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Feeding chickens healthily and as naturally as possible

 
hannah ransom
Posts: 81
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I just got 6 five week old chickens (hatched 10/20/2011) and am a super happy chicken mommy! I have just recently added animal products back into my diet and only want natural, organic, healthy stuff! I was hoping I could feed my chickens mostly greens (I have them in a chicken tractor), fruit (I have tons of scraps of veggies and fruits), and bugs and supplementing in some crushed bones and eggshells for calcium (because I doubt the oyster shells they sell at the feed stores are organic/wild caught from a place that isn't polluted as. Anyway, I have a big thing of fruit in there for them to eat, the ground is lush with greens (and I'm sure bugs, but I plan on finding them and putting them in there for them, too) and they still want the (organic, but I still don't like them) grains from the feed store! I am hoping that eventually I can get them happier eating other stuff, but man they love those grains.

I also wanted to give them cooled off cooking water, is that ok? I was boiling spinach and chard and thought I should give it to them instead of wasting the water (and nutrients!)
Can I give them crushed bones (cooked and/or raw)?

I need to hear from alternative feeders! I want them to have a natural chicken diet.
 
hannah ransom
Posts: 81
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I'd also like for almost all of my feed to be produced on-site since my ultimate goal is self-sustaining.
 
John Polk
master steward
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Growing your own feed is the way to go. The commercial stuff is all GMO, and the store bought organic is waaay too expensive (plus, not always available).

Your cooking water does in fact have lots of nutrients in it. If you have too much of it for the hens, dump it on your compost pile.

Sunflowers make for a beautiful fence line, and at season's end, toss a flower head into the chicken run and watch your hens go wild!
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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You can raise Red Wigglers and Black Soldier Fly larvae for them.

http://blacksoldierflyblog.com/

 
hannah ransom
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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store bought organic is not that expensive (IMO), but I don't want to support monocrops of annuals!!
 
Leila Rich
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You'd need to find a LOT of bugs to get enough 'wild' protein into those chickens
I second maggots/BSF.
If you can access and want to use (free range, of course!) meat and/or milk products, you'll be able to greatly reduce grains.
Amaranth is supposed to be great chicken feed. They'll need some grain/carbs/what have you. I assume chicken ancestors ate lots of seeding plants.
 
Ivan Weiss
Posts: 172
Location: Vashon WA, near Seattle and Tacoma
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I give my two flocks of hens as much forage, and as wide a variety of fruit and vegetable scraps, as they can handle. I put them on fresh grass every day. I'm also fortunate to have a deal with the local brewer to get all his spent barley, all certified organic, which the hens love. But I also provide a baseline of commercial pellets, because to maintain their optimal health and well-being, the hens need constant access to that protein more than I need to satisfy some ideal.

To be sure, in the ideal permaculture setup, I would have no need to purchase feed or bring it in from outside my property at all. Yes, I am working towards that. But it takes time to get there. It doesn't happen by waving a magic wand or wishing it was so. My mulberries are still small trees, and my hens share their pastures with cattle, which consume most of the herbage.

So until such time -- and if I want to sell eggs and eat chicken in the meantime, and have the hens fertilize my pastures with their digging and their poop -- I feed them commercial pellets and don't worry about it. I won't compromise the health of my animals, period, especially as winter approaches. People's mileage might vary, but I regard permaculture as a process, and not some gadget that you use right out of the box. I'm not saying, or implying, that anyone on this forum is any less then perfect, of course, only saying that everyone is at a different stage, and that no two environments will always require the same approaches.
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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During the warm months our flocks forage for all of their food - we don't feed them. During the winter there is nothing to eat as we're up on deep snow pack. We feed them meat from slaughtering our pastured pigs - chickens love meat. They also get hay and dairy, mostly whey. We give them our kitchen compost - vegetable bits, etc. This will get them through the winter.

When I'm starting a new batch of chicks, which we do in the winter, I buy chick feed. They need a lot more nutrition and balance at that young growing age and don't have the ability to eat or digest the other foods the big hens do.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
 
Julie Helms
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Location: SC Pennsylvania, Zone 6b
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Hi Hannah,

I have 5 peeps hatched the day after yours! I too would like my chickens to eat as naturally as possible. My flock is on its own for 3 seasons of the year, foraging across our 8 acres and getting kitchen scraps, but in the winter I put them on laying mash. I was looking for some alternatives and found this site and am now going to follow recommendations I read here about growing mealworms in the house through the winter to supplement their protein. Hopefully this will help keep up egg production, too.
 
