Keeping animals on the homestead reduces the family’s grocery store expenses, infuses more healthy whole food into the diet, and is often quite a joy. However feed storage is often an imposing obstacle that must be dealt with properly.
If animal feed is not stored in a manner that prevents spoilage and rodent infestations you are not only out all of the money paid to buy feed, but could tragically lose the animals if they consume bacteria laden or rancid feed.
There is not a 100% perfect way to store feed for every homestead. The climate in which the feed is kept, seasonal weather changes, and the common pests which loom around the homestead all play a significant role in both how and where feed is stored at any given time.
It does not matter what type of livestock feed you are trying to store, all compound feeds mandate exact care to prevent quality deterioration, exposure to moisture, excessive heat exposure, and rodent protection.
Proper storage of livestock feed is vital because the overall health and very lives of your animals depend on it. Feed has a long shelf life when properly stored, but eventually any type of livestock feed will deteriorate.
Keeping track of the date the feed was purchased will help ensure you rotate your stockpiles in a timely fashion to avoid losing money on the purchase, and feeding the animal living in the homestead barnyard something that will make them sick.
Feed Storage Quality Threats
It is incredibly important to understand what can cause feed to spoil before choosing where and how to store it as well as the expected shelf life of the livestock food ration.
Weather related factors that can affect feed storage times and quality include: light, humidity, moisture, and temperature. When too much of any of the environmental factors are present the rate bacteria and insects will infiltrate the feed can increase exponentially.
Even before you get the feed home you need to be mindful of these environmental conditions. Never, ever purchase feed that has been stored outside – even if the pallet of feed was supposedly only outdoors a single day for a store sale.
Do not purchase feed and throw it in the back of your pickup truck if it is lightly raining, assuming that a short trip home will not make that much of a difference. It will.
When the feed is opened you would likely see some clumping – that is a sure sign that moisture has infiltrated the bag. Even the feed that has not clumped has still been exposed to an overabundance of moisture that will likely cause it to sour and then mildew.
Throwing a tarp over the feed will offer very little protection because even though it can prevent the actual rain from getting into the bag, the extra moisture in the air will reduce the longevity of the feed and can also cause mold and mildew to develop – even if clumping is not immediately visible.
When it comes to livestock feed, rats are second only to insects on the pest threat scale. Rats, mice, and birds will be drawn to the feed, and attempt to get enough of a hole in the bags to be able to eat what’s inside.
The hole that a bird beak or mice bite into the bag will cause can be so small that the problem is missed if the bag is not looked over thoroughly on all sides before each feeding… and, possibly, even then.
Should a rat or a mouse actually get into the feed bag or your chosen container, the feces the rodent leaves behind can be deadly if consumed by livestock, and can cause both dangerous fungi and bacteria to grow on the remaining feed.
Moths, beetles, and weevils are the most common insects attracted to livestock feed.
If any fungi is present inside of the feed bag, which is almost a certainty if the feed is left in the bag after opening, it will grow substantially in a hot and humid environment.
When fungus grows in feed it also increases moisture levels inside of a container but especially in a loosely or tightly sealed bag.
Insect infestation will also flourish in this type of environment. It is best to never store livestock feed in the bag after opening – especially if you live in a hot climate, or during the summer months.
Typically, a safe level of moisture for livestock feed is a relative humidity of 75%. When storing livestock feed during the summer months or in a tropical environment expect it to have a shorter shelf life.
Ideally, a moisture level of only 10% to 12% is considered the most advantageous.
Fungi growth rates increase when humidity levels go above 65% and moisture content is above 15% (sometimes 9%) depending upon the specific ingredients in the livestock feed.
In quality livestock feed processing most types of fungi are killed, but even then the heat resistant spores that comprise the fungi can remain and infest the feed later as they are allowed to grow under favorable conditions.
Livestock feed with corn, cottonseed, sorghum, coconut, cassava, sunflower, or their byproducts can be more likely to become contaminated with mycotoxin fungi over time.
