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Growing chicken feed.

 
Chris Sims
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I've already converted a lot of our 0.3 acre lawn to garden. Now I want to grow chicken feed. Buying organic feed makes the eggs too expensive for many of our neighbors, but it's the only way to avoid GMOs. We still have more lawn than I really want to mow, so there's room. Have tried sunflowers, but a 5 x 5' patch only feeds the girls for a few days. They do pretty well all summer, but I need something I can store for them over the winter.
 
Elisabeth Tea
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This thread will get you lots of ideas. http://www.permies.com/forums/posts/list/120/997
 
Jay Green
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How many chickens are you feeding? What breeds? What are your food production expectations from these birds? Just need a little info before one can give advice.
 
Chris Sims
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We usually have about 12-30 heavy breed laying hens around the place. Their summer coop straddles two chicken runs, about 75 x 20' each. I alternate sides every three weeks or so to let whatever wants to grow there recover from being scratched to death. I liked the idea of laying down chicken wire to prevent them turning both places into bare mud. It's not practical for the whole run, though. One side has a small pond, lots of berries, goldenrod, brown-eyed Susans and a wide variety of other plants. The other side includes our compost area. After turning the compost, we often let the chickens harvest worms for a couple hours before we close it up again. (We have four bins made of pallets for turning, aging, etc.) Squashes and tomatoes usually volunteer around the edges of the compost piles, so we try to protect that from the chickens to give them a good snack when everything's ripe (or overripe!) All summer, the chickens get various weeds pulled from the garden, as well as food scraps from the kitchen.

In the fall, I turned them loose into about half of our 2000+ square feet of garden. They did a great job tilling the soil. Not deep enough to disrupt the mycelial highway we have going there, but they got every last weed out of the gardens and went to town on leftover veggie stalks.

In the winter, they scratch around in the hay the sheep reject. Plenty of seeds in there. Seems like they actually eat the hay, itself, too. Recently, we entered into a deal with a local, high-end coffee shop to get their food scraps. There's a nice mix of breads, potatoes, and veggies in there, with a bit of meat, too. The chickens love meat! Throw them the bone from a nice roast, and they'll clean it bare in a few hours. The only meat we don't feed them is chicken.

So, we're already supplementing their store-bought feed quite a bit. I'd like to get off store-bought feed entirely. I'd love to hear from someone who has accomplished that. (We're in Zone 4.)
 
Jay Green
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I think I'd do something in your garden intentionally throughout the winter...maybe grow kale, beets, cold weather spinach, etc. in low tunnels and let them graze them alternately~they will keep regrowing tops if you only let them graze it lightly~called "creaming" the crop~before switching them out. Plant into wire or plastic mesh to keep them from scratching out the plants themselves . In between the rows, plant white dutch clover.

In the garden in the spring plant millet, sunflowers and field corn for a winter supplement and I'd ferment it before feeding. This will stretch your ration's total protein levels by making them available for absorption by a monogastric animal, by increasing the villi and total absorption area, and also increasing the overall health of your flock by creating an intestinal environment that is not good for parasites. Supplement this feed ration with some animal fats and calcium by finding a source for bone meal and fat trimmings.

In your runs I'd start a deep litter in one side that would mimic the forest floor so that the excess nitrogen that it is receiving will have something with which to bind...in other words, compost the whole darn thing on one side, let the grass grow in the other. This can be done by adding all your leaves, weed and grass cuttings, twigs, sawdust, pine needles, etc.

The composted side will be your "sacrifice" area, something farmers often have in the winter months to keep livestock off their pasture in order to let it grow without being damaged by overgrazing and pugging. Also can use deep litter in the coop as well, to keep their entire environment balanced and to attract those beneficial nematodes, yeasts and bugs that will prey on parasites in the coop environment. The compost in the run will keep the soils there spongy and able to absorb fluids, thus providing a way to cleanse the run of a build up of nitrogen, while the beneficial bugs and worms will be attracted to the nutrient rich soils under the compost. Let the birds keep it aerated for you but also give it times of rest. Tend it well and you will have healthier chickens and soils.

