I had a scary thought, what if for some reason I couldn't get feed for my chicks in the brooder? What would I feed them? I'm trying to build a flock that is not dependant on feed. My chicks came from a hatchery, of course I wanted to get chicks that were hen raised, but that is rare. So I have to start with what I can get...
Does anyone NOT use feed store feed for their chicks? If not what do you use do? How do you feed them?
I would wait for our more "day to day" chicken people to respond but I can say that when I was very young, growing up around "game fowl" and other chickens, they fended for themselves. Those that couldn't didn't make it. As I got older and kept more examples of the bird world, of course I had to take care of them with supplemental feed. Yet I would suggest that in the majority of the centuries (millenia?) we have kept all manner of wild fowl, our "feeding them" there primary diet has only been in the last century or so. Most others are only getting (when they go it?) supplemental feedings. Go to places like South America, Papua New Guinea, and related locations that still "live with" their animals...you note that these animals only get what the people themselves eat...and usually the left overs of that...Nothing more is provided...
For a back yard fowl keeper, food from the table would have to suffice should other sources not be available.
Aside from foraging for your chicks and giving a grit option for them locally sourced you could stretch the feed you have by fermenting it. Not only does it double the amount of feed but gives added healthy probiotics. Another option is starting a fodder system and growing their feed. Barley, BOSS, clover, rye and wheat are the most popular I've heard of. Others have a mealworm farm system or use vermicomposters and feed the excess. You could always do a combination of any of the above options.
Personally, I ferment my feed (I only use the organic GMO free feed). But I'm also planning on vermicompost to help the gardens and amend soil but won't feed the worms to my girls until the population is up to a sustainable size. The fodder systems interest my as well for both my hens and rabbits but need to wait a bit to start those systems as cash flow allows.
Hope this helped and I didn't ramble too much.
If you want more info on fermenting feed or the research on fodder systems and vermicomposting would be more than happy to share.
"Dragon my Aster all over the farm"- Jane A @
Dragon Aster MicroFarm, Minnesota
posted 4 years ago
I agree J, this commercial feeding is only recent and unnatural at that. My goal is healthy, strong chickens and the conventional methods of chicken keeping are a bit counter productive that way.
I have 4 week old chicks in the brooder (heritage breeds and 12 production reds thrown in by the hatchery), and I'm thinking, I want the hardiest chickens possible, why don't I just let them out on their own, but in chickendom they'd still have a mother chicken showing them what to eat, so I think they still need a little intervention. We're building a tractor that is loosely based on a tree. Airy, on stilts, roosts, wire bottom (for the shit), predator proof and for my convenience mobile with attached nest boxes. I am trying to mimic their natural state so that they can thrive which is the pivotal point.
As an experiment I got 34 retired production reds from a guy who was giving them away, at first they were kept very conventionally, commercial feed and small chicken yard, not a bug or blade of grass in sight. I put them in the orchard and didn't feed them. I should have taken before and after pictures, they were in various states of molt and just all around poor condition. Now they are much more healthy, glossy and active, feathers growing in, the weak ones died or were eaten but the remainder are thriving(28 out of 34). I supplement with kitchen scraps. I find eggs every once in a while even. My conclusion is even abnormal production reds that have had so many instincts bred out of them, can fend for themselves and thrive with very little intervention from me after being fed solely conventional feed.
Sooooo the question I'm trying to answer is how to transition my chicks from the brooder to outside life as smoothly and naturally as possible. My observation of life in the brooder is that it's not that great and teetering on unhealthy. They need to be outdoors sooner rather than later. I also think the commercial feed isn't enough nutrition for them, the other chickens are doing so much better without it. So back to my question of can they survive without the commercial feed? The older ones certainly can, but the 4 weeks olds.....
And for anyone worried about warmth, it's warm outside, they have feathers and the ambient temps are fine.
