Feeding My Flock Without Commercial Poultry Feeds

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by LilyD, Feb 20, 2015.

  1. LilyD

    LilyD Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Before I ask my question I want to state that I understand not everyone agrees with removing commercial feeds from chickens diet. A lot of people believe that it's what chickens have always eaten so why change. I totally understand this and support your ability to have your own opinion. I don't want to create a bash session just a discussion.

    That being said: many of my clients up here in New England (Vermont to be precise) are looking for eggs that are fed not using commercial grains. By nature I feel that raising animals needs to be done by looking at the animal and what they are designed to do and allowing that to take place if at all possible. My horse is raised on hay and pasture and I am not feeding her commercial grains. It isn't what she would eat in the wild so I don't want her to eat it here.

    In researching how to feed my chickens a balanced diet I have come across something that was very interesting. We have a company in our state called Vermont Compost Company that makes it's own compost using food waste from neighboring restaurants as the basic supply for their compost but also accepting compost materials ( veggies, meat, dairy etc ) from people in the area as well who drop it off. They use chickens (hundreds of chickens) to turn their compost piles and in return the chickens eat nothing but the items in the compost piles (food scraps, bugs, etc) year round (including Vermont's 3 month + winters) and are able to produce as many eggs as layers fed on pelleted feed.

    They have a video showing the farm and talking to the owner. He does not restrain his chickens at all. They have access to a large barn style coop to lay eggs but are allowed to come and go as they please. Geoff Lawton made a mobile version of their method and put it into practice and produced great results. I would love to try something like this ( even if I can only do it during the three months we aren't buried in snow). I am considering a composting area with a cover to protect it from snow that the chickens would have access to 24/7 where I could add kitchen scraps, manure, hay, shavings etc for a coop containing about 16 chickens and one rooster. It would not need to be at the grand scale done by Vermont Composting but a similar system scaled down to the amount of birds I have.

    I would love peoples thoughts on what you have done to eliminate commercial feeds from your chickens diets and how it has worked for you.
     
  2. Ol Grey Mare

    Ol Grey Mare One egg shy of a full carton. ..... Premium Member

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    It isn't that I disagree with not using commercial feeds - it is that I feel most people who want to do it do not have a full understanding or ability to fully provide the nutritional needs of their flock without it. *Most* folks do not have access to the type of system being used in your example - and recreating it in a small/backyard sort of setting is problematic due to having to have enough materiel to use for your birds to be receiving a nutritionally sound diet. Many folks who want to do away with commercial feeds use the reasoning of "like my great-great grandpa would have done back on the farm" - without taking the time to consider the type and amount of forage that was available to great-great-grandpa's birds that is, in general, no longer the case for folks in their own backyard. Cultivating and sustaining sufficient nutrition for a flock is far more work than most people think it is.
    Then there are those who want to "mix their own" feed vs. purchasing commercially prepared because they perceive there to be potentially massive savings. Again, lack of understanding of the nutritional needs of their flock often leads to thinking it's as simple as buying "a bag of grain from the mill" and tossing it out - not realizing that one needs to understand the nutrition offered by various types of grains and how to mix those grains in proportions that will balance out correctly ---or that when one does it correctly the "great savings" are not typically going to be realized.
     
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2015
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  3. LilyD

    LilyD Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I agree and that is why during the artic cold winter, I am doing research so that I make sure that whatever I do does not hurt my chickens at all. They have 2 acres of property to free range. I have seen them eating seeds from the grasses, weeds and other plants as well as bugs and the plants themselves. I have the scraps from my own cooking, including meat and dairy scraps (since they are omnivores) and I also have two people who are also saving me scraps as well.

    I am looking at adding comfrey ( very high in protein and vitamins and minerals) to the yard and picking and saving some for winter as well as Kale, spinach, beet greens etc to supplement what they would get from regular scraps. Winter would be the hard one though. Not sure if I can keep the pile hot enough to allow it not to freeze in winter, especially since it's much smaller than the one used by VC and as such would naturally produce less heat.

    From what I have read so far as long as the diet is varied including many colors of veggie scraps while paying attention to protein and carbs all their needs should be met without adding supplemental commercial feeds. This is definitely still in the thinking stage, don't get me wrong I will definitely not change anything without making sure it's safe for all involved.
     