Then intentionally sow your other, grassy side with some white dutch clover, fall fescue and other perennial grasses and give these time to get established before letting the chickens in there and only let them in for a limited time until the grasses have had time to reseed themselves the first year and then just work it on a reproduction cycle and use it lightly...you always have the sacrifice area in which to turn them back into.

I would also not overstock the soils in your small area by running a larger flock...I'd keep it to a 15-18 bird minimum and you'll be glad you did. The area that you describe is too small to keep 30 birds for long without overworking the soils and encountering health issues in your flock. Think in terms of years of your livestock living on this same place and how much nitrogen it can handle, then try to do a smaller flock very well instead of a larger flock and always be desperate to provide them food and healthy environment.

In other words, when free ranging, I'd never put more than 50 birds to an acre if I wanted it to be sustainable...and even then it better have great forage opportunities with both meadow and woodland. Thirty chickens to .03 of an acre is way too much over time, even with resting the land by placing them in a run. When wanting to be able to grow their feed on a small area, it is wise to think smaller flock, smaller needs from a smaller place. Make the proportions fit and it won't be such a struggle to keep things green on your land.

For information on fermenting the feeds you are currently feeding, thus saving money and giving your flock a health injection, you can read on this link:

http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/644300/fermenting-feed-for-meat-birds
 
John Polk
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I agree with Jay. Do not overstock with chickens.
It is not just about how much they will eat, it is also how much they will shit.
Chicken manure is very hot. Too much, and nothing will grow well.

I have always believed the rule for year round sustainable chickens = 40 per acre.
For simple math, I have rounded it up to 43.56 chickens per acre...1,000 sq.ft. per bird.
If you get any higher, the land will degrade.

One crop you might consider is pumpkins. You can grow many pounds in a small area.
Chickens love pumpkins. Grow in the heat of summer, and feed during the following cold months.
You don't need the fancy "pie" type. Whatever will produce the most #/sq.ft.

(Hogs love 'em too!)
 
Allan Babb
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Location: Greater New Orleans, LA, USA
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John Polk wrote:
One crop you might consider is pumpkins. You can grow many pounds in a small area.
Chickens love pumpkins. Grow in the heat of summer, and feed during the following cold months.
You don't need the fancy "pie" type. Whatever will produce the most #/sq.ft.


I noticed that chickens love to go through "found" cucumbers and I was looking for another reason to grow pumpkins anyway. Thanks!
 
Chris Sims
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Thanks, everyone, for some great food for thought! Within the next couple of weeks, we'll be down to about half a dozen chickens for the winter. Most of our birds are three and a half years old, and it's time for stew. It's in the overlap years when we have new chicks plus elderly hens that our population rises to 30. Currently, the minimum order for chicks is 25, but we're looking to find a local source rather than getting the little peeps through the mail or hardware stores. We're too close to neighbors to keep a rooster, ourselves.

I'd never heard of fermenting grains, but I'll try it forthwith!

Chris
 
Leron Bouma
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Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
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In order to extend the grain that you feed your chickens you can sprout it and grow it into fodder. There are a lot of very expensive commercial systems out there as well as a lot of do it yourselfers working with regular nursery flats. A YouTube search for "fodder for chickens" will give you many ideas about different people's grow systems.
One pound of grain turns into up to six pounds of fodder that is more bioavailable to your hens.
 
Lynn Jacobs
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Location: At home with my soulmate <3 Living in a hot dry place.
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Indeed! Our chickens are loving their sprouted-into-grass grains! I just throw the whole mat out there, like a piece of turf, and they have fun pecking and scratching at it. It doesn't take a lot of time or money, though we'll eventually invest in something a bit sturdier and larger than the thin black plastic trays for starting seeds.
 
Matt Saager
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Location: Oregon - Willamette Valley
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Agreed on sprouting, I have just started on a small scale for my 8 hens. They love it.

Another benefit of sprouting. If you toss the sprouts out onto the deep bedding, the chickens scratch after it so aggressively they keep the bedding aireated and composting more rapidly.
 
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