If you want to raise chickens without feed store feed you have to have the correct mindset, it's not hard but can be brutal, don't try to start with a "breed" of chickens, accumulate multiple breeds, provide water, protected roosting, and free range. The protected roosting should include nesting so you can gather a few eggs for yourself, after that let the chickens fend for themselves, after a few generations you'll have chickens that are survivors or you'll be back to the starting line, if you return to the begining ID recomend going with heartier breeds next time. If you don't want to get that extreme find a couple of hens known for their brooding qualities and let them hatch eggs that you select and raise the babies, a good mother hen is the way to go, she'll keep them fed and warmed better than you can.
At a couple weeks old, ours do fine outside during late March/early April (Texas, warm climate).
They will need chick grit if they are in the brooder most/all the time, but we don't feed grit once they are free to roam outside, they find their own, but they have a lot of space to range over.
Baby chicks like "grown up food" and they will begin foraging immediately if you let them, and love bugs and greens, etc. You can just collect some kitchen scraps, weeds, bugs etc. (a black soldier fly or red worm composting bin is great for this) and toss them in the brooder. They will fight over it. This also has the benefit of introducing it slowly if they have been on all commercial feed, since their systems are pretty delicate and a sudden change can lead to "pasting up" or sudden random death. They love fruit and starchy vegetables such as squash. Mulberry trees are a winner if you want to grow feed. Chayote is also particularly beloved by my chickens, and is a perennial squash (delicious for humans, too). Basically anything you grow an excess of or that drops fruit. If you use a deep litter over a dirt floor, they will hunt through it for bugs and such once the litter matures. But for babies that are not used to a diverse diet, slow introduction is usually best. If they have been foraging with mama hen from the beginning, they do fine on a diverse diet.
After a week or so, we started letting them out on "supervised" excursions of half an hour, a couple hours, a few hours etc. until they got a little bigger, always making sure they could return to the brooder if they got chilled. Once they were feathered, the brooder went and we locked them up at night and let them out in the morning to free range. Many are lost to predators during that stage. We were okay with that because we want to select for survivors. Now we just leave a small door open so they can come and go as they please night or day. Occasionally we lose one to predators--our predator pressure is actually very high here, to the point that many people cannot keep chickens at all--but most of the stronger and cannier ones that are left--the survivors--do just fine. We also have a rather high ratio of roosters to hens (two or three to ten, usually), which is kind of hard on the hens but helps with predator issues--we also don't like to cull all our roosters and then have the last one get eaten by some critter and have to go find a new rooster, so we keep two or three. We also try to select for "dancing" roosters that will do a mating dance rather than brutalizing the hens. We haven't had the best luck so far. But this would make our high rooster ratio much more manageable. The other issue is feed--since ours forage for theirs, we can afford to keep roosters. If you are buying it or growing/gathering it yourself, you probably don't want to feed extra unproductive roosters.
It depends on the breed, as well--some are certainly hardier than others. Games are the best survivors and foragers and the best (in my experience) at hatching chicks--they will just appear one day out of the brush with a brood of them.
We don't feed supplemental feed (well, sometimes my dad gives them deer corn because they start going after the dog/cat food, but even without the corn or pet food they do fine and lay regularly). If you have enough space, they can find their own food, although they will welcome scraps. If not, you will probably need to grow or collect food specifically for them. I have yet to encounter a fruit they do not want to eat, so if you have fruit trees whose production you can't keep up with, you are set.
posted 4 years ago
well I came to the right place for advice. You're doing exactly what my instinct told me I should be doing, but all the conventional advice made me doubt. The breeds I have are more cold hardy because I live in the Pacific North West. So I have Light Sussex and completely unintentionally New Hamshires with a few production reds that the hatchery threw in for free. I also have Naked Necks. I have ideal space for them and will be moving them into the orchard when the coop is finished (in a day or two). One of my goals is a flock of survivors who can pass those genes and habits to the next generations.
If you can't get feed, what makes you think you will have the power to run a brooder? Or be able to buy chicks? Sorry, but that whole path just gets scarier...
