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Unlimited Free Chicken Food With Wood Chips

 
James Colbert
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This idea just popped into my head about 2 minutes ago as I was observing my garden and "reading from the book of nature:" large piles of wood chips are a breeding ground for pill bugs and other decomposer critters. Wood chips are free from tree trimming companies and they will drop a pile off that will soon teem with bugs or chicken food as I like to call them. So I was thinking for large gardens or small farms it may be of great benefit to have a few piles of wood chips around that the chickens can access. If you run a paddock shift system you could have a pile in each paddock the chickens can scratch through the pile spreading it and adding nitrogen speeding break down. You can also mix in piles of loose brush and branches to increase the diversity of food. Seems like a great way to jump start your food forest and feed your chickens.
 
Burra Maluca
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Check out this thread and the video below.

 
John Elliott
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I can do this! Got the chickens, wood chips, food scraps -- I think I've bought my last bag of feed corn.
 
John Polk
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If that guy can do it in Vermont, you should be able to do it in Georgia.
Hope you can use that much N rich compost. lol
 
John Elliott
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John Polk wrote:If that guy can do it in Vermont, you should be able to do it in Georgia.


I admit I had to chuckle at them saying they had to get the compost hot enough so the pile wouldn't freeze. Not one of my worries.
 
James Colbert
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I thought of compost but I am not a big fan of making large compost piles. Wood chips seem to be a nice alternative. But a compost pile would probably be best in many situations.
 
Ken Peavey
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I've raised flocks of hens entirely on compost. The girls are free to range at their pleasure. I usually have a few piles of leaves and compost around the place. As described in the OP, the bugs move right in. The girls do the turning of the heap for me and add their droppings directly to it. During the cool season, the heaps generate their own heat and keep the bugs alive, although the hens have to scratch a little deeper. They will flatten a 4 foot tall heap in a couple weeks. I go around with a pitchfork, pile it back up.

Total cost of feed over the past 5 years: $0.00
 
Abe Connally
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how many chickens per cubic yard of compost? any guidelines for this?
 
Ken Peavey
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Such a meter would be difficult to quantify, but coming up with some rough figure would be at least a good starting point for someone to repeat this project.
I'm going to throw out a wild estimate: 5 cubic yards per hen. At 1000 pounds per cubic yard (cuyd), 5 cuyds=5000 pounds of decomposing material per chicken.
My girls were doing just fine on 10 cuyds of leaf mold, about 8 cuyds of spent mushroom compost, a few small heaps of grass clippings and leaves totalling around 4 cuyds, a hot compost heap of 3 cuyds, plus a half acre of natural forest floor litter, half an acre of sometimes mowed grass, a few hundred pounds of hay the bull was finished working over, plus all his manure for the previous few months. They did not scour the place. Plenty of the woods were pecked here and there. Lots of manure just sat there. Heaps that were flattened stayed flat for weeks and months before being rebuilt. They hit the leaf mold regularly, as well as the hot compost heap. When they find a good spot somewhere, they give it a good working over.

A dozen hens can easily spread out a single cubic yard in a day of work if they set their minds to it, stay focused, cheer each other on. The equation would depend on the bug population, time of year, carrying capacity of the pile, size of the pile, the human effort and attention being put in, rates of use and replenishment of the heap(s), moisture levels, ingredients, heap activity...
A thriving bug population with a full demographic pyramid in a suitable heap could sustain it's population as long as the hens don't overeat and other factors such as frost don't change the environment. A heap with ingredients which the chickens can eat would give the bugs an increased survival rate. An active, moist heap would be expected to support more life than an aged, dry heap. Cold weather will slow things down-more volume would be needed as the population in the heap declines.

The leaf mold heap was large enough that a bird in the middle could not fling material all the way to the ground. The result was pits and bowls here and there. The girls used them for naps and hangouts. The hot compost heap was not scratched into as deeply, probably from the heat, and was rebuilt much more frequently. The added attention kept it lively. In the grass heap, I've seen them eating the grass and weed clippings. After the leaf mold and hot compost, their favorite stomping ground was out back in the woods. If they were in the field poking around hay r compost, it was in the morning or evening; Perish the thought of getting a sunburn.

5 cuyds of material/chicken is not written in stone. Far from it. Your compost heap is different from mine, as is your environment, and the breed of hens. Your situation may require more or less material. What we need is more data to consider.

If anyone else uses compost to supplement the feed of chickens, it would be handy to hear from you.

 
Abe Connally
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is that 5 yd3 a year or just at any given time?

I think the Vermont Composting said 850 tons for 2000 hens, which is about 935 lbs/hen, but I don't know the time scale (per day, month, year?). They use cow manure and hay as the bulk of the substrate, which is fairly rich, and would probably support a huge bug population at the right moisture levels.

I was just trying to get a rough estimate as a starting point to see what my current compost projects could support.
 
Ken Peavey
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At any given time.

Attentive management of the process should reduce the volume required.

A cuyd of compost weighs around 1000 pounds. We've got a range of 1 to 5 cuyds of compost per chicken. It's close enough to work with.
 
Abe Connally
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Location: Chihuahua Desert
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I was able to watch part of Lawton's new video with the chicken tractor on steroids, and again, he's using rich materials (manure+food scraps), but to me, it looked like they were adding about a yd3 of material at a time, and I think he said each week, but I'm not sure. The chickens have access to the last few piles, as well, probably 3-4 yd3 at a time, but from the video, it appeared that the majority of their action was in the most recent 1-2 yd3.

So, if my estimations are somewhat accurate (someone else that has seen that video might be able to verify, I could only watch part of it due to limited internet), then that's a yd3 of very rich stuff every week for about 30 hens. And, in line with your estimates, let them have access to several of the piles, making it somewhere in the ~3ish yd3 at any given time for 30 birds.
 
Beth Mouse
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I watched the latest geoff lawton video as well about the chicken tractor on steroids and it gave me an idea to try with my 2 hens. I have an acre and would like to figure out how to feed my 2 hens from compost and also allow them to free-range around my backyard, which I keep adding chicken-friendly plants to. If I wanted to get some meat birds, possibly even turkeys, those birds would stay in the pasture which is a bit over 1/3 acre. I also buy 2 sheep to have in this back pasture each year as well. I have a decision as to whether or not to continue keeping my hens outside of pasture and running around my yard with many plantings or in pasture (with no plantings due to sheep) but with access to pasture grass. Deciding this will determine where to place the compost bins I recently had built that the chickens can scratch around in (like the bins in the video) My bins are only 5' wide though. You may be wondering why we only have 2 hens. Even with that amount, our family can't really keep up with the eggs and I wanted to have no more hens than needed so they wouldn't destroy my yard too much. Any suggestions on whether the new compost bins should go in the pasture and keep hens, meat birds, and sheep there together or should the compost bins be placed in my yard only for the hens to have access to? I don't think I will have enough food scraps and material for 2 sets of these compost bins for both locations...but possibly may. I have never raised meat birds and would like them to have access to many bugs as well and limit the grain. I could possibly have wood chips dumped somewhere in the pasture and see if the meat bird chickens (or turkeys if I decide that route) get much sustenance from that.
 
Abe Connally
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Nadia Abu Yahia Lawton replied on the comments section with this in reference to quantity per week:
I have been adding between 1/3 to 1 m3
 
Al Senner
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My chickens are free range but in the warm times they will spend 80 % of their time in the wood mulch spread 4 to 8". After a few hard freezes though, there isnt enough bugs to keep their attention and theyll go back to plant forages.
 
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