hannah ransom
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Yeah, for me, most of the good foraging is actually in winter, since it doesn't rain in summer down here in san diego! Lately I have just been offering them random weeds/weed seeds and seeing if they like it and I will be planting or encouraging growth of those things. So far their favorite things that I have given them were quinoa, mashed up chicken bones (they ate out the marrow), worms (giving me the push I need to start a worm bin.. don't I already have enough types of compost), rolly polly bugs, little mollusks that were stuck to the oysters I bought for me, and they seemed to like the oyster shell i crushed up for them as well! They eat lots of greens that are growing, as well. Other than that they are getting an organic layer feed, but eventually I'd like to eliminate that.
 
hannah ransom
Posts: 81
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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How does one make their chickens not picky?

I finally figured out that one of the things I've been digging up from the compost is actually black soldier fly larvae and they don't seem impressed with them at all. Should I just feed them less of their mix? Same with slugs.
 
Walter Jeffries
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Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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Don't feed them candy (grain/mix). If you're going to feed grain/mix then do it in the late afternoon so they forage all day. Make 'em work for a living.
 
hannah ransom
Posts: 81
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I think I might do that. Right now they are in a chicken tractor, but I think I will add on more area to that so that they can have more space to forage. I'm going to feel like I'm starving them, though. How do I know if they are getting enough?
 
Walter Jeffries
Posts: 1085
Location: Mountains of Vermont, USDA Zone 3
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if their egg laying drop it is a sign they need more food. We don't feed ours at all for six months of the year, they just forage. They lay almost one egg a day per hen during that time. In the winter I have to feed them either commercial layer or meat and veggies. Having a light going in the winter is also important so they get summer hours and don't go on strike.
 
Ding Fod
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I like the balance of Oats and Wheat. Buckwheat and Millet are crops that can be grown for chickens and they love them. BW can be rotated with winter wheat in the same year to increase yeilds. Also, giving the birds a couple months off in the winter months without light seems to help them stay healthy in the colder days.
 
hannah ransom
Posts: 81
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I think I am going to start keeping a compost pile near them. I already have so many compost piles, just another to add to the list. I want to give them something extra to scratch through and also get them lots of bugs. I have noticed that one part of my yard seems to have tons of bugs, and this is not the part the chicken are in I have a a lot to figure out, but i do love my chickens!
 
              
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Hannah,

I've let my chickens free range in the past, and they do exceptionally well. If you pick them up and play with them often, you can take notice of how plump they feel. You can start cutting back on the feed quota while checking on them every week or every few weeks.

When i tried this in the past, they were able to keep a healthy weight with no feed whatsoever. there were many fallen fruits and bugs around and my chickens loved grass. the only drawback though was, chicken droppings everywhere.

toan
 
Parker Maynard
Posts: 17
Location: Western Pennsylvania
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Hannah, Congrats on becoming a bird mama! Reading this thread has got me thinking about what chickens mean to the new permaculturist. Unlike cows or maybe other hooved critters that require larger living quarters/pasture and usually a bit more expierience, chickens are sort of "what we have" as aspiring permaculture farmer-types. That seems to me to be a little of what permaculture is, a sort of transforming of the materials of the modern the day, "what we have", through a healthier system (our farms - however big or small they be). So you're starting with a little comercial feed, that feed becomes poo, which will provide the fertility for you to grow patches of amaranth, broom corn, sunflowers, sorghum, n such for the chickens to munch on in later years. As you put your care into your system, "what you have" becomes more homegrown.

So after watching the documentary DIVE! (a reference to dumpster diving), I was reminded of "what WE have" as americans is a bunch of food WASTE, like 100 BBBBillion tons of good food wasted each year in the US (about 50% of what we produce per year, if I heard that correctly). I work at a locally owned restaurant and I've got most everybody from the cooks to the dishwashers, and servers scraping the food into 5 gal buckets. I take between 10 and 15 buckets of scraps home a week. I don't have pigs yet but I know chickens grow shiny and healthy on the scraps and they're providing the fertility for both their and our homegrown food.
 
hannah ransom
Posts: 81
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I would love to give them kitchen scraps, but would like them to eat all organic, so I only have my own to feed them.
 