  4. Folly's place

    Folly's place Chicken Obsessed

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    Chickens originally lived in the jungles of southeast Asia and hens produced maybe 20 or 30 eggs per year. Modern birds living in Vermont and genetically programmed to lay 180 to 260 eggs per year aren't as forgiving of dietary imbalances. Great-grandma's birds produced far fewer eggs, and went in the pot when unproductive. And lived in a place with more varied food available. Modern diets are geared to aid modern birds to live and produce well, and are much more expensive to reproduce on a small scale at home. Mary
     
  5. Rainey

    Rainey Out Of The Brooder

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    I'm just getting started trying to do this for chickens after moving rabbits off commercial pellets last spring/summer. We were able to raise rabbits for meat using hay and wild gathered forage through the growing season and then grew wheat fodder to feed in the winter along with hay, roots (carrots & turnips), and willow branches we'd dried when in early leaf. I'd hoped the chickens would be easier to change over as we already kept them in a movable coop with yard underneath spring through fall. But I've found it harder to get information on what chickens need that can be provided on our farm. (The rabbits did really well on things like dandelion, clover, plantain, chicory--things growing wild--and the willow has quite a lot of protein)
    We're starting new chicks this spring and read about the vermont compost raised chickens and are going to incorporate that into our moving coop plan for the young birds. I would have liked to get chicks or young birds that had been bred and raised off commercial feed, but not finding any near me, I hope to start and in a few years have have chickens that are better suited to our way of raising them. As with the rabbits, I expect to sacrifice some productivity. (Our rabbits weren't up to butchering size in 8 or 9 weeks as commercial growers expect--but our feed costs have been low and we don't have to wonder what is actually in there) Same with chickens--we are raising them for eggs but don't expect them to break records. Wouldn't expect to get as few as one supposes the jungle birds laid nor as many as at a commercial egg operation.
    I wish you well and will be interested to see what you decide and how it works for you. I think it is helpful for people with similar goals/values to collaborate. No need to argue with folks with different ones about which way is "right".
     
  6. LilyD

    LilyD Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Quote:
    Within the videos that I posted in my OP these issues are addressed. In Geoff Lawton's mobile version he tested the idea that the chickens would not get what they needed from this diet. The chickens fed using the varied diet rather than the commercial diet did just as well and laid just as well as his control group of birds (they were the same type, same size group only they were fed commercial feeds rather than varied diet using real foods). I am not talking about buying veggies, fruits, breads, meats and cheeses to feed them. I have a clientele that is looking for this type of egg. Already I have two people saving 1 gallon tubs of scraps for the chickens. They give me cooking scraps and leftovers. It is extremely varied. Also some of my egg customers are saving me their egg shells crushed up and returning them when they get their new eggs so I can feed those back to the chickens as well. Right now I am offering those foods (have been using them for the last few weeks) with a balanced layer ration. The birds are turning down the layer ration and instead eating the whole foods. A full feeder (about 4lbs of food) is now lasting me 3 or 4 days (with 32 large breed chickens) when it used to last me one day at best. The chickens get to choose and they have the option to eat the pellets or not and they are choosing the whole foods, we will see how it goes from here but the pellets won't be removed until I am sure it is not needed.


    I totally agree, that's why I made the post so if people hadn't seen this information they would have access to it. I am not suggesting that everyone should stop feeding pellets and change over right now. That would be wrong. I don't know their situations and they need to evaluate what works best for their flock. For me I would rather have them eating whole foods if I can and if I can set up a system so that I get those foods from the people who benefit from the eggs that's even better because it decreased feed costs. Some of the customers offered to save the egg shells and they are returning them when they pick up their next batch of eggs. That plus my cooking scraps and the other two people who are donating theirs it really is turning out to be quite a bit of food each day lol.

    This year in my garden I am going to grow some acorn, butternut and hubbard squash and keep those in my basement where it's cooler over the winter as these were listed as natural carbs with nutrients for chickens and ducks. Also sweet potatoes (not sure how many of these I can grow) kale, and comfrey were listed as protein sources. One of the most amazing ones I have found was banana peels. One article I read online said that ducks and chickens love them and they are really good sources of protein as well. I am planning on bordering my fence on the back of my property with comfrey bushes. That way I can feed the leaves fresh during the milder months ( said to be 40% protein plus many vitamins and other nutrients as well) as well as drying them as I do my herbs for winter.

    I am not going to set my coop up quite like the one Geoff Lawton created. I was figuring an outdoor compost area that is under cover for the mild months and in the winter I will be using deep litter method and the feed items will be added to the floor bedding so they can stir it in throughout the winter. I am going to try and include my ducks in the change as well since they are housed in a separate coop but withing the same yard as the chickens ( can't really cut them out so we will see how it works for them too I guess). From the different articles I have read they all seem to say that as long as the diet is varied enough (enough different color foods same as with us) they will get everything they need from the different foods. Then we just have to watch body condition to get clues if it is meeting their needs. More protein and calcium if egg laying starts dropping.