How Feed Compounds Impact Storage Choices
Buying livestock feed in bulk saves money, but long-term storage can have drawbacks, as well. The chemical compounds in the feed will break down overtime.
Lipids in the feed will bread down into free fatty acids that can reduce the amount of storage time before the feed could turn rancid.
It is the lipids in the feed that undergo an oxidation process that often causes feed to go rancid. Feed with rice bran, fish meal, or vegetable oil cake ingredients are more likely to experience oxidation and turn rancid sooner.
Grain based livestock feed possesses natural antioxidants that often protects them from untimely deterioration and conditions that cause the contents to turn rancid.
The rate of breakdown can increase in the feed if either fungal growth or an insect infestation is already present. Carbohydrates in the livestock feed can also ferment, and spark the production of either volatile fatty acids, alcohols, or both.
The potency of any vitamins in livestock feed can decrease over time, as well. Vitamin B (thiamine) and vitamin C are typically more likely to experience a deterioration of potency than many other types of vitamin compounds.
Feed with a high percentage of lipids should always be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place, away from direct sunlight.
When purchasing feeds with lipids review the entire list of contents carefully. Those which have had antioxidants added into the mix during the manufacturing process should keep longer and better than varieties that have not.
Dry Grain Feed
Livestock feed composed of mixed grains can become cross contaminated by fungi and insects issues, as noted above. If the feed has undergone a “steam pelleting” process they often have a longer shelf life and may be less prone to going rancid.
If you live in a temperate climate molasses could clump up or freeze during the winter months. It is rare to find a molasses based feed anyone, only those that include a smaller percentage of molasses content – which greatly helps prevent freezing of this feed ration ingredient that most barnyard livestock tend to love.
Top 5 Storage Containers for Animal Feed
Metal Storage Tubs
Keeping livestock feed in a metal storage tub will greatly decrease the chance of rodents or excessive moisture from getting inside.
Metal trash cans or metal 50-gallon drums with secure fitting lids (this is key) make excellent and relatively inexpensive storage tubs – think of them as “mini silos.”
Securing the lids further into place with a bungee cord or a lock can help thwart clever pests – like raccoons and opossums.
A simple one step lock or a lid that has not been firmly and tightly pressed into place will not stop a hungry coon from getting into your livestock feed.
I also highly recommend placing a cinder block or a half cinder block on top of the lid.
This added weight will help prevent a couple of raccoons from pushing over a metal storage tub or trash can that is not full of feed in an effort to unhinge the lick.
Remember, raccoons have been known to open simple one step locks, when purchasing a lock set to secure the lid into place on at least two sides.
Mice cannot ultimately chew through a metal trash can or storage tub like they can a livestock feed bag or even plastic storage containers over time.
Unlike plastic tubs, metal is not going to crack – although it can rust when exposed to water or placed directly onto the ground.
Plastic Storage Tubs, Drums, or Buckets
A plastic storage tub with a firm fitting lid of a plastic 55-gallon drum with an equally tight lid can also be a good choice for storing livestock feed.
Choosing a dark colored tub or drum will help keep sunlight from impacting its quality and longevity.
Although storage containers of this type will help prevent exposure to moisture and insects, rodents can chew through plastic if given enough time and access to do so – especially if you purchase a cheaper and more thinly walled plastic storage container.
Thing plastic can freeze and crack after being exposed to extreme temperature changes when left in an unheated environment – where livestock feed should almost always be stored.
Only in climates that hit chills like those experienced by Alaskan homesteaders or the intense heat tropical homesteaders must endure, should livestock feed be stored in a heat controlled environment.
A barn, unheated garage, unheated basement, or a barn are often the best places to store livestock feed – especially when poured inside of a plastic container.
While good quality 5 or 10 gallon buckets with firm-fitting lids will not hold large amounts, they will protect it from the elements and pests, as well as from the large options noted above.
