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Best chicken feed?

 
Destiny Hagest
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We're starting to get settled in at our new place, and hope to have some yummy cover crop and such coming up in the spring for our chickens to eat and turn into the earth for us, but until then, what chicken feed do you recommend? Currently we just use the organic scratch grains from the feed co op, but I'd like to get something a bit more diverse for them. We do feed kitchen scraps as well, including meats. I'm about to start ordering feed online to save me a stop, but I hate that most of these feeds are grains. Is that just what I'm stuck with?

Note: We usually tractor them with a hoop coop and a mobile coop, but we have it parked for the winter (we get a lot of snow here). We'll be switching to paddock shifting next year when we get our electronet fencing - huzzah!!
 
John Elliott
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Garbage. Ideally, whatever they throw in the dumpster at your local supermarket. Spoiled meat, stale bread, wilted vegetables, rotting fruit (if it's got maggots, that's a plus), swept up cockroaches, etc.

I've gotten over my idea that chickens are finicky gourmets on the order of felines. A chicken's idea of a taste treat is finding a few days old pile of shit that they can kick open to find some juicy maggots. I've found that if I leave a large glass jar with a little tomato sauce in it on the porch overnight, in the morning it will be swarming with roaches (palmetto bugs, for those of you familiar with the South). That's always a favorite when it is dumped into the chicken tractor.
 
Ian Mack
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John Elliott wrote:Garbage. Ideally, whatever they throw in the dumpster at your local supermarket.

This is actually a great idea. I think it was geoff lawton who incorporated half-decayed compost into his chicken tractor. Gives them a nice pile to rake through and pick at, and aerates the pile nicely, to say nothing of the manure being added. If you could convince your neighbors to "donate" some of their food waste I'm sure that would help their diet as well. If all else fails, see if the supermarket will let you pick out some of the choicest rotten veggies "for composting" or something like that.
I have to say, I laughed when I realized I'd thought of people eating out of supermarket dumpsters more often than chickens doing the same.
 
Destiny Hagest
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We do feed them a TON of scraps, and I know that's ideal, but we don't always have enough. I do think I'm going to set up a community collection bin for food scraps from our neighbors (we live in a remote town of about 100 people). I guess my concern is, for now at least, I don't have enough food scraps. I'll be calling the stores in town to see if we can pick up scraps when we come to town, but it's never more than once a week, and the only business here is a small bar. I'm just kind of at a loss. We've been tossing a few scoops of scratch grains out for them, in an effort to encourage them to till up the dirt while it's still thawed, but now I'm not sure if I'm feeding too much or little.

So I guess what I'm getting at is, should I be feeding them in a feeder so I can tell what they're really eating, and what should I feed them until I acquire enough food scraps to sustain them on that?
 
John Master
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this was our first year doing chickens and I greatly underestimated chickens appetite for bugs. They love ants, worms, slugs, crickets, moths and all sorts of other bug protein. I had a leaf pile/food scrap pile I was making into compost and just having a loose cover for the bugs to get established worked great, just rake it once and the chickens would be busy for hours scratching it up for more bugs. I started feeding them lots of bokashi'd table scraps at first but eventually didn't need to feed them at all they did really well eating bugs and some greens. any time I was digging and found woms I would throw them over and they would jump on them.
 
John Elliott
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Destiny Hagest wrote: I don't have enough food scraps.


Maybe you could use lumber scraps instead. If you leave a piece of plywood out on the ground overnight, it can accumulate a good collection of sowbugs, slugs, earwigs, and once you turn it over, the chickens quickly learn that the buffet is open. If you wet the plywood with beer or something else that has the smell of yeast, it will really attract the slugs.
 
Destiny Hagest
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I live in central Montana - unfortunately, the bugs are well on their way out, only earwigs around at this point. The ground will be frozen very soon as well.
 
Adam Hoar
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If you are giving them feed you dont want to feed just scratch you need to feed them a layer ration for a better complete diet.

Ours get all the house hold scrapes but they also have a organic, soy free layer ration along with free choice kelp and calcium.
 
Destiny Hagest
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Adam Hoar wrote:If you are giving them feed you dont want to feed just scratch you need to feed them a layer ration for a better complete diet.

Ours get all the house hold scrapes but they also have a organic, soy free layer ration along with free choice kelp and calcium.


That's what I thought - the scraps are just so inconsistent right now. Is that something you toss for them to scratch at, or put in a feeder? We started out with one, but did away with it when we started tractoring them over the spring. Where do you get your feed? The stuff at the co op isn't the best quality, and that's the only place around to get any.
 
Peter Ellis
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You might want to look into growing fodder for them while the ground is frozen. It won't be a complete diet, but it can be a significant supplement. People are commonly sprouting wheat, letting it grow to the "wheatgrass" stage, about 4 inches tall and putting it out for their chickens at that point.

Get a few trays going in a rotation and you can have something for them on a pretty regular basis. It does require some infrastructure and not the cheapest or least laborious process ever known, but more than a couple of people have found it worth doing.
 
Julia Winter
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If your scratch grains are whole grains, you can sprout them and that increases their nutritional content, but scratch grains are more like junk food than a complete diet. Now, if you feed (cheap) dry cat food plus scratch grains, that probably does it, but it kinda gets you pretty far away from the organic side of things. . . and, I think you'd still be short on calcium.
 
