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Least expensive feed options for when the hens aren't laying

 
pollinator
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Location: Monticello Florida
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Hey y'all, in an effort to create the lowest cost system possible, I'm wondering if you can just let the hens forage pasture when they're not laying instead of feeding them. Speaking of that, what is your favorite thread, video, or website on zero bagged feed input? And finally, would you keep chickens simply for their compost turning, spreading, fertilizing, De-bugging and tilling abilities even if they laid no eggs??? I'd appreciate your ideas, Huxley.
 
pollinator
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Location: Ontario, Canada
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I'm cheap, but I personally don't think that my goal should be to eliminate feed costs, but to keep my livestock as healthy as possible as cheaply as possible.  To do this, I will always have feed on hand, in some form, to ensure that my animals aren't on starvation rations.

Are you prepared to weigh your birds at least weekly in order to make sure they're not losing weight?  Weighing is the only way I know of to be sure that they're performing well under whatever conditions they encounter. I think that the 'quality triangle' is very apt.  You can have any two of Cost, Quality, or Time.  Is it worth it to spend the time needed to ensure that your birds eat well instead of buying feed?  Only you can answer that.

Once I got quail, I only kept my chickens for the abilities they have.  I gave away most of the eggs.
 
pollinator
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My family in Ontario were hicks by most measures when I was a kid. We had chickens and eggs. I remember seeing other people feed their chickens. Chicken had to fend for themselves at our house, whenever the world was green outside. Other than kitchen waste, I don't recall ever feeding the chickens. Occasionally my dad would capture a few and they would be boiled for a long time. They were the small Bantam variety and they lived mostly on bugs and whatever they could scratch up. They were super athletic and their numbers continued to grow. Their numbers were thinned in the fall, as many were put in the freezer. I doubt that any were ever weighed.

We didn't get big birds or maximum weight per bird. But the feed to meat and egg ratio was awesome. Maybe not so awesome for the chickens.

When I was on Mindanao in the southern Philippines, I questioned my fiance about what her mother feeds the chickens. She looked rather puzzled. They are chickens, they know what chickens want to eat and they go out and find it. They spend a lot of time on the mud flats by the river. There seems to be many things to scratch for there. Every morning her mother gathers eggs. Two chickens were eaten during the five days I spent there. She provides housing and a shelter to keep them away from birds of prey. Other animals are afraid of the dog. Protection from the rain and predators seems to be enough to make these chickens stick around. Of course they don't have winter, so we can't all do it quite like that.
 
gardener
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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My chooks will eat some of the scraps, Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, or pellets that I  provide  but then they wander off to forage.
They prefer bugs or whatever they are finding,even in the dead of winter.
I don't have grass or any annuals to speak of, thanks to chickens,  but we gather bags of autumn leaves and the chooks spread them out over the back yard as the search the detritus for food.
During summer, I go long stretches without feeding them, and they seem to do fine.
My back yard is a haven for bugs,  lizards, and snakes,
I try to pick up and inspect each bird once a week, but my main measure is the eggs, as in are there any, shells strength,  yolk color/size and  taste.
There is one girl too fast and wild for me to catch while she is awake.
I take this as a sign of her vigor, if I can ever catch her,  I'll be worried.

 
Dale Hodgins
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I don't think we ever caught a bantam hen during the day. They are like miniature cheetahs.

The chickens I encountered in the Philippines were all tree roosters, as in that's where they slept, not that they were all males. They roost in the trees. If you want to eat one, you go out when it's still dark, using a forked stick, to abruptly shake the branch so that the chicken falls to the ground. They go from being asleep on a branch, to being dislodged and jammed into a burlap bag in about 5 seconds. If you fiddle around too long, the chicken runs off and won't be so easily snuck up on for a while. This would not be an effective way to gather a whole bunch of chickens for butchering. By the time you get one or two, the rest of them are wise to it and they will move to more difficult branches or they will be ready to fly when dislodged. I suppose that many could be caught at once, if food was placed in a building. But nobody in that village had refrigeration, so they are killed one at a time, as needed.
 
master pollinator
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Location: Big Island, Hawaii (2300' elevation, 60" avg. annual rainfall, temp range 55-80 degrees F)
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........"would you keep chickens simply for their compost turning, spreading, fertilizing, De-bugging and tilling abilities even if they laid no eggs??? I'd appreciate your ideas, Huxley."
-------------
I keep about 50 old hens just for the manure. But of course, that means they live in a 10'x30' pen most of the day. They get out for 2 hours in the late afternoon and go back in on their own when I bring out their dinner slop and seed mix. While out, they supplement their diet with worms, bugs, lizards, geckos, the occasional mouse, and whatever herbaceous greenery pleases their pallet.

