Sometimes farming like life feels like a big experiment to me because there is always something to learn. Seasons change, methods change, challenges change, you, yourself, change. And if you want to reach your goals, you must be willing to learn. This summer Bill and I have had the pleasure of watching our son Aidan discover this learning process through farming.
He has been researching the best ways to feed our farm animals. Like us, he is intrigued by natural, organic methods and foodstuffs that are in keeping with what the animals' bodies need. He strongly believes in cutting back on the grain our animals eat while encouraging their grass and hay consumption. He knows it is important not only for the health of the animals and for our health as meat-eaters, but also for the health of our climate since grain has a larger carbon footprint.
He recently started fermenting grain for our menagerie of chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, sheep, cows, and pigs. Fermenting grain makes it a more efficient food. It becomes more digestible, meaning the proteins, minerals, and vitamins within are more easily assimilated. This translates into less grain needed to get the same benefits which is great for the animals nutrition-wise and for us money-wise.
The process involves soaking the grain in water for at least 12 hours before feeding it. Aidan adds water to a couple of 5-gallon pails (a farming necessity) for the next day's feed. All animals gobbles it up. They are happy and well-fed, and we're purchasing less grain - what's not to like?
More recently Aidan branched out to sprouting grains. A process similar to fermenting. He soaks the corn and oats, then spreads the grain out on a tray. Within a couple of days, it sprouts and begin to grow. Two weeks later, when the shoots are several inches tall, he gives the resulting mat of shoots, roots and all, to whichever animals he chooses. They go crazy over the fresh, tender food like we do over sun-ripened sungold cherry tomatoes!
Beyond thinking about grain, our young farmer set up a fly-larva bucket for the chickens behind the barn (out of sight which agrees with my slightly squeamish sensibilities!) He drills holes around the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket, and he puts decaying protein in the bucket. Flies are attracted to this food source and lay their eggs on it. The resulting larva fall out of the holes after they hatch, and the chickens gobble up the nutrient-rich food! I know, it sounds disgusting to us - but not to the chickens.
Top left = buckets of soaking grain, Top right = Pigs eating soaked or fermented grain, Bottom left = mat of sprouting grain seeds, Bottom right = chickens eating a mat of sprouts and roots.
Bill and I watch Aidan with interest. We contribute information and experiences we've gained over the years while being cautiously intrigued by these new-to-us methods. We worry about losing expensive grain to his experiments and are sometimes frustrated by the messy 5-gallon buckets and overwhelming sweet, yeasty smell of fermenting grain when we open the feed room door. But as we get swept up in his enthusiasm and energy, we find ourselves hoping his efforts will reap the rewards of better health for our animals, ourselves, and our farm members at less expense.
We also realize this process is an example of the culmination of our desire to raise our children on a working farm. Not only is Aidan working through the science of animal husbandry - - specifically, nutrition and biology - - but more importantly, he's learning how to learn. He's researching, assimilating knowledge, and testing ideas. He chooses methods to try, gathers materials, and jumps in. When we are too busy to help, he figures it out himself. He learns to practice patience while waiting for results to measure against his criteria. His confidence has grown as he risks failure. He's realizing unsuccessful attempts are actually opportunities to refine ideas and start over with lessons learned.
Bill and I know the benefits Aidan's gaining will outlast us and our ability to support him. We are inspired and proud . . . and relieved that our determination to farm while parenting may be paying off.