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I’m surprised you “need” to buy special feed for backyard hens

 
pollinator
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I’ve spoken to a few suburban backyard chicken owners and they all say you “need” to buy special feed or the chickens won’t lay eggs and they’ll be in bad health.

Is this because suburbia’s too small and artificial to supply what chickens need to be happy and lay? I’ve been in rural areas in poor countries and they just fed the chickens anything growing on their farms. It looked so simple to me.
 
master pollinator
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I think it's people just not knowing you can grow/raise all the food your chickens need right in your yard.

 
master steward
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If their only source of food is what you provide, then I'm guessing it helps to give them feed that is balanced and optimized for their needs (at least the perceived needs as the feed company sees it).

I mix my own whole grain feed since my birds are free ranging much of the time.  I still worry about getting the mix correct in winter when they don't forage for 5 straight months.
 
gardener
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Mike, I've been thinking of doing this myself. Would you be willing to share your 'recipe'?
 
Mike Haasl
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Sure!  I've only been using it since Labor Day and I'm not a real farmer so I don't make any promises that it's a good mix.  If it's a horrible mix I hope someone lets me know fast before I buy more tomorrow...

I started with the printout from my organic feed mill.  Then I took the feed spreadsheet from Garden Betty and started fiddling.

It doesn't do any good to make up a recipe that involves materials you can't get so first I found out the grains/seeds available to me.  And their price.  I put them in the spreadsheet and started fiddling.

My recipe is 4 lbs of roasted soy beans, 5 pounds of corn, 5 pounds of oats, 5 pounds of barley and 1 pound of flax seeds.  Plus a heaping cup of one supplement from the feed store and a heaping tablespoon of another.  Those supplements were in their normal feed mix so it's the micro nutrients and all that stuff.

For me it works out to $32.78 per 100 lbs for the whole grain portion.  

My hope is that I can start to grow some more seeds/grains myself and then just work them into the recipe to hopefully reduce the flax and soy (expensive parts) while giving them more variety.
 
Carla Burke
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Thank you! I'm trying to piece one together, but I'm just not entirely sure. The ($12/50#, non-gmo) bags I buy, right now are mostly whole grain, with soy & cracked corn. I add d.e. & oyster shell, on the side, at-will. I add raw, organic acv to their water (1C:5gal), and give them food scraps, & since I'm an herbalist, I periodically have tons of post-infusion (usually water, occasionally olive oil) herbs. They go nuts for the herbs! They also get soldier larvae, several times a week. I'm trying to decide if I'll save anything, how much, and is it worth enough to add (yet another) chore to my list...
 
Mike Haasl
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I'm guessing you won't be able to compete with $12 for a 50 pound bag.  My local organic feed is $28 for 50# and the place I actually buy from an hour away is $22/50.  So I'm beating them by making my own and it sets me up to sprout the seeds as well.  And I assume it's better food for them.
 
Carla Burke
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Yeehhhh, that's kinda what I'm thinking, too. I mean, I'd have top really work at it, too find a better price, I think...
 
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Outside of Permies there are lots of people who like to tell you what you "should" do or "need" to do.

Often this is just what they personally do, or they repeat information from others who say these things.

One of the reasons they might say this about chicken food is that bagged chicken feeds contain certain amounts of protein, which the hens use for top egg production.

Many people choose to just have more hens and/or less eggs, and feed their hens cheaply.

Other people might make a DIY feed, or figure on feeding a certain amount of grains and a certain amount of meat scraps/sour milk/other animal protein.

Some chickens will pick and choose with wholegrain feed and waste some of it, making it difficult to figure out what they're getting, so this might be another reason why people are recommending bagged pellet feed. If they're rotated around a backyard and fed kitchen scraps, slugs etc, it's probably not as much of an issue.
 
pollinator
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Surely it depends on the size of your yard? I have 1/10th of an acre, and I only have 5 chickens but with my climate I sure can't grow enough food for them in my tiny space!
 
pioneer
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I have been feeding a very simple home-made feed for years, but I do soak and sprout.  SO, the basic thing I use is whole wheat berries, wither organic or recleaned from the feed store.  Most times it is organic.  The, some type of legume.  If I have some that has been stored too long and needs to be used, I will use that, lentils, dried beans, etc.... Otherwise I use dried whole peas.  SOmetimes I will throw in a small bit of flax seed or black sunflower seed, but usually it is just wheat and peas.  About 1pound of wheat berries to 1/2 pound whole peas.  I  cover in water and soak for 24 hours, then I drain off the water and leave to sprout ( you dont need to see any sprouts coming out for it to internally be starting the sprouting process, which changes the nutritional profile) I leave it for 48 hours, sometimes I stir it once.  Basically, I have an area with 3 buckets that I bother with for a few minutes once a day, I feed the chickens once a day.  Plan on at least 1/4 pound of grain/legume mix per bird each day if you soak and sprout, more if you do not soak and sprout or ferment.  They should get as much as they want/need, so observe for a few days.  Do they have any left at teh end of the day ?  A few grains in the pan lets you know they got enough.  Alot left means you are feeding too much.  Totally empty means observe more, you may be underfeeding.  

