BTW, I am located in West Washington USDA zone 8b. (20 degree low in winter) 85-90 in summer.
So I want to keep 6 egg chickens for now. Down the road I will expand and keep more chickens, and hatch chicks, and use them for meat as well as eggs, but for now I am just getting started so this first year Ill just keep 6 chickens and figure out how to grow their food and keep them fed.
My initial idea to build a red-worm farm, and produce enough red worms (protein staple) to keep the chickens fed. Other than that they can do a lot of free ranging around the coop to eat all kinds of things. I'm also open to growing anything else that will keep my chickens fat and happy and delicious. I have access to oyster shells that I can grind and blend with their food. I have acres where I can run drip and grow any plants. There's it also a ton of wild greens growing around here (horse tail, bull thistle, grass, etc..) I have a couple springs on the property so I can keep a pond, maybe grow frogs as feed? I also consider meal worms, I know they make a nice treat for the chickens and good feed for fish when I start those. But for now, if Red Worms are the best staple food to go for, let's get some facts sorted out so I know how to set this up.
*? Can I produce red worms to feed my chickens as their primary staple food?
*? Do you suggest a different form of food that I can grow for them? Something better than red worms?
*? How many red worms will a mature chicken eat every day in the summer? winter? etc?
*? How large of a red worm box will I need to produce enough worms to feed one chicken? 6 chickens, etc..?
*? Should I build a wallapini green house with oil burning lamp to keep warm in the winter, to keep my worms at optimal temps in the winter? Then just vent the green house in the summer and use it for shade to keep them cool?
*? What plants can I grow to feed my chickens?
Any other tips, advice, or working models you can direct me to will be appreciated.
I still need to reed a good manual on how to raise chickens, so if you have a good solid into to raising chickens website for me to look at I'll appreciate the link. THANKS!
I cut my feed bill 100%
I guess you'll get to completely sustaining your flock in a bit of time. but its worth trying. search even for Anna hess's books
I'd suggest to simply grow twice as much produce than your family will need, half for the family, half for the chooks.
As Lorenzo pointed you towards, there are much more sustainable, better ways to feed your chooks than from just a worm farm (use those for treats to get them inside in the evening).
Meal worms are another good treat item. You did mention that you are going to free range them, they will, for the most part, feed themselves then.
We use composting worms and meal worms for treats and enticements but not as part of their regular "supplied food", most of their food they get on their own as they free range the homestead farm.
We keep them in the "lockup run" while we are away at work during the week, they are let out when we arrive home, they fully free range on the weekends.
In the "lockup run" they have a deep litter, compost to happily scratch through for food.
we do have some feed set out in the lockup run but it is touched only when they have eaten everything else.
The compost method gives you a way to utilize your kitchen scraps more than once, the chickens eat what they want and the rest decomposes, attracting bugs and worms that the chickens will then eat.
If you want the tastiest meat and eggs from your chooks, the wide variety of food stuffs style of feeding will best serve your needs.
It would take somewhere around 50-100 worms (or more) per bird per day, every day to keep them on a worm diet.
I've seen a single leghorn gobble up 50 like it was nothing, our neighbor tried worms for one week then went back to total free ranging his chooks and guineas.
Worms don't reproduce enough for a small operation to provide enough to be sustainable as a food source for even as few as 6 chooks.
I'm setting up a three bin worm farm but not for feeding the chooks, it is more for fishing and some chook treats.
The Wallapini green house is a grand idea for over wintering your worm farms, in the summers, open it up and put up shade cloth (if needed) to keep them cool enough.
I'm even thinking of setting up a worm farm for true earth worm production, it will need to be much deeper than the wriggler set up.
the authors say that for chickecns you have to use still grain feeds and if you want to grow them yourself you can use one acre of land with as little as 2000 punds of grain yield for sustaining 20 hens for a year. with higher yields that could arrive to 6000 punds on one acre of grain you vcould keep the same amount of chickensa with a third of an acre.
then you can use corn to reduce your grain percentage of the feed just as an example always in the book they say organic brought feeds have up to 60 % corn in the chickens feed, corn can be grown easily. then if you get the chickens to free range where you grow the grains after having harvested them they grow fertility and free range for food.
a good book for raising, harvesting and feeding small grains see Gene Logsdons book: Small Grains
If you are new to chicken raising, I'm really not sure I'd recommend planning to not feed at all. Perhaps start with a 50% pellet ration, and work down from there... Apart from the difficulty of setting up a system that offers complete feed, you won't have the familiarity with chickens that gives that esssential "instinct" about what they need and whether they've got it.
