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chickens and the foods they eat

 
jennifer wright
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Location: celo, nc
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I am looking into all the various ways people feed their chickens...
grain feed......food scraps......and so on.

Any thoughts about the
kindest and most delicious food to feed chickens?

Thanks...jennifer

 
Jami McBride
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Hi Jennifer,

I belong to a couple of chicken forum groups and can tell you there are lots of different ways, but most seem to use organic feed.  Some even find mills to grind up their own organic blend.

The consensus is that most are apposed to soy, corn and medications in their mixes, some others go further and require no GMO's and all organic.

Then there's the group I belong to, we make our own feed mixes.

Right now I'm raising 20 ducklings on a ground up mix of flax seed, sunflower seeds, lentils, kelp, nutritional yeast, spelt, oats and buckwheat.  I also give them a little whey now and then or kefir, and they are so strong and healthy.  I also cut up greens for them until they can tear them up on their own.

I've been making mixes so long I do it by guess and by golly so I don't use exact measurements any more.  But you can get the percentages for feed on-line, then make your own up several times and you'll have the instinct for amounts of the ingredients.

Be careful when making up a bird starter mix that you included all the B-vitamins (a good yeast or meat source will do this) so your young birds develop strong feet and legs.  Allow for the green component, oil component and mineral component.  I do not include extra protein source as my ducks are free range, but I do for my chickens which must be kept in a paddock.

I hope this helps....



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Ken Peavey
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I'm out of town right now so my neighbor is feeding them scratch grains from the feed store.  When I'm home, I offer them everything under the sun: grass clippings, plants and produce from the garden-especially those with bug issues, kitchen scraps, stale or molded bread, some worms here and there, weeds, leaves, pretty much whatever I have available.

They greatly enjoy watermelon.  My neighbor has grandchildren visit on occasion, always tosses the rinds over the fence.  The birds peck at it until there is nothing left but the outermost 1/4 inch of the rind.  The rind sits for a few days, attracting flies to lay eggs. The hens gobble any larvae that appear.

I've done some experimenting.  I offered them ample scratch grains which they went after until I tossed in a couple of whole brocolli plants.  They moved from the scratch to the broc until I tossed in some weeds.  They moved to the weeds until I tossed in some fresh grass clippings, which they attend with great zeal.  Scratch grain is the last thing they go for, but is a necessity due to my travels.

When I worked in a restaurant, I would set out a bucket for the servers to fill with table scraps: pasta, bread, garnish, potato, unfinished meals.  I'd bring home a gallon or two of scraps for a dozen birds.  They enjoyed a diverse diet and produced excellent eggs. 

I've offered fat trimmings from meats cut into bite sized pieces.  It tends to turn their doo into a sloppy mess, so don't give them too much at once. 

Things that are long and stringy are popular.  Carrot peelings and pasta are highly favored.  Seems to remind them of worms. 

I have found one product they don't seem to care for.  Raw rutabaga peelings.  Can't say I blame them, I don't eat it either.  Coffee grounds and tea bags go mostly untouched and does better in the compost or as a mulch.

For exercise I feed the birds 1 worm.  A hen will pick it up immediately then start running because every other bird is chasing her trying to get that worm.  The first hen may drop it or have it snatched, at which point the hens are running after the next bird to grab the worm.  I could do this for hours!

I keep my birds in a corner of the yard.  Still have to move them to the new place but there is a hawk hanging around the new place.  When I get home I'll build a tractor.  When allowed to run around the yard freely, they will get into the garden.  If there is mulch, they will tear it up in their endless search for gravel and grubs.  Greens are quickly victimized.  They have wiped out spinach and beets in seconds.  Succulent leaves don't stand a chance.  They will also readily abuse tomatoes and other bright colored fruits. 

As for growing feed, I've not had a great deal of time for the effort.  If I have a plant that is past its prime, diseased, or infested, it goes to the hens.  Its a useful way to remove bugs and disease from the beds, and the birds enjoy the variety.




 
Jami McBride
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I forgot to mention that I live in the city, on an average size lot.  So obviously this greatly affects what I can and do feed my girls (chicken's and ducks).  However they do get all our scraps, and the odd veggies that don't go to the rabbits.

I do not have the ability to grow specifically for feed, so the animals eat the excesses from table, garden and yard.

I find they all have their favorites - ducks love the kombucha mushrooms, while the chickens mostly pass on them.  The chickens love sour milk, milk kefir, etc. while the ducks mostly pass.  Hungry youngsters will eat more variety than their older, bit pickier counterparts.  And they get trained or set in their ways regarding foods, so there is a lot of room for training in this regard.

