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Chicken diet without commercial feed?

 
Posts: 24
Location: Southern Oregon
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I can really only speak to my own experience with my broody hen. I fed my hens sprouted organic grains and sunflower seeds. I wish I could say something definite about your plans. I don't know how you tell if chicks or hens are mal-nourished, but I think about all the chickens in the world who have been raised on a few handfuls of corn or whatever people had... and what they could scratch from a yard.  

I rarely have more than 5 or 6 hens at a time so I do things like put a few dollops of homemade yogurt on their food dish 2 or 3 times a week... for protein and probiotics, and some of my fermented veggies now and then. They really love it!  I think if you give them enough variety you are probably fine. The fact that my chicks ate the whole sprouted seed from the time they were very young (a week or two?) makes me think that all the fuss about special chick feed is more a money making thing on the part of feed makers than anything.  

I also think that if you have a hen raising them she will work it out most likely. But I speak from very limited experience with babies...  Just being very observant of your hens... how they eat - what they eat... what the don't eat.. How they look and act... Spend a bit of time watching them and really SEEING them - and then if something starts to go wrong you will notice... Some breeds are very healthy and robust and others are not so much.   8 yrs ago I got 3 barred rock and 3 buff orpington babies... all hens.  The three barred rock were wonderful hens. But they had weird things go wrong with them... The Buffs were also wonderful and smart and laid back and tough as nails... and great mamas... Stuff didn't go wrong with them easily. So your journey into raising hens will be one of learning about  the strength of the breeds, also, through trial and error and learning from others.

You have probably discovered the Edible Acres videos... but if you haven't they would possibly be useful to you.  https://www.youtube.com/user/EdibleAcres/videos

I wish you well on your new chicken journey... Chickens are really pretty tough and resilient and can handle lots of our mistakes, so try not to fret too much. Millions of chickens have survived humans figuring it out.... It's people who don't care at all that are likely the hardest on them. You care. So they will be fine.
 
Posts: 13
Location: Raleigh, NC (zone 7b)
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Thank you for the encouragement. Edible Acres was my inspiration for my operation, actually! I love what he does with the food scraps and my plan is to do a scaled up version of his model focusing around the food scrap conversion with a bit of plants where he focuses on plants and does some food scrap conversion.

I really appreciate your encouragement. This has been my dream my whole adult life, and it's actually happening! I can't believe it.
 
Barb Allen
Posts: 24
Location: Southern Oregon
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Ah - I love when people are living their dreams... Me too!  I wrote a book called The Holistic Garden (a sort of permaculture primer) back in the late 80's and am finally living someplace long enough to actually create the thing I visualized in my book... and for all the years of dreaming leading up to it... I'm very happy for you and wish you well.... And know that even if everything doesn't go exactly as you visualized - it might end up WAYYY better in the end...  
 
Barb Allen
Posts: 24
Location: Southern Oregon
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And just in case there is anything at all there that might be useful to you - I do a blog called The Holistic Garden Blog ([url]theholisticgardenblog.com) with lots of pictures and posts on the things I am doing...
 
steward
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Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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I suspect they'd grow up just fine with a mama hen showing them what to do.  I had a similar experience to Barb with my broody just hand beak feeding the chicks food from the adult hen's feeder.  Before it went bad I just mixed the chick food in with the hen food.

I'm switching over to whole grain home mixed feed in a couple weeds so that could change things (no cracked corn for mama to hand to baby).  But I don't have any broody hens or chicks so that problem can wait a while...
 
Posts: 57
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Once upon a time there wasn't any commercial chicken feed. If you will do a search you should find any number of old books, free to read on the internet,, about raising poultry. Anything pre-1950s is likely to be of value. I've read several (just can't remember names) and they mention things like pouring hot water over mash in the evening so it's well soaked by morning feeding time. Many recommend chopping fresh clover and mixing it in with other things like hardboild egg yolk for chicks.  Also mentioned in old books is meat and bone scrap. Apparently you could just order it from the butcher, it was the fine meat and bone scrap from his saws and whatnot.

One of the biggest things is clean fresh water at all times and grit. When I raise chicks I sprinkle a little of the chick size grit over their food from day 2 or 3, to make sure they are getting it. When they are bigger I start dumping buckets of sandy gravel in the pens. I will probably never have the space to not feed my birds commercial food but there are a lot of things that will cut the feed bill.

leftover milk and whey (they say the birds can't digest the milk but I never had an issue with whey or buttermilk)
any garden greens and weeds. BEWARE of cut long grass, fresh or dried, they will slurp it up like kids and spaghetti and it will get balled up in their crop and eventually kill them.
any leftover meat, fat or bone from the house or butchering
earth worms; start any number of worm beds and harvest as a protein source
compost piles; built of food and green waste plus mixed manures and wood chips I have kept a dozen or so hens very happy on almost no commercial feed, and laying eggs. It is work, having to turn, mix and remake piles every day or so. unless you can set it up to do it with a tractor.

There are various things to consider when think about this. Is your goal to just have some eggs and meat for the family at the lowest possible cash outlay? Then having more birds that rustle their own grub might work best for you.

Selling eggs or raising broilers to sell? Then you might want to go the most efficient route of feeding mainly commercial feed plus extras as they are available.

And of course there are dozens of in between situations. Look up Harvey Ussuray and his book for more ideas
 
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