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Update on homegrown feed/natural raising experiment

 
Joanna Hoyt
Posts: 10
Location: Upstate New York, USA--zone 4/5
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Our 8 surviving chicks (Golden Comet, Brown Leghorn, Easter Egger, from the feed store) are 4 weeks old now. We haven't fed them chick starter or run a heat lamp on them, and so far they seem to be thriving. Thanks to R Ranson for his in-depth and encouraging thoughts on home-grown feed... much of the standard advice on chicken raising seems to assume that chicks will die if not given chick starter and coccidiostats, and it's reassuring to hear from someone else who thinks that isn't necessary.

We kept them indoors in a brooder box for their first 2+ weeks, giving them a mylar-and-fleece lined box containing an insulated hot water bottle to sleep in at night. Very early on we lost 2 chicks who got stuck or squashed in the box before we figured out how to modify the design. At first we fed them mashed potatoes, whole grain flour, scrambled eggs and dried stinging nettle; we also put sod in the box so they could try greens and get grit. Then we switched the grain to rolled oats, then whole soaked seeds (oats, wheat, and a cheap birdseed mix with millet, milo and sunflowers), then whole dry seeds (though we still sometimes soak seeds in whey). More than a week ago we put the chicks outside. Their very compact wooden coop opens on one side into a fixed compost pile and on the other into a moving chicken-tractor type pen on the grass and weeds of our hayfield (the coop also moves, revolving around the compost pile--daily moves would give us about a 2-week rotation, we think). We're still giving them seeds, eggs, nettle and spuds in their indoor feeder. They eat some of that mix but seem to prefer eating grubs, bugs and worms out of the compost pile--we have a lot of manure and compost and I keep adding especially wormy compost to the chick pile. We also throw cooked bones and meat scraps from our pigs and rabbits into the chicken compost pile, where they're eagerly devoured. We've seen them eating some green plants too, but meat seems to be what excites them.

I worried about them when the temperatures dropped this week (nights below freezing, days below 40 F), but they're feathering out well and seem to be fine. We've taken away their fleece-lined box but we still put wrapped hot-water bottles in the coop for them. They seem to be hardy little critters, used to dealing with the cold and also to foraging...I hope they'll grow into healthy layers who are cheap to feed.
 
michael Egan
Posts: 68
Location: central illinois
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fascinating! Thanks for posting. Can you talk more about your compost cycle? What goes into it, etc. and your longer term plan for feeding chickens on compost. I'm guessing you are building on the example of the guy in Vermont/New Hampshire who is doing that on a large scale. We have 20 acres of ground that was commercially farmed for years. We let it sit last year (a 6 acre section sat for 2 seasons) then tilled it up and planted a pasture/hay grass mix last week. I don't think it will grow well yet and want to eventually use cattle, goats and maybe chickens to mob graze over it. The kicker with chickens is adding feed since they're not grass grazers so what you're doing sounds like a missing and essential link.
 
Joanna Hoyt
Posts: 10
Location: Upstate New York, USA--zone 4/5
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We don't have a longer term plan yet...we're still in the trying things and seeing what works stage. Most of our compost is still being managed conventionally, in pallet bins by our garden, without animals turning it, though I turn it every other week. We put in weeds from our vegetable garden, vegetable trimmings, food waste, goat bedding (possibly more or less C:N balanced as they're kept on hay) and chicken manure...we were also adding rabbit manure before we smartened up and realized that could go straight on the garden without composting. We aren't scientific about layering or C:N ratios, but in summer the pile gets quite hot and at all seasons it's quite wormy. For the chicken compost pile we dumped in a combination of bedding from their brooder box, fresh food scraps, finished compost (a small amount) and wormy compost (mostly goat bedding partly broken down; a lot.) When we feed bones or scrap meat that goes on the compost pile too. The chicks do a fair bit of scratching, but they're still rather small, so if I throw in large chunks of wormy bedding I have to break them up with a hoe so the chicks can get at them better...I hope they'll get better at digging/turning as they grow. I don't know if the pile in their yard will actually compost or if they'll scatter it out too much.. We have enough extra compost material so it doesn't matter if what we're putting in for them doesn't make up.

I look forward to reading about your mob grazing once you get it set up. We were never as deliberate as you about pasture--we do try to manage grazing to keep it at an optimal level, but we haven't tilled or seeded.
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
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