Natural is BetterMost chicken keepers realize the value of non-commercial poultry operations. Large numbers of birds kept in isolation or, conversely, packed by the hundreds into sheds, just doesn't make sense. Chickens need space and a few other chickens to call friend. We know, a natural lifestyle is better! Why, then, do so many people feed artificial, medicated commercial feed?
Most commercial feeds just aren't good enough. I believe that natural, real foods are the only thing that makes sense, for my animals AND for myself. Remember, if your birds eat it and you eat their eggs or meat, you eat it too! I'm happy to see more and more people feeding organic, but you don't necessarily need to go organic to feed great food. Organic is best for the environment (and all of us, in the long run), but whole-grain, all-natural food is still great for your flock. Mixing your own is great if you can use up all the grain before it goes bad. If you have a smaller flock, maybe someone near you would split the feed with you so it wasn't wasted and would be a bit more economical.
When I don't mix my own, I feed Countryside Naturals.
Things to think about: (disclaimer: I'm far from being an expert, so this is for informational purposes only. Don't just take my word for it!)
- What would wild birds be eating? Think like a chicken.
- Do you really need those medications? Regularly medicating when there isn't a problem is leading to medication resistant strains that are much more violent than previous strains. Think of ways you can avoid using medications, such as herbal supplements and maintaining higher levels of sanitation. If you vaccinate with a live vaccine (which many are) you always have to vaccinate because you introduce the virus into the ground. You run the risk of infecting clean soil.
- Start with a wheat base instead of a corn base. Most commercial feeds start with corn because it is cheaper, not because it is better nutritionally.
- Avoid soy. Some recipes, and most commercial feed, include soy, but it's been linked to all kinds of health problems in people such as hypothyroidism, cancer, and loss of estrogen production. Flaxseed is a great alternative, or even fish oil.
- Small Poultry Flock Nutrition from University of Florida is a good overview.
- The Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives website is very informational. I don't live in Canada, but what holds true for them should be true for most. Here's some of their articles that are good starting points: Organic Diets for Small Flocks, Poultry Rations and Feeding Methods, and Research on Feeding Peas to Poultry.
- Evaluating Feed Components and Finished Feeds from Kansas State University is a bit technical, but there is a good table on page 2 that tells the protein level of various foods.
- This website has some good information, but most helpful are the Pearson's Square and Kim's Rectangle in section 2. These allow you to make sure, no matter what ingredients you choose to feed, that you're maintaining the correct protein level for your chicks.