Destiny Hagest
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Sprouting is definitely something we intend to do in the future, and we may even try it over the winter - we're working on a composting greenhouse idea right now to generate heat to overwinter some plants, but whether it'll work and produce enough heat remains to be seen. I just need to give them something for the interim. I work from home in addition to chasing around my baby all day and caring for the house and chickens, and I just don't have any time to spare for any more projects right now.
 
Julia Winter
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I recommend a complete layer feed. I like pellets better than "mash," which is powdery and seems to have a lot of waste. I'm assuming these are laying hens, greater than 5 months old.
 
Destiny Hagest
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Julia Winter wrote:I recommend a complete layer feed. I like pellets better than "mash," which is powdery and seems to have a lot of waste. I'm assuming these are laying hens, greater than 5 months old.


That was always my issue with mash, just so fine, I felt like it couldn't be good for their gut. They're right around 6 months now. Thank you for that! Do you feed them in a feeder to gauge when they need more? Throwing it on the ground is easy with the baby in tow, but I find I really just have no idea how much they actually eat.
 
Julia Winter
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I was using one of those red tray, white cylinder feeders but when it seemed like the food was being eaten by critters other than my chickens, I bought a metal feeder that opens when a heavy bird perches in front of it.

If you are visiting your hens every day, throwing it on the ground is not a bad strategy. Just check out what's left at the end of the day, and adjust. There should be just a few pieces uneaten, if any.

My hens are all over a year old and they get neglected sometimes, as in I don't visit them for two days. More often, I don't visit them until after work, so I needed a way for them to take care of themselves.
 
Destiny Hagest
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Awesome, thank you Julia! I think I may look for a top loading sturdy feeder, and I'll definitely be getting some pelleted feed until better options become available. It pains me to feed them that stuff, but I just keep telling myself it's only for a little while.
 
Adam Hoar
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Destiny Hagest wrote:
Adam Hoar wrote:If you are giving them feed you dont want to feed just scratch you need to feed them a layer ration for a better complete diet.

Ours get all the house hold scrapes but they also have a organic, soy free layer ration along with free choice kelp and calcium.


That's what I thought - the scraps are just so inconsistent right now. Is that something you toss for them to scratch at, or put in a feeder? We started out with one, but did away with it when we started tractoring them over the spring. Where do you get your feed? The stuff at the co op isn't the best quality, and that's the only place around to get any.


We use 50 lb range feeders that take a whole bad of pellets, we are also running around 60 birds or so so 50 lbs only last them 3 days or so when they are on pasture. I prefer something the birds can get to when they want it, when you throw them feed it creates a bird feeding frenzy, which may not be an issue with a few birds but with 50 they get crazy. We buy our feed from our local feed store but it is from Green Mountain out of VT. It is the only place I know of in our area that has certified Organic feed and tests for GMO's once it arrives at their place. If you order directly from them you can get their None GMO feeds but the feed stores don't carry that. I also think its important for the chickens to have free choice kelp and calcium in separate feeders. The layer is suppose to have calcium but supplemental feed isnt a bad idea. Also anything extra is just going to pass through them and help fertilize your land.
 
Tina Hillel
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We have been using a broadcast deer feeder for our chickens. It gives them some food to quiet them in the morning and in the evening the sound brings them running from wherever they have been roaming back to the house for the night. With our situation right now they can only have a few hours a day to range so they do need some supplemental feed. The amount broadcast can be turned up if we have to be away which also helps.
 
Destiny Hagest
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Excellent ideas, thanks you guys! We only have 7 birds right now. Do you guys do oyster shell as well? I never have because it's so rocky and sandy here, and we feed eggshells too.
 
Tyler Ludens
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For a few years now we've only supplemented our chickens' foraging with oats and sunflower seeds, which currently are not GMO, unlike virtually all corn.
 
Todd Parr
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This year I built a compost pile in the chicken area. I let it sit all week and then on the weekend, I move it over to a new spot, leaving the bottom 4, 5, 6, or whatever inches for the chickens to dig thru. It must bring in tons of worms and other bugs for them to eat because they spend lots of time digging at the area and happily clucking away. Since I'm in WI, the ground will be frozen solid soon, but next summer my plan is to build several big piles for them to play in. The chickens also spend lots of time just digging around on the surface of the piles and spreading the stuff at the edges. This year's pile was enclosed in a pallet compost bin, but I think the coming years piles will be free-standing. I don't really compost to speak of anymore anyway, I just let the chickens do that for me. The piles are just bug producers for them. When I need compost, I just shovel the stuff up, sift it, and use it like that.
 
Todd Parr
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I forgot to add, if you want really happy chickens, make as big an area as you can covered with wood chips 8 inches or so deep. Chickens absolutely love wood chip piles. As the chips break down, all sorts of great stuff grows in them. The chickens will spend hours digging thru the stuff and will be as happy as any chickens you have ever seen They will eat less pellets because of all the wonderful natural food they are getting. A really nice side effect is that the soil underneath will improve dramatically.
 
Julia Winter
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Wood chips are magic, if you can get some, take them. There's a website chipdrop.com that will help lots of people find chips in urban areas, but if your area isn't active on that service, just search for local arborists and give them a call. They typically have to pay to get rid of the branches they trim at the waste transfer staion and they're happy to find somebody that will take this "waste" for free.

If I had a few acres, I would establish a spot for the arborists to dump woodchips, and just tell them they are welcome any time. Then I'd ferry that all over my property a la "Back to Eden."
 
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