Then again, if you are motivated to shoot the moon, I'd hate to be the one to hold you back!
As for guidance, my top favorite chicken guru is Harvey Ussery. He keeps a wonderfully informative website with a whole bunch of chicken articles at http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Poultry.html
He also wrote my top favorite chicken book, The Small Scale Poultry Flock. He doesn't bill himself as "permaculture" and because of that I think he doesn't make it onto many folks radar, but he is awesomely integrative. He discusses mixing your own feed, sprouting grains, raising worms and black soldier flies, outdoor forage and protection, as well as winter forage under greenhouses, not to mention all other aspects of chicken raising.
I assume you've seen geoff lawton's video about the farm in Vermont that raises chickens on 100% compost? Very inspiring.
I myself thoroughly researched and explored the redworm chicken feed connection a few years ago, and came to the sad conclusion that I simply cannot raise enough worms to make even a significant contribution to my flock's diet. As someone else mentioned, they can eat a lot of worms! And the worms just do not multiply fast enough. I don't have the numbers, but my rough figure was something like a 10x20 foot worm bed to supply my home flock with just their protein requirement. It does sound like you have lots of land to work with though, and a mild climate (I just have a yard, and live in Alaska, so I would have to keep them in a heated shed). Check out the article I wrote for PRI on turning a portion of my coop bedding into a worm farm-- there are some good links at the bottom--
But, like the other responders have said, you don't want to feed them just worms anyway. You will want to plant a Chicken Guild-- with lots of comfrey, dandelions, nettles, dock, lambsquarter, quinoa, grain grasses, fodder radish and turnips, probably all centered around a mulberry tree, and with deep mulch and a few compost piles around to breed invertebrates of all kinds.
Good luck, and enjoy the puzzle!
If you do start a walipini, you could even keep the duckweed, worms, and bsfl there rotating over winter. BSFL produce a large amount of their own heat, and the water used for the duckweed would provide thermal mass to release heat during the winter nights.
You'll need about 548 pounds of food to give the 6 chickens a decent meal(0.25lbs) every day. Assuming your growing zone is around 175 days long, you could probably get away with 515lbs worth of feed if you free-range them during the summer. I've heard they can find things on frozen ground sometimes, but I wouldn't consider much of it.
Finding oyster shells is unnecessary work. Just grind up their eggshells until powdered, and add it to their feed. Frogs are also inefficient as there is really no way to ensure their breeding, and feed the frogs at the required rate nessesary. If just any amount could be raised off of insects in the air, every pond would be overflowing with frogs. There is a limit, and it won't be enough for chickens. Also, you'd have to trap them. Frog gigging is a lot of extra work.
Mealworms are good feed in theory. But first, they need substrate. That's usually oatmeal or some other grain which complicates things more, and also, they don't really grow fast enough unless you have stacks of drawers of them. That's why they're sold as expensive treats. Not a feed source.
If I lived in a place with four seasons and was just starting out with chickens, I'd get a dozen basic barnyard chickens. Something such as a Rhode Island red since they produce a lot of eggs and will go broody and set eggs, too. Leghorns will lay more, but they generally won't set. Although depending on what sort of predators you have, maybe the flighty leghorns would be better. You can Google "Henderson's Chicken Chart" and that will list all the different breeds and their characteristics.
Anyway, in the spring, get a dozen chickens. Straight run will do. Straight run means "as hatched" and should be about half roosters. As the roosters begin to crow, put them in freezer camp but save the best one. Let the one rooster and the hens all scratch around and forage so you won't have to feed them during the summer. In the fall, save the best three or four hens and the rooster and put the rest into the freezer. In the spring, let the hens go broody and set some eggs for more chicks. Eat the roosters, save the best and do it all over again.
Katy Whitby-last wrote:Niele the only issue with your suggestion is that if you keep a rooster he will be related to all of your females so you will end up inbreeding which doesn't produce the strongest offspring. Roosters can usually be acquired pretty cheaply so you would be better eating all of your own roosters and then getting an unrelated male from someone else or doing a swap.
I started a thread about this subject http://www.permies.com/t/51523/chickens/bring-genes It might not be necessary to swap roosters every year.