My compost area is in the chicken paddock, they turn it for me and add their own contribution.

If I had land I would feed more in keeping with Ken's examples, excluding the restaurant food of course 

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jennifer wright
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jamie and ken,
thanks so much for all the ideas here. it seems good to experiment and to give the chickens as much fresh and un-processed food...esp since im sure most of us do the same for our own selves.

cost isn't a concern for me (well, actually is since i don't even have chickens or space yet!!) but, do either of you have thoughts on the price of your chicken food vs organic feed?

many thanks...jennifer
 
Jami McBride
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Hum... my gut tells me my feed is cheaper, but I haven't taken the time to actually crunch the numbers.

I buy my organic animal grains in bulk, and the price is very good.
The kelp also comes from Azure Standard and it is around $60 for 50lbs, but that really lasts a long time.  I buy raw organic milk for $3 a gallon so that's real good too.  I wait to purchase the black oil sunflower seeds in bulk and on sale.

I would say focus on the feed balance of nutrients and find what is a good price in your area and as natural/clean as you can get.  The range of feed options is very big.  See if you can offer to mow a non-chemically treated patch of grasses and weeds for the clippings for your chickens, or glean fruits and veggies from neighbors when they have to much.

You have to know that anything you feed your chickens that isn't overly processed is bound to be better for them.  Remember what goes into them will be coming your way either by egg, meat or droppings soon enough.
 
jennifer wright
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jami...
thanks for the thoughts, i appreciate your time here!

i've been talking to many different people about chicken feed and care, and it seems cost is always an issue; sometimes the main one. i think the cheapest way is usually not the best, obviously, and would have guessed that your method was not the priciest. perhaps more time consuming, though, which i imagine many people object to.

this is, of course, unfortunate: i would much rather learn and experiment with the feeding methods and ingredients that are best for the chickens. costs aside.

being new to chickens (im caring for some while the person is away) i have been watching them and thinking: what exactly is in in this deal for them? certainly they deserve (much) more than the cheapest junk we can toss them.  esp given that people are asking and taking so much from them.

anyway, thanks again jami, this information is quite useful.
jennifer
 
Jami McBride
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Your welcome Jennifer.

You've hit the nail on the head - buying 'feed' is easier, and familiar (i,e, grocery store cat and dog chow).  The familiarity of routine is huge with us humans, and part of the reason people here at permies do what they do - in order to retrain themselves    New routines, New ways of looking at things, New ways of solving problems.

It is always an exchange time=money money=time:
For a few years I had a large worm bin for winter protein for the girls, this works out nicely too.  I'm thinking about trying meal worms next  just for the learning experience.  In the pictures above my chickens +duck are searching through old leaves for worms and beetles in one of my flower/herb beds.

Off topic, but related - you'll hear about how hard it is to live out on land, to run a small farm/ranch, etc.  However, this is true in part because these people rely on money to provide almost everything.  They are consumers in a different location and life style that's all.  They run open loops and waste much.  If we keep-chickens to sustain us, sustain our land and close loops, I believe eventually this goal will lead us to see that the more naturally they are kept/raised the happier and healthier they are, which in turn brings us direct and indirect happiness and health.  There are many loops to close, and personally caring for animals can bring much peace and emotional health to the person enjoying/caring for them.......

Feeding your birds (chickens/ducks) is easy once your get your brain wrapped around it.

I had a friend starting out who just lost 6 ducklings.  They were getting bugs when they were taking them on walks in their woods, and milk from the goats plus supplemental grains, but life slowly changed and she didn't catch it.  The goats were dried up to prepare for new births, and then the family became ill and didn't take the ducklings out for walks for several days - that's all it took.  Because of predators (dogs from neighbor) they normally kept the little ones confined in the barn.

They cannot live on grains/seeds alone.  They need all the B-vitamins from a good protein source especially when growing, alive/growing-greens, seed oils and a bit of minerals (kelp, seaweed, etc.).  That's it, how you provide these can be very creative, and I recommend you don't spend at lot of time/work doing it - keep it as simple and direct for you as possible 

All the best with your permaculture adventures.
 
Emil Spoerri
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It seems to me one of the best sources of food for a chicken must be the cow!

Dairy waste, manure, meat scraps and offal, marrow and of course the maggots that can grow in all of these!

Pretty good dog food too (minus the maggots i guess?)
 
Jordan Lowery
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we feed ours weeds, herbs and specialty plants for them, black soldier fly maggots, food scraps.

id say they love the black soldier flys the best.
 
