with room for a large population of BSFL. In Honduras, we used dead fish and fermented pineapple to attract the initial Black Soldier Flies. We had boxes in the greenhouse to feed the tilapia, one inside the chicken coop, and one just outside the coop. We have plans to make a box out of one piece of plywood.
If you can get over the ‘yuck factor’ BSFL are supposed to be a nutritious food for humans.
The break down of whole BSFL :
68.18 % moisture
35 % Fat
Building a BSFL box is simple. If you can operate a measuring tape, a hammer, screw driver and a hand saw (we really recommend a skill or table saw), then you can build even a very large box. In our Alternative Sustainable Feeds seminars and in our Sustainable Farm Resource Management Plans we go into detail with the specifications for the BSFL boxes. Here we will give you a view of the boxes, as they go together. If you want details, please contact us via e-mail.
Here is the process we went through getting BSFL Boxes built at the orphanage in Honduras:
At left is the scale model and drawing I made for our BSFL boxes. Each box is made of 1 sheet of plywood and some 2″X4″s and 1″X2″s. The model helped the teens we worked with to visualize the end result we were after. This can easily be scaled up or down in size.
My husband supervised the teens we were working with on the aquaponics system, teaching them how to operate it. Here they are building the BSFL box. The teens enjoyed learning how to safely use the table saw.
At this point the BSFL box is essentially done. It just needed the lid to be added. Notice the metal frame it is sitting on has the legs sitting in tuna cans. The cans are filled with water to keep ants from climbing in and infesting the box. Corrugated cardboard and plastic corrugated box cut squares were hung from the center rib for a place for the Black Soldier flies to lay their eggs in.
The BSFL box is producing larva to feed the fish. The gap between the top of the sides of the box and the lid, allows soldier flies to enter to lay their eggs. Also note that there is a hole drilled in the bottom of the box to allow liquid that develops to drain into a container stilling under the BSFL box. Sticking out the left side of the box you can see the gray collection totes we have for collecting the self-harvesting BSFL.
BSFL colonies are easy to start on your own. Just begin by adding some fermented fruit to your bin. They WILL come. The photo here shows my husband helping an orphanage in Belize with alternative feeds advice. Here he was able to show them the source of naturally occurring BSFL colony in their compost pile. They would then be able to transfer those BSFL into a BSFL box to establish a colony to feed their flock of laying hens and avoid the high cost of commercial feeds. The transferred BSFL larva give off a pheromone that repels other fly species and attracts other Soldier flies.
I have not added Crickets to the sustainable feed write-up until now, since I am busy farming, and just had not done the write-up yet. Due to people asking about it, I am currently in the process of adding Crickets to this write-up. I will add some photos of our cricket operation, and continue to add text as I have time.
I recommend raising Banded Crickets (Gryllodes sigillatus) for several reasons. The most important of which in considering sustainable farming this breed of cricket is found to be immune to the cricket virus that spread worldwide in 2009 and wiped out major cricket populations. The Banded cricket was unaffected. This is a truly tough cricket. It is true that the banded cricket is a bit smaller than other species, this for me is good news. That means that there will be no farm fowl that will not be able to consume crickets at any stage of the cricket life, or no matter how young the farm fowl. For me, needing to feed, clean up after, and harvest the crickets, another bit of great news is that banded crickets will not bite. If you were wondering, most all others do, and some are even aggressive and can injure livestock. Banded crickets do not smell foul, like other species do, and they are much quieter.
I try enjoy the soothing soft cricket chirps of the banded crickets. Even so, we have them on our farm for two main reasons. They are here as a sustainable feed source for our pigs, fish and farm fowl. They are also cleanly raised, and are an excellent food for humans too.
The photo above right, is of 5 week (about 1″ long) old banded crickets at the reproductive age. They can easily be raised in totes, with egg cartons for high-rise apartment living, which they thrive in. At the bottom I have a dish containing spent barley grains from a local brewery, which they enjoy eating. They can also eat commercial cricket food, chicken feed, ground up hard cooked eggs, or greens and grains you grow yourself. See the picture just to the left. These adult crickets are enjoying eating the spent barley grains. A source of water is also needed. I use a sponge in a dish of water. And I have also used a chick waterer with sponge in the water trough to provide water. Both work very well.
redworms make excellent food for farm fowl, fish and pigs. Raising them has been covered rather extensively in other sections of this website. Here is a link to one of those pages on this site: https://freshfromthefarminthegorge.wordpress.com/redwormsvermicomposting-2/worm-composting-vermicomposting-basics/
This page is a work in progress. More detail will be added later…in the mean time, if you have questions, please contact us directly…Our e-mail address is on the “contact us” section of this website.