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Is anyone growing/gathering all your own fodder for chickens

 
Violet Heart
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My question is have you grown/gathered your own forage/fodder for your chickens, thus not buying them any grain? I am planning on trying a small flock (4-6) next spring and would like to explore growing all of their feed. As yet I don't know anyone personally who is doing this. I live in a suburban area, and would like to try this out, then move onto a full size flock in the future on rural property that my family is developing. I already have lots of clover growing and myriad other things. I have heard the idea of growing barley grass in flats (takes 7 days) and feeding bottom half to chickens, while using top half for juicing. We also have abundant acorns in the Autumn. I would love to hear how you are doing it. Thanks.
 
Mark Chadwick
Posts: 81
Location: Cranbourne, Victoria, AUSTRALIA
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By no means all, but I did a trial last summer of growing maize within the chicken run. Fenced off until over 1200mm / 4' high it thrived and produced the sweetest cobs I've ever eaten. The birds spent hours sheltering from the heat under the leafy canopy and there was no bug problem.
Trying sunflowers next. If successful I'll be mixing the two the year after.
Right now in our winter I'm growing wheat to about 150mm/6" under a portable cage. They love the green pick.
 
wayne fajkus
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I always give mine store bought pellets, but they are great for dealing with scraps. If you've ever seen a cabbage plant, not just the head you get at the store. there are a LOT of leaves on the exterior. Same with broccoli and cauliflower. My chickens eat them heartily. Dinner leftovers like rice are great. I personally think this is a better use than composting those pieces, and adds a lot of chicken snacks depending on your garden size.

Honestly, I don't think anything you mentioned that would net more food per sq ft of garden space than these leftover pieces from the garden.

I can't speak for the nutritional value though. I'm sure grains surpass it. Its a supplement for the chickens, not a total diet.

I grow plants for me. I share it with them, but I keep the good parts. Both parties are happy.
 
John Elliott
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With all the food that is thrown away in modern industrial societies, there is no reason to buy feed for chickens. Last year, I think I bought one 40# sack of deer corn to supplement what I was growing/scrounging, but this year I have made the resolution not to buy anything. And it has been working out well. On various freegan foraging trips, I have come home with 20 pounds of cauliflower or 30 pounds of baked goods, and my main preservation technique is drying. Leaving baked goods out to air dry renders them almost immune from spoilage, and all I need to do is to smash them into sizes that the chickens can scratch through.

Another source of free feed here in the South is kudzu, although it is a bit of work to chop an appreciable amount. Now that it is in season, I can stop at numerous places around town, chop a sackful, and return home with some high protein greens. It is also easy to air dry and add to other feed.

When the clover is in season, I will dump the lawn mower bag where I intend to move the chicken tractor and they look forward to scratching through that. I also encourage weeds in my lawn like dandelion, chicory, arugula, prickly lettuce and more, so the cuttings from the lawn mower are not just low nutrient, hard to digest grasses.

We also have abundant acorns in the fall, but with all the other feed sources, I haven't made as much use of that one as I should.
 
wayne fajkus
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You have me curious about acorns. What has to be done to feed them to chickens?

 
Alder Burns
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I've been successfully feeding my 3 layers and one rooster on an acorn-based diet for six months or more now. See my blog at udanwest.blogspot.com for the details. Basically they need shelling and leaching, though I give it a somewhat easier process than I do for myself. Still, I'm spending at least half an hour or more every day shelling out and smashing acorns and changing out leach water. Part of this is because last year's crop was so huge I did not dry them sufficiently and a lot of them are moldy and these need to be sorted out. They are still getting cottonseed meal protein supplement, a bit of kelp meal and oystershell, as well as our kitchen scraps and several hours a day on free range. I am right now getting black soldier flies on line and these will eat down the moldy acorn and perhaps enable me to eliminate the protein supplement.
When I lived in Georgia years ago I fed my flock a dumpster-based diet, as John describes above. Bagels from the bagel bakery dumpster were broken into chunks and dried hard, then soaked to feed them to the poultry. And the big trash bags of popcorn from movie theater dumpsters! But here we are further from town, don't go as much, and the dumpster scene is pretty sparse. So acorns are my staple of choice.....and there are certainly plenty of them, at least for me!
 