In Florida, I think you should be able to keep hens in pasture year around, but the quality of the food they find will influence the quality and number of eggs. If you want steady, good eggs then you may need to provide feed in some form or other if you don't have a pasture area that can provide good quality protein. My own hens, both the layers and non-layers, get food every day. They don't get much in the way of commercial feed. Instead they get a cooked combination of wastage off m farm, things that I intentionally grow for them, waste from hunters and fishermen, and food establishment waste. I also throw 2 trashcanfuls of fresh grass clippings into their pen each day.
 
Dale Hodgins
pollinator
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Why are they not let out for more time? Is it because they will get into mischief destroying things or because they will be in danger?

I think the total free-range thing works best when people have much more land than they need and it isn't planted in something that chickens will destroy. My dad had pasture only. No row crops. So the chickens ate grass and bugs. They tended to spread cow pies around and they spent some time along the edge of a pond. So I can only guess at their diet. Many made it from chick to roaster, without eating anything that they didn't find themselves. The only immediate neighbor was a dairy farm. So they didn't live close enough to anyone else's garden to cause problems.
 
Su Ba
master pollinator
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Dale, they are penned much of the day for a couple of reasons. First, I want their manure. So I want most of their pooping done where I can collect it. Their pen is floored in deep litter, much like compost. Each morning I shovel it into a few high piles, which gives the hens something to do all day. They spend their time scratching down the piles looking for worms, bugs, anything leftover from previous meals. In the process they turn in their own manure and the grass clippings, thus making a nice material to use in the gardens.

Second, I have gardens. Lots of them. If left unconfined, they'd eventually discover those gardens and destroy them. Those gardens are my meal ticket, not theirs. When they are out for only a couple hours a day, they don't forage far enough to find the gardens. I feed them big bowls of homemade slop and seeds each evening, making them willing to go back into their pen.

Third, we have a bird-eating hawk here, the Hawaiian Hawk (aka - I'o). It's protected. I like the hawks but not enough to feed my chickens to them. Before I came up with protected coops for the chickens, I routinely lost them to the hawks. Normally these hawks don't hunt chickens, but when they have babies in the nest they will go after the smaller hens and baby pullets.

Fourth, stray hunting dogs often attempt to enter the farm. I see no sense in enticing them to hop the fence by having dozens of chickens running about. Those hunting dogs cause deathly havoc when they get onto the farm.

As you know, chickens are great at busting up horse piles and cow flops! I know of a few people who keep a few chickens just for that purpose. So they don't have to deal with the manure themselves.
 
Timothy Markus
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I tried free-ranging in Kitchener and I lost chickens to coyotes, hawks and bald eagles.  I'd love to free-range to cut down on feed, but you don't have to lose many birds before it's cheaper to pen them in and buy feed.  I'm surprised you didn't have that problem in Niagara but I was quickly disabused of that notion.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Ours had a barnyard and lots of little places to hide. They could go inside at any time, but there was no attempt to confine them. We probably did have losses. But I know that we ate chickens and eggs and no new birds were added that I know of.

I can totally see the benefit of confinement for manure purposes. People do that with goats. I had goats that ranged over a few acres, but they spent a lot of time in their shelter during the heat of the day or when it rained. This provided a concentration of nutrients for the garden. I did some cut and carry from long grass that grew in the ditch along the roadside.

When I was a kid, we had a pond that was in a constant state of algal bloom, because of runoff from a neighboring farm yard. I used to rake the flotsam from the surface of the pond and the chickens went nuts on the bugs it contained. It's probably easier to feed ducks from a pond, but chickens can certainly benefit as well.

This thread has got me looking more seriously into checking out how people do free-range chickens in the tropics. I hope to have them ranging over as much as twenty-five acres soon. I will either get lots of chickens and eggs, or I will learn what types of animals eat chickens in that area. I want to have several dogs for my own security, so hopefully they will drive away stray dogs and two legged chicken thieves.

I talked to a group of men who were drinking in the city of Cebu Philippines, and every one of them admitted to being a chicken thief in his youth. They do it on dares, as young boys will, but they didn't return the stolen chickens. They took them home and ate them. Most of them said that this was just something they did when they were out with their friends, but one said that his family really needed the extra food. The main thing here, is that out of a group of about eight guys, every one of them claimed to have been a chicken thief. They considered stealing motorcycles, goats and cattle to be a bad thing, but chickens are sport. Farm workers earn enough in a day to buy one or two chickens. So you can see that there's more incentive in poor places.
 
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