Rag and Bone: Feed and Fertilizer Bags

Back in the day, feed and fertilizer, and any number of other loose household commodities, came in fabric bags. (Before the bags, they came in barrels or loose, dumped in the back of your wagon.) People have been reusing feed and fertilizer sacks since they first hit the scene:

“Plain, coarsely woven cotton muslin bags were first produced in the 1850s, shortly after the invention of the sewing machine, and women naturally adapted them to their traditional sewing habits. Reused sacks were sometimes called ‘chicken linen’ after chicken feed sacks, but they came from products of all kinds. Sugar, salt, animal feed, seed, and fertilizer containers might be turned into all kinds of clothing, as well as into diapers, sanitary napkins, table linens, or towels.” [1]

I have a number of modern “feedsack” towels that I use for specific applications: washing windows, wiping the rims of canning jars, buffing chrome, and drying/storing washed salad greens. Nowadays you have to buy them new, as very few companies still package anything in fabric. (Although I have seen sugar and masa harina in two- to five- pound printed fabric bags in the ethnic aisle at the discount store where I do most of our grocery shopping.)
I buy my loose foodstuffs in bulk these days, and what doesn’t come in bulk usually comes in double-thick paper bags or in zip-top plastic bags. The feed for our chickens, pigs, and the Boll Weevil (she’s a barnless barn cat) comes in 50 pound polywoven bags. These are made of tiny strips of opaque plastic woven together tightly (as for a tarpaulin) and printed. The fancy-schmancy cat and chicken feed bags, since they are marketed to suburbanites and yuppies, are also laminated and shiny. The pig food bags, which are marketed to penny-pinching farmers, are just woven plastic, like an ultra-cheap tarp. We only go through a handful of Boll Weevil and chicken feed bags a year, but last year’s pigs went through 30 bags of feed in their 6 months of eating, and the new ones seem much more ravenous. In some places these bags are accepted by recycling facilities, but not in my area. So what all can I use these things for once their contents have been consumed?
  • Landscaping fabric under rocks or compost.
  • Tea bags for compost tea and what I like to call “poop coffee”.
  • Sand bags.
  • Roofing material for mobile chicken coops and temporary pig housing.
  • Liners for wooden planters.
  • Heavy-duty trash bags when tidying up outdoors (they’re a little more resistant than regular plastic to nails, bits of wire, shards of glass, etc).
  • Wrap/cover frost sensitive plants such as palms.
  • Spontaneous sled for the kids.
  • Storage for finished compost.
  • The man we buy our piglets from uses his as enormous “Topsy-Turvy”-type planters.
  • Stuff with straw or grass clippings and use for bow or rifle practice.
  • Use as a threshing bag for sunflower heads or dried beans. (Once dried, toss them in the bag, tie it shut, and whack it on the pavement. Fun and stress-relieving !)
  • Use them for earthbag construction. Read more about earthbags here.
  • Just about every drafty old barn has feedbags stapled up to stop the wind.
  • Growbags for no-dig potatoes (roll up the sides of the bag as you hill up the potatoes).
  • Last but not least: the now-ubiquitous reusable grocery tote. They’re made out of everything and anything these days, but I did a total forehead-smack when I saw one made out of a Purina Scratch Grains bag on the customer service counter of my feed store the other day.
Give me a few days and I’ll have a tutorial on that last one for you!

– Amanda

[1] Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash by Susan Strasser © 1999 the author. Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt and Company, LLC), New York, NY. (Pages 212-213)
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