Dan Schlupp
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Location: Lilongwe, Malawi
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We started off buying maize meal and soy beans in bulk with the idea that we could supplement their diet as time goes on. That way we could supply the protein/carb. ratio of of 1:11 we were looking for to meet our goal of raising birds for eggs and meat. So far I incorporate shredded comfrey and mulberry leaves into the feed right before I wet it down prior to feeding. We grew millet, sunflower and cowpea this past rainy season and left it for the chickens to peck at through the dry season. Growing a mix of things right in front of the entrance allows me to pick as they're ready. I have a termite trap dug into the ground that I allow them to graze once every 30 days. We also have four paddocks that we rotate the chickens through. The chickens will graze in one place for 30 days and then move on to the next paddock. They'll eat seed heads from local grasses, foliage from native plants and poke around compost piles we make from their bedding. We think we have enough pigeon pea growing in our staple field so that next year we can replace the soybean, which is significantly more expensive, with the pigeon pea. We have the same goal for the maize and in fact we can control the quality of the feed much better than buying from an external source.
 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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This will be the year for me and my chickens to move completely away from store bought grains. This time of year is when they have plenty of weeds, bugs, mulberries, apples once they start fruiting, and food scraps so the chickens don't miss grain.
My plan for this winter is to use the acorns and leftover pecans as a main source, along with some loads of dried seeds. For seeds I am concentrating my efforts on lambs quarter, dock, sunflower, and plantain.

One idea I have been thinking about is getting a nice rotting bin of restaurant scraps to attract black soldier fly and scooping them out as they hatch to be stored in the freezer. That way I have some bugs to feed throughout Jan and Feb.
 
Violet Heart
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Its awesome to hear of folks experiences with this. I live in a place with very mild winters, so it is easy to have things growing all year round. I know it is doable to grow/forage all my chickens food. I just need to think balance, and to do it without too much work for myself. I've processed acorns for myself and it can be a lot of work. Hmmm... I'll have to think about that one. We have lots of fruits that don't get eaten that I can gleen, persimmons and loquats are usually abundant every year. Has anyone used those?

I would be hesitant to feed chickens food I think is toxic though: mainly leftover baked goods, if they are of the mainstream, wonderbread category. I used to pick up food from a food bank in Austin, TX for a children's program I ran for homeless kids. All the baked goods were free, and after a while, I realized that lots of them never go bad, scary, as they are so full of preservatives, and have no nutrients whatsoever. I don't think I would give that stuff to a chicken! But maybe some old sourdough bread.

 
John Elliott
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Violet Heart wrote:
I would be hesitant to feed chickens food I think is toxic though: mainly leftover baked goods, if they are of the mainstream, wonderbread category. I used to pick up food from a food bank in Austin, TX for a children's program I ran for homeless kids. All the baked goods were free, and after a while, I realized that lots of them never go bad, scary, as they are so full of preservatives, and have no nutrients whatsoever. I don't think I would give that stuff to a chicken! But maybe some old sourdough bread.


I've used all sorts of fruits that are available seasonally (except nightshade berries, those will kill chickens). They really like jelly palm fruits, the more rotten and full of fruit flies, the better. The one thing the chickens turn their beaks up at is ginkgo fruits -- just too stinky.

As far as baked goods, you should know that the preservative that is used is calcium propionate, which isn't that hideous a compound. The calcium is a vital nutrient, it's the propionate part that is problematic. It has an odd number of carbons, and doesn't metabolize like the even number of carbons in fats and sugars. Here is what the Wiki says:


When propanoic acid is infused directly into rodents' brains, it produces reversible behavior changes (e.g. hyperactivity, dystonia, social impairment, perseveration) and brain changes (e.g. innate neuroinflammation, glutathione depletion) that may be used as a model of human autism in rats.



I don't know how you would tell if you turned your chickens autistic, but the metabolites that cause that are going to be excreted and not retained in the meat or eggs. That's why they say the behavior changes are reversible, they go away when you quit feeding the preservative.
 
Denice Moffat
Posts: 30
Location: U.S.A.
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Here at Elk Meadow Farm & Nursery we love Winterbor and Redbor kale. The plants last through most of the winter and we harvest the leaves (5/week from each plant then water the bed once a week). We eat the good ones or freeze them after steaming and the chickens eat the bug-ridden or damaged leaves. The aphids prefer the Winterbor so we like the Redbor the best. The yellow flowers are some of the first to bloom in the spring and the bees love them. Ducks though, LOVE the Toscano kale and will trash the patch if you let them out too early into it. We let the ducks wander around the winter in the backyard and eat what they want of the Toscano kale and plant a new batch the next year. Ducks also love Buttercrunch lettuce. We let many of the lettuce plants go to seed, eat the nicely formed heads and give the ugly heads to both the chickens and our ducks (and turkeys which we've had in the past). Often we'll grow the Buttercrunch lettuce on top of the filled pallet compost bins we can protect it from the ducks--this doesn't work for chickens but the chickens are not allowed in our back yard. We put the ducks into the 22 x 65 foot hoop house for a couple of weeks when there is snow on the ground outside. They do such a great job of cleaning up the slugs that we barely had an issue with them this year even with the Buttercrunch lettuce! Love this. Will do it again every year.