The one advantage of these containers is their portability. If you opt to keep feed in your garage year round to avoid any need to relocate it during extreme weather, you can simply load up the day’s or week’s feed in several buckets in the back of your ATV, and drive out to the barnyard to take care of the daily chore rather quickly.
Standing in the shivering cold scooping out feed into a bucket or trough for all of the animals in not one of many homesteaders favorite pastimes … at least it is not one of mine.
Picnic coolers can also successfully be used to store livestock feed, they offer the same type of protective environment as a refrigerator – and the same drawbacks during times of intense heat.
Putting a lock on a plastic beverage or picnic cooler without cracking the plastic can be highly problematic. To ensure the lid will remain firmly closed and pests will be deterred, place a cinder block on top of the cooler after filling it with feed.
Old Refrigerator Or Freezer
Make good use of an old refrigerator or freezer or visit a local junk store or even the dump to score one on the cheap.
You can also check local newspaper and online classifieds as well as social media groups for folks who are giving one away for free to anyone willing to haul it off.
While it does not matter if the refrigerator or freezer still works if it is ever plugged in, the seal must remain intact and function well. Without a proper seal around any door that will be used to store feed, moisture, fungi, and pests will get inside quite quickly.
Even if you find that a freebie fridge or freezer no longer makes a proper seal, you could to purchase a new seal inexpensively, and have a top quality feed storage tub for a fraction of the price of buying metal trash cans.
Because of the construction of a freezer or refrigerator, you don’t need to place a concrete pad or wood pallet floor beneath them to deter pests, nor will you have to worry about sunlight getting inside of the storage tub.
Unfortunately, though, these old appliances are so well insulated that they can cause the feed stored inside to sour during the hot months of summer.
Rodents and other pests will not be able to chew into the container, but they can (and do) try to chew their way inside via the seal.
You should also put a two-step lock on the freezer or refrigerator to prevent raccoons and possums from getting inside.
Even if you firmly believe none of your livestock will ever be able to reach the feed storage area, the lock can help protect them as well.
A homesteading friend of ours lost a pony that was able to reach into the feed area and nosed up the lid on the refrigerator that had been laid sideways and used as a feed tub.
Another homesteading friend had a horse do the same thing, but fortunately it did not get the opportunity to gorge on the feed before its antics were caught.
When horses and other livestock consume too much feed too quickly it can cause acidosis or spasmodic colic, or bloat. Acidosis is often referred to as grain poisoning, and can be deadly.
Spasmodic colic often occurs in the spring time when the herd of livestock get the chance to munch down on the sweet new grass, but can also be caused by consuming too much grain or when there is a change in the type of feed rations they are being given.
A typical refrigerator or a similar sized deep freezer can hold roughly 200 to 250 pounds of feed. The feed can be poured into the appliance once the shelving and crispers are removed or the bags can merely be opened and placed inside.
I have stored feed both ways in my feed fridge and pouring the feed directly into the refrigerator seemed to work best.
During the summer the feed was too compacted inside of the bag and seemed to garner a lot more moisture and humidity – so it did not keep as long and developed a faint sour smell.
I recommend against using a refrigerator with a built in ice maker. There are more openings for lines in this type of appliance design.
I had to stop using the freezer compartment of my refrigerator where I stored poultry bird feed separately from the all stock feed for the goats and horses because a mouse kept finding its way into the freezer area – but never the fridge.
Cargo – Tool Storage Boxes
The thick and durable black storage boxes are often used to store cargo or tools in pickup trucks and SUVs.
As long as the storage container has a level and flat bottom and is not designed in an abbreviated “T” shape to hang on the sides of a truck, it should work just fine as a livestock feed tub.
While the thickness of these storage boxes may mean they do not absolutely have to be placed on a concrete or wood pallet surface, it is still a good idea to better protect the feed from the chill of the ground during cold times of the year.
It will take a lot longer for a pest to chew through this type of a plastic container that it will a standard plastic storage tote.