Irene Kightley
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I grow Amaranthus (Here it's the variety Gangeticus or Elephant Head Amaranthus) for their beauty and at the end of the season when the plants start making seeds I fold one or two over for the chickens to feast on. They strip the whole plant.

 
Jami McBride
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Wow Irene - what a beautiful photo.  Those colors just pop!
Have you considered entering some of your images into your county fair?



Soil - I would really love to read a tutorial on how you raise crop after crop of those black solider flies?  Everything I've found so far just talks about containing and feeding while they grow, but how to you secure adults for the next generation, and how to do many it all in winter?  Maybe you could start a new thread.....
 
jennifer wright
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Jami,
Yes, yes and yes! to what  you have written here:

Off topic, but related - you'll hear about how hard it is to live out on land, to run a small farm/ranch, etc.  However, this is true in part because these people rely on money to provide almost everything.  They are consumers in a different location and life style that's all.  They run open loops and waste much.  If we keep-chickens to sustain us, sustain our land and close loops, I believe eventually this goal will lead us to see that the more naturally they are kept/raised the happier and healthier they are, which in turn brings us direct and indirect happiness and health.  There are many loops to close, and personally caring for animals can bring much peace and emotional health to the person enjoying/caring for them.......

I am (very temporarily) renting a little country spot in the mountains of NC, my first non-urban endeavor, and have been amazed and somewhat amused at how often I hear of how hard all this is. In all instances, I see inefficient methods and people going "too fast" and creating more work than there needs to be. It does appear that some back to land folks have just transplanted all their city/suburban troubles into a more rural setting: working too hard and fast, not noticing the subtle opportunities to take more care and slow it all down.

And, in a perfect example of the categorical imperative, it is fun to see how much healthier and happier I am when I take the time and thought to care for the animals better.

Thanks again and please be well...jennifer
 
Jordan Lowery
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Soil - I would really love to read a tutorial on how you raise crop after crop of those black solider flies?  Everything I've found so far just talks about containing and feeding while they grow, but how to you secure adults for the next generation, and how to do many it all in winter?  Maybe you could start a new thread.....


i only do the black soldier flies in the spring, summer and fall. in the winter there is more than enough green plants and weeds growing for them to eat. i have a self harvesting system that i got plans for off the internet. i just toss rotten food, waste, even chicken poop. they eat it and the mature ones migrate out the exit tubes right into the chicken pen ( or a bucket if i so choose) every now and then i throw a handful of mature BSF into the forest to ensure a good local popuation. i dont have to save any for the next generation as they are natural here where i live. i just set out bait and they come.
 
Jami McBride
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Bait - you mean like a pile of kitchen scraps and soon (before the raccoons get it) you see little BSF maggots?  In winter around here most everything stops growing - sigh.....

Do you have a link for those plans?

Thanks 
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Jami McBride wrote:In winter around here most everything stops growing


Does that include rye and fava beans?
 
Jami McBride
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Rye grows, if I don't get flooding of the soil.  I do not know about fava beans, I'll have to try those this winter   
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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I like fava bean greens. I hear some people have health problems with them, but that this is uncommon. Chickens would love them, I'm sure.

Do chickens like rye, as grass or as seed?
 
Jami McBride
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Well my ducks eat it.  I have never tried it alone for chickens as it is part of everything I grown in my 'lawn'.  I have a hard time with my chickens eating things I cut, which I attibute to their never ending feed dish.  I bet they would eat better, more like my ducks, if they ran out of grains/feed mix 
 
Ken Peavey
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Before I put up 5' fence, I kept my hens in a 6x4x4 chain link dog kennel, letting them loose in the day time.  When I opened the door they would immediately head to the compost heap to scratch around for bugs and scraps.  They did a great service to the heap, stirring and tossing.  The heap did great service to them offering feedstuffs.

The area I fenced was about 30' on a side, allowing room for a compost heap to be built in with them.  I'd toss stuff over the fence to add to the heap.  Often the chickens would consume whatever it was before it had time to compost, but they always added a little something to make up for it.  There are some flies around the pen, but not so many as to be a nuisance.  I'm sure the birds help keep the fly population in check.

An issue with a compost heap in with the hens is their relentless activity will level a pile.  Makes it hard to pile up a heap to get it good and hot.  The stuff is going to decay regardless.  If I need a hot pile to break down weed seeds and pathogens, I have enough space at the new place to build a hot heap where the hens cant access it.
 
Jami McBride
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Your right Ken, the compost pile in the chicken area doesn't stand a chance at getting hot.  So this contributes to seed of every kind or type.  Lucky I'm not a weed-a-phobic.