Seasonally, they get other stuff, but they do not forage too often, sometimes, but we have alot of predators.  So mostly they get what is brought to them, when they do go out, they like to get a dust bath like now when it is dry, but it is so dry that there are no bugs or weeds right now.  The LOVE whey, left over from when I make cheese, I havent made any for about a year, so I am trying to remember that I need other variety for them as over the years this is an important part of what they get.  Yes, they just drink it, it is liquid whey.  ANy old milk they LOVE also.  They also like kambucha mother, yes, they eat it and I am sure it is good for them, but I dont know why or how, likely for the same reason we drink kambucha.  Weeds from the garden.  Apple peels and apple cores when I can. Persimmons. Mulberry leaves.  Etc....   Also, they will eat the alfalfa powder left in the goat feeders, so a waste product from goat raising.  Alfalfa is very good when nothing else green is around, so a way to have a good vegetable for them.  Soemtimes I wet the alfalfa powder for them.  
 
Sue Reeves
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A big difference between a farm and a suburban back yard is just area.

So, for example, if you only have 4 hens, that would be 1pound of grain/legume plus fruit/veg each day -- or equivalent in bugs.  That is 365pounds of grain/legumes a year.  

Yes, they need less of that if you have more fruits and vegetables and bugs.  But, still,  they need alot.  If they can just use the waste products of other stuff you have going on, then that realy is a savings.  Like eating the insides, the parts people cant eat,  if you slaughter meat, or drinking the whey from making cheese.  Or food that goes bad.  There is no waste if you have chickens.  SO, there is likely more of this type of excess on a farm than a city or suburban house

If you make areas that they can rotate thru, they can get alot, depends on where you live, what season.  But, that takes planning, making places to raise bugs for them, etc... If you just dont do anything, there is not as much as you think.  I have watched my chickens, when there is no grass and they can still find bugs, watch as their circle gets wider each day, foraging further out to find anything, and so they cannot forage for all their food on my property as it is now, and I have 2 1/2 acres.  If I had paddocks to rotate them in, and if I planted different things, or made good bug and fly larvae habitat, then they could, at least I could feed a small number of them.  It is very dry here for half or more of the year.  In the wet months, they do find more food, worms, grass, they love fresh green grass.  
 
pollinator
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In my experienc you don't NEED (see later sometimes you do) to, but you get more eggs if you do. I generally don't feed layer feed as I was mixing ducks and chickens, so I feed a concentrated pig feed, which was also for growing ducks. and mixed that with local grains. I did one year try mixing my own entirely but my chickens are fussy and do not eat everything so they do not receive a balanced diet on free choice mixed goods. and this showed in their eggs, half the normal production.

What I have found is that modern  production hens NEED to have 16% layer feed, you put them on less even with open free range and they simply don't lay, and when they do lay the eggs are deformed and watery. However the marans, landhøns and giant jerseys all managed to lay perfectly good eggs on homemade feed.

Mine were kept with open free range access totally unfenced, they had scrub land and overgrown field close to their coop with lots of fallen logs, berries, and free access to the compost heaps. we have a wet cool climate plenty of bugs flies FROGS (they love frog) and other creepies. They were not fed any animal products other than what they could catch (legality issues)
 
Tyler Ludens
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It might be helpful to keep in mind that chickens' natural food is insects and other small critters, and plant material, not so much seeds.  In the wild they are forest creatures so don't eat much grass seed (grain).  This is difficult to emulate in a cold climate, but might be possible if one raises a lot of worms, wood lice (pill bugs), etc.  Chicken composting systems also help supply appropriate food while providing an additional service from the birds.

I think it's possible but not as easy as buying some kind of feed.

 
Sue Reeves
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Skandi Rogers wrote:In my experienc you don't NEED (see later sometimes you do) to, but you get more eggs if you do. I generally don't feed layer feed as I was mixing ducks and chickens, so I feed a concentrated pig feed, which was also for growing ducks. and mixed that with local grains. I did one year try mixing my own entirely but my chickens are fussy and do not eat everything so they do not receive a balanced diet on free choice mixed goods. and this showed in their eggs, half the normal production.