Parker Maynard
Posts: 17
Location: Western Pennsylvania
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I totally understand the idea of feeding your chickens all organic food. I love my chickens, I like them more than I've ever liked any dog or cat. But I see their potential as workin girls. Everyoby should seek to fufill their potential, I think that simple pursuit keeps us relaxed and usually happy - the same goes for the ladies. They want to scratch, they want to till , your chickens want to SAVE THE WORLD so sometimes you gotta position yourself at the foot of the local waste stream (restaurant, grocery store, fish market, brewery, tofu factory, whatever) and get some conventional world nutrients and carbon for those ladies to build sustainable fertility with. I'm talkin about chickens with a greater purpose: tiller chickens. Then you can grow all the organic goodies they could ever munch. Plus (you can research this i just accept it on principles of truthiness) chicken's digestive juices are extremely acidic. It's not likely that anything going in will last long in its original chemical state.
 
hannah ransom
Posts: 81
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Hm, well I eat all organically and I definitely don't want to eat non-organic eggs! Right now I set up a black soldier fly compost thing (ala garden pool) and am interested to see how that goes. I routinely pull bugs out of the compost, give them greens, and will be growing grains and seeds for them as well. I hope to put them in paddocks and just have the organic layer feed offered if they would like to eat that, but I have to figure out how to keep predators away, first. My chickens are good foragers and I let them roam around daily and they scratch in the compost and mulch for bugs and other goodies. Right now I am just moving them around everywhere and figuring out what's best. I think chickens are meant to eat mostly bugs, greens, and fruit. I would say a little grain, but this is just from my limited experience with chickens! So right now I a trying to figure out how to maximize bugs.
 
Parker Maynard
Posts: 17
Location: Western Pennsylvania
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Maximizing bugs sounds like a great idea, and fun. I guess your thread is called "Feeding chickens healthily and as naturally as possible," fettuccini alfredo probably doesnt meet the criteria. I definately recommmend, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery. He spoke at the Mother Earth News Fair about how he feeds his chickens lotsa greens, he even grows grasses in trays in the greenhouse during the winter. He also manages a worm farm in the floor of his greenhouse. The worms work horse manure into compost and provide his birds with protien and I guess a lot of vitamin B. There's stuff in there about Black Soldier Fly Larvae and my favorite - splaying open roadkill in the chicken pasture. Apparently the resulting hm hm fly larvae make some really nutritous natural feed.
 
hannah ransom
Posts: 81
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Yes! That is one of my plans, to collect roadkill both for the bones (buried for soil supplements) and grow maggots and other nasties for the chickens. Now to remember to always drive around with a shovel and bucket (lidded) Too bad that book isn't at my library or any of the systems it can get books from. Hopefully I can afford books someday (if I could stop buying plants and animals :-/) and grab myself a copy.
Oh, and here we have the opposite problem, nothing grows in the summer. We're all dried out. I suppose I could irrigate, but that's no fun.
 
nancy sutton
gardener
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Location: Federal Way, WA - Western Washington (Zone 8 - temperate maritime)
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Just got Harvey Ussery's book from the library and will buy soon (via Paul's website?) -- it is fantastic! Especially his long treatise on soldier flies. He also details how he uses housefly maggots, with minimum odor -- cuts into smallish pieces and buries in fluffy dry organic stuff... flies have no trouble finding the dinner. 5 gal buckets are covered and drilled with 3/8 holes... big enough for laying female flies, but not chickens, to get into contents... until it falls into their laps ;)

BTW, Jessi Bloom's book on urban free range chickens is terrific, also.... much smaller scale ;)

Re: irrigation in dry climate, it would be interesting to see how hugelkultur would work in So Cal summer.
 
hannah ransom
Posts: 81
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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nancy sutton wrote:Just got Harvey Ussery's book from the library and will buy soon (via Paul's website?) -- it is fantastic! Especially his long treatise on soldier flies. He also details how he uses housefly maggots, with minimum odor -- cuts into smallish pieces and buries in fluffy dry organic stuff... flies have no trouble finding the dinner. 5 gal buckets are covered and drilled with 3/8 holes... big enough for laying female flies, but not chickens, to get into contents... until it falls into their laps ;)

BTW, Jessi Bloom's book on urban free range chickens is terrific, also.... much smaller scale ;)

Re: irrigation in dry climate, it would be interesting to see how hugelkultur would work in So Cal summer.


I'd love to buy his book, but haven't yet.

I have a couple of huegel beds, though I don't know that they are the best constructed. They dry out, too. I think our last rain was in early May this year, and we probably won't see anything until at LEAST October. It's pretty terrible.
 
Adam Old
Posts: 18
Location: Miami, FL - Zone 10b
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be careful with housefly maggots. A friend of mine just let her flock eat maggots from a raccoon she had killed as it was trying to get her hens, and the four at the top of the pecking order died from Botulism.
 
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