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Foraging FOR my chickens

 
Ci Shepard
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Location: Vancouver Island, BC
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I am planning some urban backyard chickens that will be living in a coop with a small run most of the time and I would like to forage food for them while I am out on my neighbourghood walks, here in the PacNW (coastal British Columbia). The goal would be to cut way back on the commercial feed bill with fresh, frozen and dried local plant material from my garden and surrounding spaces. I only have 1/6 of an acre, so not much room to devote to extra chicken feed, though they will be allowed to forage the garden beds and compost area from time to time.
There are plenty of undeveloped lots, woodsy parks, unlandscaped parking lots etc. around here and I can find things like blackberries plus leaves and shoots, wild rose hips, "feral" comfrey, Oregon grape and salal berries, arbutus, hawthorn and rowan berries, fallen apples and pears, wild plums, watercress (called 'ditchweed' around here") and more. Trying to come with an extensive and varied list (realizing I need to be careful about pesticide use).

My question is on berries - specifically pyracantha. I can potentially harvest huge amounts from a neighbours giant hedge. When I google I see that there are plenty of lists that claim it as poinonous, but also anecdotal experiences of people who feed them to chickens with no problem. Does anyone here have first hand info to share on this matter?

Any other good foraging plant ideas would also be welcome!
 
Dan Boone
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When I was a wee shaver (like, age 5-6) my mother used to send me out (I believe mostly to get rid of me for an hour) to collect "greens" for the chickens along local roadsides.  This was in rural Alaska, USDA Zone 1, roadways were gravel and roadside weeds were heavy on fireweed, lambsquarter, chamomile, a bushy weed we called foxtails, and that "strawberry spinach" stuff that has fruiting bodies that look like deep red strawberries but have no sweetness or flavor. 

The chickens were kept in a log coop plus a too-small "fortress" chicken run covered with old salmon gillnets (above) to protect against raptors and fenced with small-diameter chicken wire to keep out loose dogs, foxes, pine marten and (the impossible one) weasels (ermine) and their little cousins the least weasels.  Their run was bare dirt; they ate pelleted feed and a "scratching" mix of corn and other grains. 

My instructions from my mother were to fill my little red wagon with as many uprooted greens and weeds as possible, she didn't care which ones.  Anything with seeds or flowers was better than stuff without, but any greenery would do; the chickens attacked it all with great interest, and mom's belief was that they were eating all the seeds plus a bit of the leafy green stuff and were entertaining themselves looking for bugs and worms and eggs and stuff inside the stems and dirty root balls.

The chickens *really* liked the lambsquarters, especially when it had seeds on it.  
 
Ci Shepard
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Location: Vancouver Island, BC
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Thanks for that helpful reply, Dan. I'll add pulling up "weeds" by the roots to my list.

I guess my main concern is that if there are mild toxins in a plant, a free foraging chicken may aviod them by instinct, while a penned up bird will eat them out of boredom/hunger and be affected. Possibly the solution is to offer a huge variety each day and not load up too heavily on questionable items like the pyracantha berries ...
 
John Elliott
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If you are in an urban area, your local supermarket dumpster has all the forage you need for your chickens.  Every day, the produce department has leaves they have trimmed off the cabbages, apples with a bad spot on them, mustard and lettuce that are a little past their prime, and other items that they have pulled.  Even a small store can provide you with a 30-gallon trash can that chickens will have a great time foraging in. 
 
Dan Boone
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Ci Shepard wrote:I guess my main concern is that if there are mild toxins in a plant, a free foraging chicken may aviod them by instinct, while a penned up bird will eat them out of boredom/hunger and be affected. Possibly the solution is to offer a huge variety each day and not load up too heavily on questionable items like the pyracantha berries ...


I think the variety is a good idea.  I don't think I've ever heard of a chicken poisoning itself when it had a variety of stuff to peck through.
 
Abbey Battle
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Pile up some stones and logs or bricks - anything that will encourage beetles and bugs etc. Chickens love it when I go around moving the stone piles, they have a feast. (I do feel bad for the insects though). The only thing my chickens won't touch are brambles and rhubarb.
 
Ci Shepard
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Location: Vancouver Island, BC
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John Elliott wrote:If you are in an urban area, your local supermarket dumpster has all the forage you need for your chickens.  Every day, the produce department has leaves they have trimmed off the cabbages, apples with a bad spot on them, mustard and lettuce that are a little past their prime, and other items that they have pulled.  Even a small store can provide you with a 30-gallon trash can that chickens will have a great time foraging in. 


