With our growing season a mere 90 days, it doesn't give us a whole lot of options for adding nutritional value to our herds diet. One way we provide the minerals' and vitamins; to our goats winter feed is by dehydrating. Huh? Yes, dehydrating. We don't have to worry about storing feed through the winter months, or having space enough to do so.
So why do we bring this up now when everyone is still dealing with winter? Because now is the perfect time to plan! Think about the seeds you've already ordered, or soon will, just for starting seeds indoors or are you just 'not so patiently' waiting for planting time. Many of you probably already provide garden space for those kid critters you constantly talk about. So, what do you do for winter? Probably grass hay or alfalfa (depending on cost). Some of you offer grain and maybe goat minerals. It seems odd though when you think about it, the time they need the nutrients the most (when pregnant or during severe cold), many only provide the bare minimum for their livestock.
It's not that most don't want to, but many are limited by the cost of providing it during the time of year when it doesn't grow or isn't readily available. Many, like us, just don't have the means to store it all without some difficulty or watching some rot in the root cellar. This is where dehydrating became the best option for us.
To Do or Not To Do...
Dehydrating really isn't hard, but it will take time on your part. As for garden space, you have to grow enough for you and your family first, but if you're already growing extra for your kid critters, than by all means grow some for winter as well.
What to grow though.........that's one question many of you are probably thinking. Consider this, if you already have a garden every year, than you already have a lot that you can dehydrate for livestock feed without even putting a dent into your families food. Blinking won't change one word of what you just read!
Seriously though, do you grow carrots? What do you do with the skins after you clean & prepare them for canning? The carrot's green tops? Do you grow cabbage? What about all those outer leaves you don't eat? How about the broccoli & cauliflower leaves? Shells from those peas you'll be shucking? Think about the leftovers from shucking the corn? Even the corn silk. Haven't thought about that? Most of what you throw out or give to the chickens, until they gorge themselves to oblivion, can usually be dehydrated for winter feed.
Now let's consider adding a row or two to the garden. We do! We grow Pac Choy, Kale, Mangel Beets, as well as quite a few herbs just for them. Does that mean you have to add all that and then some too? Or that you can't feed those fresh veggies to the crew? No, your animals can still enjoy all those fresh vegetables during growing season. But consider that they can forage easily in the summer, so why over feed them? Whether you choose to dehydrate a lot or a little, it will still add extra to their diet in the winter when foraging may not be available. Bottom line.....it's up to you how much or how little you do.
This is going to be your biggest expense. This is one area that you really do get what you pay for. You want a dehydrator that you can adjust the temperature. You want one that has a fan and is a good sized one too. Don't skimp here, you can spend the time rotating trays or waiting days just to have a raisin! You also want one that had plenty of shelf space. We use an 9 tray Excalibur dehydrator. It isn't cheap, it runs about $300 on average. It is by far the BEST dehydrator we have EVER used!
Most dehydrators have few temperature settings. Commonly for herbs, fruit, veggies, etc. Those without fans, you have to rotate the trays. Without fans, it takes a long time to dehydrate, even when you rotate. What takes overnight with an good dehydrator can take days with a cheap one. The last issue is space, most cheap dehydrators everything has to be a single layer on the screen, meaning that it will only do a small amount at a time. It's easy adding grapes for a single layer, but imagine trying that with parsley!
Why do we love the Excalibur? We can pile several layers of leaves on a tray and it still dries it overnight. We still have to have single layers for things like the Mangel beets, but usually (depending on how thick they are sliced) they are dried overnight, or at least by the following evening. Also, we can adjust the temperature anywhere we want it, from 95* degrees up to 145* degrees. Giving us the ability to handle those delicate herbs and hard to dry beets. Its held up to our use and abuse!
Ok, you have a good dehydrator and the garden is ready to harvest.........now what? There are a few basic 'rules' to dehydrating, so let's go over them.
Don't use 'damaged' goods! Simply put, if your dehydrating for your animals or even yourself for that matter, you want as much nutrient rich food as possible. If the leaves look old or spotty - don't use them.
Don't mix & match! Realize that different plants have different moisture content - some will take longer to dry than others. Don't try dehydrating fruit on the same tray as cabbage leaves. Also, try to dehydrate food that requires the same temperature. Herbs are done at a very low heat (90*-95*) while moisture rich food, such as grapes, will take longer to dry even at their usual temps (135* degrees). Drying herbs at a higher temperature will damage them and make them worthless for your nutritional or medicinal value. Using a higher heat to dry things faster will only give you less food value in the long run and not make it valuable to you either.
Have a good slicer & scissors on hand! Try cutting 20 large Mangel beets into even slices by hand and you'll be throwing them away! The key to dehydrating them is to have all your slices thin and consistent. This goes for anything like Kohlrabi to or carrots. Leaves usually only need to be tore up by hand or better yet, just use some scissors. Herbs are sometimes easier to dry on the stem. The main point is, there are things you can do to make this easier for you. Find those things that work for you. Dehydrating doesn't have to be a ton of work once you find ways to make it easier.
It's Veggie Time......
The only thing a good dehydrator is taking out is the water content, period. You want leaves to crunch between your hands. You want small stems, etc. to snap in two when dry, not bending without breaking. If your slices bend, but don't break - than they aren't done yet simple as that.
We did say they are PICKY didn't we?
GOSH, what we will do for our GOATS! surprisingly though, a 5 gallon bucket will grind down to a gallon jug. Luckily, our old blender works just fine. Grinding everything to a nice powder.
This provides them with natural minerals' & vitamins' without costing a single cent, just a little work. Our goats LOVE the veggies in winter! Below is a list of what we have used in the past and, most important, ARE SAFE for your goats. So, next winter when the foraging is nil, what will be on your kid critters menu?
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