What I have found is that modern  production hens NEED to have 16% layer feed, you put them on less even with open free range and they simply don't lay, and when they do lay the eggs are deformed and watery. However the marans, landhøns and giant jerseys all managed to lay perfectly good eggs on homemade feed.

Mine were kept with open free range access totally unfenced, they had scrub land and overgrown field close to their coop with lots of fallen logs, berries, and free access to the compost heaps. we have a wet cool climate plenty of bugs flies FROGS (they love frog) and other creepies. They were not fed any animal products other than what they could catch (legality issues)



Hmmm..... I think that this depends alot on where you live.  You say that you live in a wet, cool climate.   SO, you personally do not need to.

But, as a generalization,  there are many people living in much different climates and/or small yards where the situation is very different !

I would never want to tell someone that they absolutely do not need to buy chicken feed as they could easily end up with dead chickens, for example in my area.

 
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i like this thread. Brings up an interesting topics.
I agree with the rest, it really depends on a lot of factors, and some people "need" to do different things in order to keep their flock both healthy and happy. It really does 'depend' on each persons situation and circumstances, and to a certain measure, it also depends on your flock, too.
I am a backyard chicken owner in a suburban area, so my chickens have what id consider a limited space to be able to be natural chickens in. Its pretty adequate for the size of my flock, but if I wanted more it would get iffy and id probably have to supplement their diet more (with extra feed and nutrients and such).
I frequent forums that have other backyard chicken enthusiasts, some who are in urban settings and have a much smaller space to deal with, and they handle their flocks differently than i even do.

Ive researched a lot on the subject over the years, just out of pure interest, and what ive found to be fascinating (to just add another layer onto the conversation) is the subject of "chicken domestication". There are those who will swear that with the selective breeding and domestication of chickens we have done with chickens, some egg laying and other types "cant" live wild without some kind of human intervention, due their current domestic "needs" so to speak. Like, nature no longer has the sufficient nutrients (generally) to be able to sustain a domestic chicken in order for it to live as long and healthy of a life in the wild, as it would be able to in a domestic setting. Does that make sense? I hope im not rambling. They say things like, most chickens (who arent immediately eaten by some predators) could maybe live for a year or two before their egg laying bodies are too overtaken by the constant egg laying demand, or they get sick due to a lack of nutrients, or some such thing. So on and so forth...

I think its an interesting take on it. Kind of like how long would a domestic cow live out in the "wild" without human intervention? Not saying its the same thing, but maybe similar?

I know people always like to point out the chickens living wild in SE Asia and Hawaii. And the thing about those is that they are actual wild chicken breeds, like junglefowl types, or mixed with junglefowl and/or other wild varieties. So that IMHO is different, but an interesting consideration. Like wolf vs dog.

I personally feel that ive had a handful of chickens over the years that could.....probably....have survived out in the wild nutritionally and instinctively. But who really knows what would happen.

Just an interesting 2c i wanted to add. Id love to hear anyone elses' comments on this :)

Ive attached a pic of one of my current chickens, Clotilda (Cloti for short). Shes very smart, wiley, and adventurous. She wishes she were a wild chicken ;)
Pretty-black-backyard-chicken.jpg
Pretty black backyard chicken
Pretty black backyard chicken
 
pollinator
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Thank you for this thread.

Here is a little inspirational video.



I'm playing around with fermented feed and sprouting in a winter conditions right now!
 
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I have some 15 chicks for eggs and I´m also trying to cut down the percentage of bought grain in their fodder. I keep them in a run (approx. 30 sq meters) with deep mulch bedding (they like to scratch it very much), but I also let them forage in adjacent part of my vineyard (some 200 sq meters) and scratch worms on a compost plot from September to April. All kitchen scraps also go to them, both fresh and cooked, crushed bones included. Another part of their fodder is a dried bread, which I bring from my work. I also meet a local fish-seller on my way home, who gives me a bucket (cca 2-3 gallons) full of fresh fish offal every week. I give him some eggs as a reward. I throw them a basket full of greens (alfalfa, dandelions, clovers, common sainfoin, grass clippings..) every day from spring to autumn.. I also buy dried fish meal, made from local freshwater "weed fish" as a protein additivum. I also used "maggot dispenser" filled with some rotting offal during the summer..  During the winter, when there is only a little greens outside, I pick a scrap leaves (cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi) from a bin in our local supermaket. Nevertheless I buy corn, wheat and  barley. Organic, if possible (not always accessible). For example, I got one bag full of barley ( 50 kg ) from my colleague who have won it in a ball raffle last winter, just for a bottle of wine (which I got from a local person as a reward for some help..). I let the grain soak and ferment for several day before giving it to chickens - this also reduce the ammount of grain in their food..
 