 
Leila Rich
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Sprouting the grain for chooks apparently massively increases the protein and other nutrients; more food cheaper!
A  two or three-bucket system for sprouting means you've always got some ready.
Wheat's obvious, but buckwheat and amaranth sprout really well and are very nutricious.
All the chooks I've met can't get enough of silverbeet (Swiss chard). Luckily in my temperate climate it grows incredibly easily and fast all the way through winter.
I like it too!
 
Ken Peavey
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Sprouting grains is brilliant, had to look it up, found some directions.  For a small amount of effort, the birds get a greatly enhanced diet.

 
Jami McBride
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I've tried sprouting seeds/grains but couldn't get my chickens to eat them.

I would be interested to hear how others offer the sprouts....
 
Leila Rich
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I just throw them out willy-nilly like I do dry grain; keeps the chooks occupied 'looking' for goodies.
I don't sprout them for long, I think there's a limited window for maximum benefit.
In my experience, chooks love the sprouts, but then I've been told of some that won't touch silverbeet so...maybe some chooks need to be 'trained'  from chicks.
 
Jami McBride
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Thanks, that helps.  I think maybe I sprouted mine to long.  I'm encouraged to give it another try now.

I sprout grains for our family all the time, make sprouted flour for baking 
 
Jordan Lowery
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Bait - you mean like a pile of kitchen scraps and soon (before the raccoons get it) you see little BSF maggots?  In winter around here most everything stops growing - sigh.....

Do you have a link for those plans?


i have never had a problem with raccoons before, but there not that bad around here. the bins can be constructed to keep the bigger creatures out.

if you google black soldier fly bin you will get at least a dozen different designs. i just suggest going through and seeing which works best for you, or which one has the most parts you have laying around. even though i have one now that works i am going to be building a better one this winter in hopes to process a lot more BSF next year.
 
Jami McBride
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Great, thanks Soil.

Now how did you get your first BSF's to start with?  Another Google search maybe?

I offered a trade on the Resources forum for BSF - offering some of my Kefir grains or Kombucha mushroom SCOBY's for some, but so far no takers 
 
Ken Peavey
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When I got home, my clothes were so filthy that I fed them to the chickens.
 
Jami McBride
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  You did what?
 
                              
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soil wrote:
i have never had a problem with raccoons before, but there not that bad around here. the bins can be constructed to keep the bigger creatures out.

if you google black soldier fly bin you will get at least a dozen different designs. i just suggest going through and seeing which works best for you, or which one has the most parts you have laying around. even though i have one now that works i am going to be building a better one this winter in hopes to process a lot more BSF next year.


ive raised mine inside a 30 gal. garbage can with holes drilled all over the place.  larger chunks cut out and covered with wire mess.  same on the bottom.  ive fed thousands and thousands of them to the sunfish in my aquaponics system.  ive always just reached in, grabbed a handful and tossed them into the aquaponics.  it would be nice if they where self harvesting.  id really like to see some plans that simulate what goes on in the biopod.  the ramp design is great but i cant figure out how to build something similar.  i just dont believe the tube method works... maybe it does.  i see it getting clogged with maggots.  ive seen peoples plans for the tube method but ive never see any in action after the fact.
 
Irene Kightley
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At shearing time our chickens peck ticks and lice off the Angora goats. The goats love it !



 
                            
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I have a question regarding keeping compost piles in your chicken yard.  If you are using paddock rotation, do you just have separate piles in each paddock?  Or try to keep them close to a border?  All the compost piles I've ever started (without chickens around) end up with fruit flies and sometimes other flies.  Since I'm planning to have this around children at a school, I'd like to control the flies pretty regularly, and I guess I need to know something about the life cycle of the flies if I'm rotating the chickens away from the compost piles, too. 

Sorry to ramble--just thinking out loud and hoping someone has some advice.

wormlady
 
Jami McBride
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I have had no trouble with any food I put in my compost/chicken area because the chickens are on it to fast, however flies on chicken droppings can be an issue....

First consider deep mulch for any area that is not actively growing grasses.  The chickens will cover a lot of their stuff through inadvertent digging.  I use shredded leaves, which the chicken's compost into soil for me.

Next consider adding some parasitic wasps, which lay there eggs on the fly larvae/eggs. 

And lastly my low-tech favorite - have an area boarding your chicken paddocks where spiders can lay out many webs and not be disturbed.  Mine is a fence with ivy growing on it - loaded with webs it's a fly trap village. 
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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