We are growing our own Barley fodder this year as well. About every other day we start a new batch of 4 cups barley soaked one day then just rinsed in bowel for two days before we spread it into a nursery tray to put under grow lights (we then rinse the trays twice a day until it's ready). We don't juice the upper green parts though. I let it grow to about 5-6 inches then cut off the greens in 1 inch chunks for the younger chickens. The adult chickens will eat the entire sprout. They love both the seeds and greens. We also feed grass clippings and I try to split up mowing the lawns so that I give a bag of clippings 2-3x/week. We've also planted plum and apricot trees inside their pasture. The fruit we don't harvest will feed the girls. I decided against apples in the chicken pen just because I've had two dogs in my practice eat so many of them they ended up with seizures from the cyanide in the seed. Love the idea of planting corn and sunflowers though. I'm going to try that next year along with comfrey. Thanks for that idea. We'd like to do some pasture rotation but right now we're in the beginning stages of infrastructure still so the chickens are confined to their lot-sized pens.

We also grow Tay berries and Gogi berries on one fence line and raspberries/currents on another (outside the fence but close enough that the ripe berries on that side fall into the pen). The girls love these. We let the birds go into the deep-mulched berry patch in the winter where they search for worms and keep the ground fluffed up. They get to pick all the meat carcasses we eat as well. The goal is to give the poultry any unspoiled foods that we don't eat. Yard waste and spoiled foods go into the hugelkultures or pallet compost bins (whichever is most convenient).
 
Brad D'Amico
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Why in the world I didn't start feeding fodder sooner, I can't say.

Sprouted rye doesn't stand a chance with my hens.

I also started growing PVFS Chicken Omega 3 forage blend in seed tray holders to about 30 days of growth and they LOVE it. It makes me feel better about giving them fresh, live, high quality forage while trapped in the much-crapped-on fixed coop n' run setup that I have to have due to time/lifestyle constraints. (I will be setting up a tractor for them to go out on days that I'm home and can deal with them in the future)

Anyways, fodder rocks, its stupid easy, and cuts down quite a bit on feed. Also knowing the feed is there to fill in any gaps in their nutrition requirements is additional peace of mind.

They also get quite a bit of forage (that I forage) from around the property. Buckwheat, cowpea, dandelion greens, chickory, alfalfa, whatever else seems to be getting a little crazy gets chopped, brought to the coop, and then recycled back to the forest garden area as manure that I pull from the coop and run.
 
Angelika Maier
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Our greengrocer has a huge box and you can pick up boxes full of stuff. I feed commercial grain mix too and old bread, mostly from a good bakery.
The awful stuff they don't like very much I just don't feed a lot of it. Garden slugs and snails.
 
nancy sutton
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Location: Federal Way, WA - Western Washington (Zone 8 - temperate maritime)
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Will chickens actually eat fuzzy comfrey leaves? I see someone shreds and wets them... do they like them that way? Also, is it as bad for chickens' livers as it is for human livers? or is it just comfrey root that is dangerous? I should do research, but thought maybe some has real experience with their chickens and comfrey. TIA
 
Victor Johanson
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Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
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nancy sutton wrote:Will chickens actually eat fuzzy comfrey leaves? I see someone shreds and wets them... do they like them that way? Also, is it as bad for chickens' livers as it is for human livers? or is it just comfrey root that is dangerous? I should do research, but thought maybe some has real experience with their chickens and comfrey. TIA


I've been just whacking the comfrey and throwing it right to the birds--they gobble it up. I think the dangers of comfrey are overstated.
 
Mountain Krauss
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Location: Northern California
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We have over 100 chickens, and the only ones who get chicken feed are broody mamas, and that's only when I'm too lazy to chop up real food for them. A 50# bag of feed lasts me the whole year. With just 4-6 chickens, your own food scraps & the weeds, seeds, and insects they forage should be plenty. When it's time to expand to a larger flock, just pick up the food waste that other people are throwing away. Farmers markets, grocers, and restaurants are great for this (and may become a market for your eggs). Bakeries are great for calories, too, though there's not a lot of nutrients in their waste.

As someone else mentioned, chickens like too eat many parts of plants that we don't-- like the leaves on cauliflower and broccoli. Chickens LOVE melon seeds; so, you eat the flesh and toss the seeds to the birds. And of course, any insect or weather-damaged crops-- wormed tomatoes, aphided kale, corn with a few damaged kernels, sunburnt stone fruit. They eat everything we could eat but don't.

Finally, someone upthread mentioned persimmons. Chickens don't like them when we consider them ripe; they like them when we consider them overripe-- softer, sweeter, less tart. They're in heaven.

So, yeah, easiest thing ever. Just base the number of birds you raise on the amount of food available: from your kitchen, from your garden (or farm when you scale up), and from outside sources.
 
nancy sutton
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Thanks a bunch for your replies! Someone had thought their chickens would be harmed by eating comfrey, but I think they are operating on outdated and over-generalized info. I was looking for just this confirmation from 'real comfrey eating healthy chickens' :)
 
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