Letting chickens forage ONLY?

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by chooniecat, Mar 24, 2011.

  1. chooniecat

    chooniecat Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 2, 2009
    central ohio
    If FORAGE is the word(not sure). Have a customer that is looking for pasture fed ONLY chickens(for eggs) as she is striving for a grain free diet(which I respect as she is slender,very healthy) but before I go online trying to research this wondered if anyone had FACTS about doing such a thing. And you would obviously have to feed them SOMETHING in the winter(snow) or I envision my domestic chickens starving to death. Do they sell grass based diets? I know I hear stories of "wild" chickens that my grandma used to catch and cook but it doesn't seem like the majority of chickens born would make it.
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    You are in a colder snowier climate than I was raised in, but I'll tell you how my parents handled their chickens.

    We never locked the hen house door. The chickens were not restricted by a fence in any way, except the fence that kept them out of the garden. The hen house was in a pasture field, not that far from a barn full of hay, and not that far from a woodland. We would go years without a predator attack, but then a fox or something would find the chickens and have to be dealt with. Most would sleep in the hen house but some roosted in trees outside, even when the weather got below zero Fahrenheit. I'm mentioning this to show mainly that they were not coddled pets but were considered livestock and probably meet your definition of "wild".

    The only time we ever fed them was when there was snow on the ground. Other than that they foraged. There was a barn full of hay nearby and sometimes some would go inside there and eat some of the seeds on that hay. We fed hay to cattle outside on the ground and they could get some of the grain that the cattle missed, but there was not a mad rush by the chickens to that potential food source when we fed the cattle, so I don't think they depended on it too much. Even in the winter with all green stuff dead, they could find vegetative matter and grass and weed seeds to eat. If there was snow on the ground, we would shell corn and feed that to them, but not unless there was snow on the ground. Some of the first year pullets would lay through the winter, but the older hens would molt and stop laying. The eggs were not double extra huge sized like you can get if you stuff the hens with extra protein, but they were decent sized when they did lay. During the summer, they laid very well and the eggs were decent sized.

    These were mainly chickens raised by broodies, not raised in a brooder. I've noticed with mine that broody raised chickens forage much better than brooder raised chickens. Practically all the chickens made it through the winters and summers. These chickens were a barnyard mix, mainly mutts, but with Rhode Island Red, Dominique, Australorp,some game, and who knows what else in their background. Occasionally, but not that often, Dad would pick up a dozen chicks from the Co-op and raise them in a cardboard box on the back porch to bring in new blood. At about 5 or 6 weeks old, he would turn them loose and they were on their own. Most of those made it, but they had the other chickens to learn from.

    I don't have any scientific studies to refer to. Just my memories from a lot of decades ago. It is a different world now. Thanks for the chance to go down memory lane.
    5 people like this.
  3. chooniecat

    chooniecat Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 2, 2009
    central ohio
    Thanks! And I don't like to think I "coddle" my chickens but I DO want to make sure they are as productive as possible without risking their lives.They put themselves to bed in the chicken shed at dark and I latch their door. There are various degress probably of grass fed so I may just be kind of in the middle of "coddled" and totally grass fed. I have appx. 300+ acres of woods surrounding me and farmland and predators out the yazoo but have never lost a chicken to one(lost 4H bunnies to stray stupid beagles tho). We are going to eat one of the hens this week so that will be interesting as to the difference in my meaties and the retiring layers(shes only 1 yr. old but...)It WOULD be so nice to have more green year round so I envy you. thanks again.
  4. josef

    josef Out Of The Brooder

    Feb 9, 2011
    my chickens forage all day but i still give some corn and hay,for a week i stop the extra fed and notice some getting slimer:/
  5. sunnyvera

    sunnyvera Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 4, 2010
    NE Ohio
    I will kick my 2-cents in. I bought some 6 month old pullets from a man who never feeds his chickens (that I could see) They are outside and in the yard and meadow all day - eating whatever they can find. I saw waterers here and there so they were watered. At nite they put themselves to bed in a disgusting-looking shed. They would stay outside until it was mostly dark, probably not wanting to come in but get those bugs that come out at dusk. Anyway, the 6 pullets I got from him were healthy, just very lean. When you picked them up you felt skin and bone. He even bragged that next year he would get 200 more to sell. (sure, they cost him nothing to feed). He gets them early spring and sells in the fall. I must say they are good layers now (they are BA), but took forever to get that first egg. I was not impressed and truly felt sorry for them as they tried to stay alive. There were other houses around - not like he had 100 acres to let the girls roam on. I think we have to be balanced and meet in the middle somewhere on this topic.
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Let me add that I do not raise my chickens the way my parents did. I do let mine free range but I always have feed available for them. I do lock them up at night. I live in different times, in different conditions, and with different goals.

    With the increase in human population density and the change in land use, I don't think chickens could survive all that well from a predator aspect now where I was raised. I'm sure there are still some people doing it a lot like my parents did, but that method just does not work if there are too many humans around. As far as them being able to live off the land they can if they have a lot of area. They will not be as productive as caged animals fed a special diet designed to maximize production, whether eggs or meat, but they can live off the land. And they can live off the land much better if their Mama taught them how to do it.

    How many wild or semi-wild animals are fat? Skinny seems to help them in the survival mode. I'd even propose that a "skinny" chicken might be more healthy than a fat one, though probably not as productive.
    1 person likes this.
  7. UrbanGrower

    UrbanGrower Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 29, 2010
    West Jordan, UT
    I'd shoot for the most varied and pasture based diet I could supply, while still maintaining 16% protein and plenty of energy to keep up weight and production with whole grains. Basically everything you get from a standard layer feed, without the feed.
    FrugalFannie likes this.
  8. Amyh

    Amyh Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 11, 2010
    North Carolina
    I think it's possible with enough land in the Summer. I don't think there is enough when it gets cold outside, and I live in the South!!!

    Tell her to feed her chickens regular feed, or a special mix that she can make, but it must be offered in case they are not getting enough from the land.
  9. Nigellas

    Nigellas Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 14, 2008
    Ann Arbor, MI
    There has been some talk in the medical community about corn-fed animals (not just cattle) actually causing an increase on the rate of cancer in the people that eat them - My cousin's husband who does cancer research was actually looking to find non-corn fed animals. Ask her if it's just corn she is worried about, or all grain - that might make a difference. as to what you can feed them in the winter

    As for my chickens - They free-range daily, we offer food to them at all times - but in the Spring/Summer months they rarely eat it. They definitely need something to supplement their foraging in the winter months though.
  10. schellie69

    schellie69 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 8, 2009
    I think chickens can free range for a lot of their food if they have a large enough space but I would still in some way supplement their food with a good layer food, I am sure that in some ways they would free range grains anyway. I know my grandma's chickens free ranged the farm and were thrown left over kitchen scraps and they did get corn to eat but that was it. I guess she could check feeds and see if she can find a feed that is not grain based to feed them in the winter I don't think chickens could find enough food in winter to keep them alive.

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