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How to wean young chickens off grain?

 
William James
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When I got them they were 50 days old and hooked on grain. No adult chickens to teach them the ropes. I feel like I have to teach them everything. Fun watching them learn. They were raised indoors. I've had them for a week now.

I saw one eat a worm today and it was a milestone.

They're eating a little grass and not interested in lettuce or other kitchen scraps.

Perhaps I should just be patient and let them grow up a little.

William
 
John Elliott
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Cut it up into grain size pieces. A food processor can do wonders. Carrots and other roots, leafy greens, dried out old biscotti that the cafe was going to throw away, just grind them up in the food processor and then let the chickens have at it. When they get older they will develop a desire to attack big things. A melon or a big winter squash cut in half is just too tempting for them to resist pecking at.
 
Renate Howard
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When we have baby chicks we raise them in the house in a brooder. They may or may not get grass to eat. After they're a few weeks old we move them to the outdoor protected pen - it's got a shelter and a pen with a top where they can start going outdoors and exploring the world. They have enough instincts to peck anything that moves, so they learn to eat worms and bugs as they spot them in the pen. They still get all-you-can-eat chick starter in there. When they're fully feathered out, we let them out of the pen. If they run up to us begging for food we feed them, if they seem ok without it we don't. I'm out feeding pigs/piglets 2-3 times a day, so they have plenty of opportunity to let me know if they're hungry.

But we have a rich, diverse landscape, too, with woods, tall grass pastures, and the lawn and barns.
 
Alder Burns
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When I wanted to switch my adult layers from grain to acorns, I had to starve them. Blending the two didn't work at all...they'd peck out the grain and then go hungry. 2 or 3 days hungry was enough to make them eat it. (BTW the acorns were soaked and cooked.....) Now they are switched over and have been laying fine....
 
William James
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@Alder
I've never thought about acorns!
Wouldn't cooking them do something to the energy expenditure? Or are they cooking on a wood fire that would be going anyway? I guess even cooking them on a gas stove might cost less for the same amount of carbohydrates. The other question I have is how easy is it for them to eat whole acorns? I've seen a pigeon do it but it seemed to take a while.

During the day I currently put out grain in small piles all through the pen, so they have to move around, scratch, and in the afternoon they start to get active in part I believe because they have exhausted all the grain and they are really looking for something to eat.

@John
I'll try the blender trick. I noticed they cleaned the pile of all the lettuce leaves, so that's promising.

The general plan is to slowly lower the amount of grain I give them during the day, after a few weeks of getting used to the area and giving them new pasture to graze on. At night they can eat all the grain they want.

Thanks for the suggestions.
William
 
Alder Burns
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Usually I cook the acorns in my solar cooker or on the embers of a woodstove fire, depending on season, so the energy is "free" or at least multitasked. Later this summer, I may try omitting the boil and see if they keep on laying.....I wanted to get to a place that I know they could lay at and then work my way back from there. The nuts do need to be broken up into smaller chunks than halves (at least for the big acorns we have out here....2-3 times the size of any I saw in GA, except perhaps the sawtooth oak.
Is the expense the reason for weaning them from grain? If you live near a town, there may be free grain for the taking....check your movie theater's dumpster. With luck there will be bags and bags of popcorn there from when they clean out the poppers at the end of the night. At a big place with several theaters this may amount to one or more trash bags full! For years when I lived in GA this was my poultry's staple.....
 
William James
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Alder Burns wrote:Is the expense the reason for weaning them from grain?


Partly.
I don't want to be feeding them from purchased grain for long. Oh, I didn't mention that these hens should die of old age, so the grain factor is even more important, since I'm not keeping them for a short time to turn a profit at christmas. I want their excretion on my property, so the whole point is encouraging them to do work while they're here.

Part of the reason is more philosophical, in that they should be eating chicken food, not industrial pre-packaged food (me either, for that matter).

I'm willing to tolerate a little grain in the long run, but getting them on kitchen scraps and bugs is the goal. I've also decided to grow veggies for them (I got some free seed) in their pen, so they don't turn it into a parking lot.

Another reason is that I've observed when the get mainly grain, they loaf around like lazy-asses and wait for me to feed them grain, which is not a good situation. I already have to carry water to them and close their door every morning and night, the other tasks I'm aiming to eliminate as time goes on.

William



 
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