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When I had chickens they ran around loose full-time, but in the desert what they could forage was not enough. So I used to buy chicken feed. Then one day I ran out and didn't get around to going to the feed store for a couple weeks. So I gave them dry dog food, stuff that comes in small pellets. (Boy howdy, does that make strong eggshells.) After that, they wouldn't eat chicken feed anymore. It was hilarious -- I tossed down a can of chicken feed and called them for breakfast... they came running in the usual way, started to peck, stopped short, and all stared at me like "What's this shit??" And the boss hen tried to spike me. Okay, I can take a hint...

So they ate dog food forevermore. And the ones that didn't meet with misadventure lived as long as 11 years, and tho the older ones didn't lay daily anymore, they'd still raise a couple clutches of chicks every year. (Their real job was eating baby rattlesnakes and stink beetles, so I wasn't too concerned about egg production. They were descended from Mexican fighting cocks, not from layers, being whatever random flock culls came my way.)

I'd previously fed dog food to my pigeons and ducks, so this wasn't quite the novelty it may seem. Dry dog food is basically animal protein and grains, so why not?

 
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I had Wyandottes for awhile.  I wasn't happy with the way chickens treat each other so I got rid of them and bought 12 Runner ducks.  The difference in personality was amazing...in the 10 years I have had them I've never seen them squabble or pick on each other.  Where one goes they all go so they are easy to herd around between the different fenced areas. Plus I get bigger eggs and ducks lay more eggs than chickens and are impervious to cold weather. I had a hard time in the beginning trying to figure out what to feed them, especially as I live in the desert.  I didn't want to feed them processed pellets and organic vegan was a must for me.  Ducks aren't much on eating whole grains/seeds raw so I started buying Modesto organic grains in 50# bags (wheat, barley, oats) plus bulk millet and sorghum from Azure Standard.

I pressure cooked them for 3 minutes, or put them in one of my solar ovens.  I supplement with peas, and Landers lettuce variety (hydroponic) and add one 500mg capsule of niacin to each 5 gallons of drinking water.  They have a tub of oyster grit. This has worked out very successfully for me.  The current batch of ducks are between the age of 4-8 years. In all the years I have been keeping the ducks I've never lost one to ill health.  

The reason why I've added this story to this forum on chickens is because of the non-waste issue.  After I cook the grains and they cool off, I put them in a rubber tub with water added.  This way the local birds, rats, etc can't get to them ( I have a lot of problems with pigeons and rats here).  This method might work with hens also if you are having trouble with waste being an issue, or sparrows, etc.
 
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In an egg shell . . . you try making an egg a day on chicken feed!
I mean think of it, you need to make that yolk first, then the white stuff and then! you have to coat it with this heavy tough shell. Everyday!
 
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I'm wanting to add critters to our yard, silkies,  indian runners and rabbits. Not a lot Haha, my guy would have a fit. Not much money as I don't work so need to figure out how to feed them as cheaply as possible.  The garden area is about 16th of an acre, it's full of bugs and weeds hahahaha ack

They would have to live inside our fenced in yard in an enclosure for their safety.   My son is a landscaper, he brings me leaves, grass clippings,  pine needles etc

I can set aside a row for them to grow foods for them and our area is quite the growing area so I have access to plenty of fruits, veggies etc. Winters the ground at some point freezes and we often have snow in the winter months.


Any advice appreciated.
 
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I’ve been feeding home made recipe to a mixed flock of Langshans, Swedish Blacks, and Ameraucanas and their crosses for several years. I am able to locally source a 2-1 mix of no spray wheat and peas ($12.00 / 50 lbs), which also seems to be the standard base for non gmo feed. That by itself is close to 16% protein. I buy organic Fertrell fish meal and add maybe 4-5 TBL to a gallon of feed, and soak/ferment. The birds are free range in a rural area, and do a lot of grazing of grass and legumes in season (zone 5) in addition to contributing in a big way to the insect apocalypse. During the winter I add some dried greens, alfalfa meal or pellets usually, or dried kale or nettles. I was adding kelp meal for minerals but now am buying the basic mix with minerals added. Not too sure if I like that as I believe it has calcium, and I have roosters and prefer to feed oyster shells free choice.
 There is a big difference in having free range or penned birds, although I think it is not that hard to come up with a balanced feed that would be fine for penned birds at a fraction of the price for premixed organic. There are sources for comparative feed protein amounts and calculators online.
 
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