Grinding grain is easy, saves a ton of money, and provides fresh quality – in very few steps!
We start with the raw products: OATS, PEAS, and WHEAT. (Or what we can find locally!)
All of the grains are non-GMO and were grown locally. They are not necessarily pesticide free or weed free, but we do ask our farmers about that and work to get the healthiest grain we can find. We prefer weedy grain over clean-but-sprayed grain. Weed seed can be very nutritious, so don’t discount it. (Weeds can pass through a cow’s digestive system, but sheep and chickens will fully grind the weed seed making it all unable to germinate. Cows get the cleanest grains possible, whereas the sheep and chickens can get weedy grain with no harm to our pasture.)
We purchase grain by contacting grain farmers, driving to their farm with our trailer, and filling 1000# totes. Most of the farmers have their own scale, so we weigh in and weigh out for easy calculation of prices.
The 2018 prices were 12 to 15 cents per pound. That comes out to the equivalent of $6 to $7.50 per 50# bag plus transportation cost, the cost of the grinder, and electricity for grinding.
The whole grain stores fine in our shop, either left in the bag or transferred into steel barrels. (Note: We do always keep cats on the farm, just in case!!)
Before grinding, I put on hearing protection and a dust mask to cut the worst of the dust.
Our mixes change a bit by type of animal. For example, we don’t grind grain for our sheep – if they need a treat we feed straight barley or oats. The milking cows get a pretty equal mix of the grains for a 16% protein ration. The chickens get primarily wheat with a supplement of oats/barley and peas (20-22% for chicks; 16-18% for layers).
- WHEAT: The best all-purpose grain, especially now that most corn is GM. Protein varies by type – for example, our current wheat is a Hard Red with 16% protein, which is high for wheat – more normally around 12%. Works well as up to 50% of the grain mixture.
- OATS: Sweet/palatable, provides fiber source, lower TDN than other grains. Works best as 10-30% of mixture.
- BARLEY: A good source of energy, a corn alternative since corn is unavailable to us. Barley should not be fed in a large % for chickens (less than 30% of mixture), but is a good grain for dairy cattle (up to 40-60% of mixture).
- PEAS: Supplies a high level of protein and replaces soybeans in the diet as most soybeans now are GM like corn. Depending where you live, they may not be available, so roasted organic soybeans would be a similar option to up the protein level of the grain. Peas are not the most palatable, so place as high of % as you need for protein without overwhelming the mix and making it unpalatable. Standard is 15-30% peas in the mixture. Keep in mind, if you see “pea pellets” for sale, those are a much lower protein byproduct, not the same as whole peas.
- FLAX SEED: When available, flax is a great addition to the grain mix as a form of healthy oils (omega 3’s) and protein. 5-10% for dairy cattle & poultry. We have fed flax but do not routinely feed it due to the high cost and the fact that our hens are already free range (365 days/year) and get oil in the form of lard in their supplement blocks.
- SUPPLEMENTS: Grains, especially in modern depleted soils, lack essential vitamins and minerals. There are plenty of mineral supplements for dairy cattle, beef cattle, sheep, & goats, but few for chickens. For our dairy cattle, we look for the highest quality available that suits our location (ie: high in selenium to make up for our deficient soils) and type of animals (ie: lactating dairy cattle vs. heifers). Our chickens currently get Fertrell chicken mineral – “poultry nutribalancer“, available through Azure Standard and some well stocked feed stores. Additional calcium can be fed….we give our hens back all their egg shells.
Keep in mind, different grains consist of different levels of minerals, etc. – so a variety helps give the animals a more well-rounded diet. Be creative and consider viable alternatives such as apple pulp, alfalfa leaves, sweet corn, distiller’s grains, meat scraps, milk, animal fat, potatoes, etc. Research animal-specific to make sure these alternatives are safe to feed to your animals.
TIP: Find the label for your favorite feed, then use that as a basis to start your own formulation. The first ingredient is the highest proportion and on down the line in the list. For approximate levels for each grain, look online or in feeding books such as Morrison’s “Feeds & Feeding”.
Our mixing is very specialized – a scoop of peas, a scoop of wheat, a scoop of oats, a scoop of wheat – stir together or pour from one bucket to another to blend. Viola – grain pre-mix! 🙂
My dad bought a used grinder from our neighbor. (Here: Premier One Grinder – is an example of a new type of mill, although I’d encourage you to look around and check out options before purchasing any grinder.)
We start the grinder before pouring in grain. The hopper can’t be filled (it’ll choke) so we set the bucket on the edge and let the grain trickle in. Still, a 5 gallon bucket grinds up in just a few minutes.
My husband blocked up the bucket under the spout and I keep a seed sack wrapped around the spout to keep the dust down.
Our grinder produces a coarse, yet effective, grind. Grain does not need to be pulverized or rolled to become digestible. Simply cracking the outer hull does wonders for digestibility.
Before feeding, we separate out the grain into individual containers.
- For the chickens, that’s a 2 gallon bucket.
- For cows, it’s a red feed tub with a few cups of grain.
Our “fresh cow” concoction consists of beet pulp, grain (we used to feed a dairy mix, but now have the ability to make our own grain mix), molasses, yeast, ACV, and Vitamin E capsules all mixed together. The cows love it:
A grain feeder hangs in the chicken coop, but the hens really prefer soaked grain. Soaked grain ensures the chickens consume all the grain, provides extra moisture for digestion, and reduces the odds of sorting. Grain can be soaked 12-48 hours with water.
If soaking cow grain, use plain water or molasses water.
Chickens love milk-soaked grain. We make a lot of butter, so skim the cream off of milk for our use and use the skim, buttermilk, rinse water, old yogurt, old sour cream, etc. for chicken grain.
If you can wait at least 24 hours, the milk (IF RAW/CULTURED) will produce a nice thick set that’s similar to yogurt. Yogurt or other cultured milk products work well, too. Chickens aren’t that picky!
Supplements: Soaked grain is a great way to add supplements to your animal’s diet. Fertrell sells the best quality chicken mineral we’ve found so far. I add a scoop to the soaked mix and stir up. I prefer adding the chicken mineral to a moist grain so the mineral can be mixed in to disperse more evenly.
For cows, we find free choice minerals and salt to be the best option, especially since our cows are only fed grain the first few months after calving, so no minerals are added to their grain.
I also make suet blocks with our homemade lard that’s about half mineral, half lard. We set those out throughout the winter months. I don’t worry as much in summer, because the hens get a lot from their free ranging.
If you’re worried about transitioning to home ground grains, I recommend Harvey Ussery’s book The Small-Scale Poultry Book – where he notes that our fear of feeding our animals anything besides a commercial mix is a very modern issue. Folks in the past fed their animals very simple diets -and we can do one better, the simple fresh grains PLUS a healthy mix of minerals and vitamins in the form of supplements.
As you switch over, transition from one feed to another slowly to avoid upset stomachs.
And that’s all there is to it. 🙂
Here’s to happy animals
on your quest to “feed the best”!