The major up side to this more expensive livestock feed storage option is the built in key lock that will prevent either pests or your own animals from getting the lid open and self-serving on the feed you purchased.
DIY Feed Bin
If you are a handy homesteader with a decent scrap pile, building your own livestock feed tub out of wood, metal, Plexiglass, or a combination of these materials, just might be a superb storage option.
The bin itself could be comprised of wood as long as it is not particle board but instead pressure treated plywood or 2 X 4 boards that have also been pressure treated.
Ideally, the wood storage tub would be complete with a firm fitting lid and lock – and covered in sheet metal, if possible:
Because wood or a metal that is likely thinner than the type trash cans are built from is being used, the DIY livestock feed tub should be elevated off the ground and placed upon a concrete pad, concrete blocks, or a wood pallet.
Livestock-Specific Storage Feed Tubs
Some homesteaders and farmers prefer to keep livestock feed stored next to the pens, hutches, coops, and shelter areas where each animal lives for the sake of convenience.
While there is nothing wrong with this practice, it can create some obstacles to feed storage quality and longevity.
Unless you can construct some type of little shed or similar protective structure around the feed storage containers – no matter what they are made of, the feed will be extremely vulnerable to environmental changes and sunlight.
Livestock Feed Storage Area
Regardless of what type of container you choose to store the livestock feed in, the area in which it is stored will also greatly impact its quality and longevity.
Keeping feed in the barn is commonplace on most farms and homesteads simply for sake of convenience when going about the daily chores.
Make certain the room in which the feed bags or containers are stored has a solid roof that will not allow rain to get inside. Surface water should also not be present in the area due to the dampness it creates and the increased possibility that it can get inside of the bags or a tiny crack in a storage container.
Proper ventilation is also important. The feed storage area should not be allowed to get either too hot or too cold. This means the livestock storage area could need to be relocated during cold winter months or the hot weeks of summer.
The heat inside of a plastic container, bag, livestock tub, or old refrigerator repurposed into a feed bin can become a hotbed for fungi and mold growth during times of typical summer heat.
If you open the lid or bag end to get feed and experience a sour smell, do NOT use the feed, it has been overly exposed to humidity.
Remain constantly mindful of the cleanliness of the floors around the feed storage area – yes, even if it is in a barn with a dirt floor. It is quite easy to spill little bits of feed when scooping out the daily rations for the homestead livestock.
Every tiny little piece will attract insects, mice, opossums, rats, squirrels. and raccoons into the barn and food storage area. Although it will take a while, mice and rats will chew through a plastic storage container to get at the feed they now know is inside.
Finding droppings from these common pests in your feed storage area is a sure sign that feed pellets have dropped or been spilled and have attracted their avid attention.
Never stack feed sacks directly onto the ground – this is just an open invitation for insects and mice to come steal the feed your purchased for the livestock and dine upon it themselves.
Preventing sunlight from having access to the livestock feed will greatly help increase its longevity and quality.
Always choose at least a partially shaded area with good ventilation to store feed, doing otherwise would simply be inviting loss and possibly livestock illness if the feed becomes rancid.
Feed exposed to sunlight can often become extraordinarily dry, and may cause an increased fire hazard as well as a loss of vitamins, nutrients, and taste.
Stacking food storage bags or containers on top of a concrete platform or wood pallets can help prevent dampness or water from getting into them, and also improve ventilation around the feed storage area.
Divert any water runoff around the feed storage area using a culvert, bricks, or straw bales to help keep the space around the feed nice and dry.
Never walk on the bags of feed or stack them too tightly. The pressure will break up the livestock feed pellets, and create dust inside of the bags.
Not only will this cause wasted feed, but if the feed is stored inside of its original bag, the minuscule bits of dust will leak out of the sack and attract insects and rodents to the area.
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day, raising chickens, goats, horses, and tons of vegetables. She’s an expert in all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping, and many more.