    Are you going to raise your flock using different fodder as a food source? I have sprouted seeds but not let them grow as far as fodder for the animals. You will have to let me know how it works and what your plan is. I would love to share information and bounce ideas back and forth as we both learn as we go.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2015
  7. Rainey

    Rainey Out Of The Brooder

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    We've been feeding wheat fodder to the rabbits and some to the goats this winter--grow it to 6 to 8 days. Not sure what we'll do for the new chickens--have read a lot of posts saying that hens have to have all grass/plant material chopped up to avoid crop problems. May try just sprouting some grain for them--also read conflicting info on the nutritional value of fodder compared to sprouts or just whole grain. I'd rather buy whole grains (what I can get locally whole is wheat, oats, corn) and feed some mix of those, plain or sprouted, than buy the pellets where the label isn't even clear what plants were used and they've been ground up into powder so lose quality if stored long.
    For extra protein we have whey from when we make cheese with our goat milk, offal from rabbit butchering, and kitchen scraps. We have a vermicompost bin that we've kept mostly to not have to take stuff out to the compost piles when the snow is deep and to produce excellent compost for use when we're starting seedlings in the spring--could also harvest some worms for the chickens. It's all on a small scale--for our own use with whatever excess we have--eggs, cheese, vegetables--going to a nearby soup kitchen.
    We'll be planting mulberry trees this spring. The leaves are high protein and very palatable rabbit feed and I think the fruit would be good for the chickens.I just wish I had as much good information for feeding chickens as I do for rabbits--thought that as omnivores they'd be easier but keep hearing "no grass more than 3" long" or "chickens need lots of quality feed (by which most people mean some brand name out of a bag) because of their high metabolism and the demands of egg laying" So I feel unsure. Plan to experiment and hope to hear from others who are ahead of me on this.
     
  8. LilyD

    LilyD Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I can tell you that the 3 inch long thing for grass is only a problem if the grass is precut before you give it to them. If you give them the grass like a piece of sod so that the roots kind of hold it together they will break the grass off in bites that work for them. My chickens will actually graze in the yard when it's warm enough so we have grass ( I really miss grass *sigh).

    The only issue with sprouting grains is that they pick through it and eat what they want so you end up with some waste because of that. Up here you can't buy good sources of grains to sprout unless you buy from the human stores (which are very expensive) or online. The grain stores don't carry grains that are whole. I tried to get them to order them and they said unless they got orders for more than 200 pounds in a month it wasn't worth their while. I would go bankrupt if I ordered that much each month.

    Chickens are easy to feed...and they are omnivores. Mine will eat anything and if it's something they aren't supposed to have they will just leave it and go one to something they can eat. They know what they want. In my opinion I think the problem is that people get stuck on that chickens need to have set ratios each and every meal in order to do well when in truth they eat more like us. One day they may really want veggies and fruits, the next day they may be all about hunting the bugs and eating the protein. In truth in spring summer and fall I feed very little grain already. I will sprinkle a little bit outside the coops to call them close to home so they go in at night but they are much more interested in eating what is naturally available. Here we have apple, peach, pear, and plum trees and we have blueberry, raspberry, cherry, and blackberry. The chickens are free range so they have access to it all. I also grow and can my own veggies for us so we have plenty of tops and scraps from preparing those to feed them. The winter is the time that I worry the most since they can't just go out to the buffet so to speak and pick for themselves I have to choose. Since I like a wide variety of veggies they get a lot of choice for veggies and they also will get trimmings from the meat we eat, and any other leftover scraps that we have.

    It's gross to say but they will actually eat the mice that come into their coop to eat the grain they spill. I moved a wood pile in late fall as it was starting to get cold this year and the chickens were like velociraptors. They circled right around where we were pulling the wood from and once we cleared a spot of ground they pounced. We watched them pick up mice and fight over them as we were stacking the wood. I felt so bad for them and I hate mice lol.
     
  9. COChix

    COChix Overrun With Chickens

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    I agree with you, our chickens love hunting mice and bugs, we live in a rural ag area and are also across from an open space so we have a lot of mice. I call them when I move anything that might have mice under them and they do the rest. I believe commercial feed didn't come about until corn became such a commodity and that is when farmers learned they could feed grains so cheaply.

    I for one saw the Karl Hammer video about a year ago before we got our chickens and I was inspired by it. Good stuff.
     
  10. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Lilly,

    My family used to do what you are striving for although in my opinion two acres you have is too tight for producing more eggs than required for a household or two. This especially holds true during the winter months when even though birds are not confined because the forage is harder to get at and the cost of getting at it increases in respect to energy birds must invest. The importing of food scraps will help a lot as would importing grains that you feel do not violate your feeding rules. The next problem will come in the form of where the birds roost and loaf, especially during the winter months. Wastes associated with non-feed based nutritional sources will produce feces not conducive to keeping birds at higher densities than typical of free-ranging where natural foods dominate nutrition. Those complete feeds help keep birds from needing to disperse so much. Protein will be your first limiting problem to lick as you push flock size on that 2 acres.
     
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