I've already asked at my two closest stores ... they have a waiting list for their scraps! I guess suburban livestock keeping is gaining popularity around these parts.

I've added sprouts to my list based on another recent thread, and dead mice. I also have access to a large amount of herring each Spring through work, that I can freeze. I like the idea of putting down boards or pavers to collect insects. Thinking about soldier fly grubs as well.

Thanks and keep the ideas coming, please!

 
John Elliott
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A suggestion that might work better than freezing the herring -- turn it into fish jerky.  Or use a Chinese "meat floss" recipe, where you cook it in a little oil for a long time and make little dried fish flakes out of it. Once you've processed it, it lasts forever, and the chickens really go for it.
 
Ci Shepard
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Location: Vancouver Island, BC
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John Elliott wrote:A suggestion that might work better than freezing the herring -- turn it into fish jerky.  Or use a Chinese "meat floss" recipe, where you cook it in a little oil for a long time and make little dried fish flakes out of it. Once you've processed it, it lasts forever, and the chickens really go for it.


Would a chicken be able to eat a dried fish without chopping it up first? Seems like it would be too tough to peck apart like a fresh/defrosted one.
 
John Elliott
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Ci Shepard wrote:
John Elliott wrote:A suggestion that might work better than freezing the herring -- turn it into fish jerky.  Or use a Chinese "meat floss" recipe, where you cook it in a little oil for a long time and make little dried fish flakes out of it. Once you've processed it, it lasts forever, and the chickens really go for it.


Would a chicken be able to eat a dried fish without chopping it up first? Seems like it would be too tough to peck apart like a fresh/defrosted one.


When making "meat floss", you smash it up into little flakes or fine threads as it loses all of its water in the hot frying pan. But once it is small enough for a chicken to swallow whole, they will!
 
Ben Zukisian
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Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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If they have enough to choose from chickens don't eat almost anything to toxicity in my observation. If you are near the coast don't forget kelp/seaweed/ This also contains sea animals that provide protein and even more calcium.
 
Lindsey Jane
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Location: Kitsap Penninsula, WA
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When I was living in a more suburban environment, I actually didn't dumpster dive at the Grocery Store (in WA state, it is absolutely verboten and they will prosecute if they find anyone doing it! Silly...) but I had a deal with our local food bank that they would just leave the leftover vegetables that were no longer good for customers outside their door and the local pig farmer and I would cruise by once or twice a week to pick up giant trunk loads of old bread, vegetables, and sometimes herbs and flowers. I was always the picky one who went for the organic, but the pig farmers scooped up all the rest - I think he knew I only wanted the organic stuff. Such a nice dude...

So that is another idea.

Also, I second that idea of putting a pile of wood and/or logs in the run and moving them periodically. I feel a pang of remorse when I see my hens eyes light up and the beetles and spiders go running in all directions. I like to think it sharpens my hen's minds and keeps them occupied cerebrally...

And don't forget the value of making your own mealworms! I started my mealworm colony for nothing and it's been going strong for a couple of years now. I have it set up in a cast off 4 drawer plastic shoe caddy thing I found on the side of the road and the substrate is whatever I have on hand...oat groats, wheat germ, oatmeal, etc. A great source of protein for next to nothing and very little management. Just keep them away from any warm and moist environment because those dang little mite things will come into the picture and MY, ain't they nasty.

I'm in the way of thinking that my hens will leave things that will make them sick. I've seen it first hand that they shun moldy or poisonous things (most notably when a well meaning neighbor threw moldy bread over the fence for the girls. I just think he was a blockhead, not trying to be malicious. They wouldn't touch the stuff. I was proud of them and resisted the urge to heft it all back over the fence...)

Good Luck!
 
Ci Shepard
Posts: 16
Location: Vancouver Island, BC
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Seaweed is a great idea!
As far as the fish floss - too much work. When herring season comes, I will freeze the fish on trays so they stay separate and I can pullout just the amount I need. If the chickens will eat them raw, that seems the easiest way, plus it gives them something to do, picking at the carcasses.

Soldier fly grubs, red wigglers and mealworms - all seem easily do-able and I can feed these things to my ornamental fish as well.

I'm off to try and find alternate sources of leftover/spoiled foodstuffs - foodbanks, restaurants, maybe some smaller groceries and convienince stores that don't already have takers ...

Thnx for all the ideas!
 
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