Just last week we had a hen appear with a line of chicks in tow. We moved her to her own tractor until the little ones aren't so little, mainly because of the monsoon season we are having this spring. We are trying to get a completely self sustaining flock, for all intents "feral." But it is hard to do when you have winter.
It is always a balancing act between what is best for them vs. easiest for us.
"You must be the change you want to see in the world." "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." --Mahatma Gandhi
"Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words." --Francis of Assisi.
"Family farms work when the whole family works the farm." -- Adam Klaus
When one Googles: "Permaculture feeding chickens for free" the results are that there are a lot of people who don't feed their chickens grain. There some that only feed compost from animals that were fed grain.) On Youtube there is an excellent lecture about feeding your chickens maggots (the same kind as what is fed fish on fish farms), greens such as weeds and possibly restaurant left scraps.
Before you spend another penny on feed, look to see if you couldn't be giving them a better diet naturally for free.
Am I allowed to put youtube links on this forum?
I'm not sure I understand the re-wilding of chickens. My chickens wouldn't make it in the wild. They are domesticated birds. Even the chickens sold as a more free range option are domesticated birds. I could let my dogs loose into the world and tell them good luck but that is hardly a kind option, they aren't wild dogs.
Anyway, I digress. I free range. I feed store bought feed when it is cold or some other weather event that makes it impossible for them to get out of the barn and forage. So basically all winter. The wind here makes it hard on them. I've seen a chicken blow away, not even kidding. The peacocks don't even bother, particularly the male. With that tail the wind is not kind to him. So yeah. They forage for themselves a lot. I do plant things for them though. I just threw out an acre of spring forage peas yesterday. Once those take off I expect my chickens will be completely on their own. I'm looking forward to it! Large variety of other seeds have been thrown out for them as well as an excessive squash planting.
Come join me at www.peacockorchard.com
posted 4 years ago
I'm not really trying to rewild them, I'm trying to find that balance where they are healthy and thriving without all the conventional crap that I think ultimately weakens them generationally and shortens their life. I find things thrive when they are free in an environment that is best suited to whatever animal it is. Sheep, goats, cats, dogs, birds all need different things from the same environment, but since I have to live with them and harvest them (so to speak) I need tho provide the closest environment that makes them happy. In nature with no human intervention you don't get those problems that can only occur in a hen house, for example. So they need to be tame enough for me to manage them but not utterly dependant on me. I think I'm reaching the right balance, somewhere between the two extremes of the brooder and wild in the back 40. If someone has struck that balance I want to hear about it.
Li Lee wrote:Am I allowed to put youtube links on this forum?
Absolutely you are! It's welcomed and encouraged, although it's a good idea to say a few words about the video when you do, so people can judge if they want to watch it.
The preference is that you embed them (using the "Youtube" button above the edit box) rather than just pasting the link into the post. That way people can watch the video without having to leave the site. Also it's a lot easier to see what the video is about if it's embedded.
Regarding a good balance of wild vs. domesticated, I will say that my biggest regret with these chickens has been not setting up some sort of paddock system or something to control their movement around the property, rather than letting them totally free range--I wanted them to have plenty of room to range and thought that a rotational system would be too much trouble and kind of pointless, and now they poop on the garage floor and everything in it, and the sidewalk and porch, and try to eat the dog/cat food when they can.
I've had chickens since I was little, and had mostly dealt with banties and/or games, which did well as "feral" flocks and never messed up the house. We had them down by the horse barn to clean up the grain the horses dropped to avoid parasite problems--worked great, they just ate the grain, foraged, hatched chicks, defended them from predators (fear the mother game hen), and everything was groovy. Even when we had them up near the house, they never really came up into the garage or too near the house, and stayed out in the trees and tall grass foraging, roosted in the chicken house at night, and everyone was happy. But my current bunch, which is a motley crew from the hatchery, mostly layers and dual purpose breeds, would definitely do better with a little more "guidance." Our goal of selecting for survivors and good foragers is working out pretty well, but their tendency to come close to the house and poop on everything is a problem (one that I will probably eventually fix, but it's low on my list right now).