Letting chickens forage ONLY?

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

  1. WoodlandWoman

    WoodlandWoman Overrun With Chickens

    May 8, 2007
    Pastured or free ranged chickens are healthier. The eggs from them are healthier for you to eat. They have more of the better type of fatty acid in them and also more vitamins. The difference is that chickens should also be eating what you would normally feed them, including some grain. Chickens have different dietary needs than cattle. Yes, pastured chicken is a good idea, but it's a part of what they eat, not all of what they eat.

    If you live in a tropical climate, with lots of insects, tender foliage, seeds and fruits, plus a lot of acreage, they could do well year round if they're free to eat whatever they want. I would still provide additional food for the highest production. The original chicken wasn't designed to lay an egg a day, which takes a lot of additional food and nutrients every day to produce.

    Farmsteads with free ranging chickens have also traditionally had other livestock around. The chickens eat spilled grain and alfalfa leaves, along with all the other foods, scraps and even gleaning some crops in the field. They also had a large and rich environment to forage in.

    You could create a diet that substituted other foods for the grain, but it would be a lot more expensive and a hassle. You would need to substitute other foods for the carbs and all of the nutrients in the grains. You can already get eggs that are good for you, without doing that, so I wouldn't do it. I don't think grains are a bad food, I think excessive grains are bad, especially when you feed them as a major part of a diet to a species that wouldn't normally be eating them or wouldn't be eating them as such a high percentage of the diet. Feeding nothing but pasture to confined chickens would be just as bad, just in a different way. Their bodies were designed to be eating other foods along with it.

    You can look up the information on the testing Mother Earth News did on free range eggs. Those chickens laid very nutritious eggs, while still eating grain.

    If you want to, you could work on planting more items for your chickens to forage on. You could also look at the different foods you could add in the winter, when the foraging is poor. Check out some of the threads on sprouting and feeding wheat grass. They are good foods, even if they start as grain. There are lots of ways to provide non-soy protein. There are lots of different fruits, vegetables, dark leafy greens and seeds that are good for chickens.

    Quite a few people are also mixing their own feed. You could read some of those threads, too. Just make sure you're providing adequate protein that's balanced and has enough methionine in it. Plus the other nutrients. It's often easier to feed a base diet and add supplements to it at first, rather than start out mixing your own and needing to know everything all at once.
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  2. chooniecat

    chooniecat Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 2, 2009
    central ohio
    I certainly am thinking now. Fortunately I don't use pestisides on any of my land but the fact is I DON'T have enuf pasture to support all of the chickens I would have to have (because they would lay less as I understand it) to get as many eggs as i do now. I am also curious about a grass based pellet(with proteins from???)because my chickens go crazy when I feed my senior horse his grass based pellets.And once again-this whole subject started because a customer inquired as to how much grain I feed and she wanted to find ONLY pastured chickens to get eggs/meat from. I feed MY chickens commercial layer food and then they forage during daylight((which is OK with me for now!)
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2011
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    I just wanted to add to this thread that I recently had a call from potential egg customers about how I feed my chickens. I am not "organic" so I would never make their cut anyway. My feed is not certified organic. But I also failed because I free range. They did not want the chickens eating bugs. That one really blew my mind.

    I'll also make a few additional comments or clarifications to how I remember my parents raising chickens all those decades ago. They had around 30 to 40 hens most of the time. We would get eggs through out the winter, but not many. Mainly that was from that year's pullets that never went through a winter molt their first year. During the height of the laying season, we would get around 15 to 20 eggs a day. No, not every hen was laying every day, even during late spring. Was this efficient? Yes, extremely. Our cost to feed those chickens was practically zero. They foraged 12 months of the year. The only food we fed them was shelled corn that we grew and that was only when there was snow on the ground and sometimes when the ground was frozen. Where we lived that was usually no more than two or three days at a stretch before the snow melted off, although I remember the time we had that 18" snowfall. That one lasted longer than a few days. We might have had an average of maybe two or three weeks total of days we needed to feed. So, no, we did not have snow covering the ground for four solid months. If we had, then we would have treated the winter months differently.

    We did go for four months or so without green grass. They found dead vegetable matter, like dead grass and weeds and seeds to eat. It would occasionally get below freezing and stay there for a week or more at a time, but they still found various creepy crawlies too. If they know how to forage they can forage. These were raised by broodies that knew how to forage so they were well taught. Think of all the wild birds that hang around in the winter instead of heading for the tropics. There is food there. I know some people can't accept that this is the way it ws done, but I lived it. I do believe this model can work, but not for everyone. And remember this was a different time with different goals and circumstances. This was a working farm with methods and techniques that had been developed and used over centuries. We still used horses to plow with, not tractors. We milked our own milk cow. We had a dog that roamed free so he could protect the property and livestock. We did not raise chickens to sell eggs or meat. They were for our own consumption. We did not live in suburbia with people so close on all sides you could hit them all with rocks while standing in one place.

    They were not obese chickens waddling around, too fat to fly and suffering from gout and diabetes. But we did not eat them at 8 to 12 weeks old either. We let them grow before we ate them. We had a family with five kids. We did not all get the drumstick or wishbone when we had chicken for supper. The neck, back, gizzard and liver was cooked right along with the other parts. Nothing went to waste, except the heart. I still don't know why Mom did not cook that. It is solid muscle and tastes pretty good.

    Chooniecat, I also feed commercial feed and pasture mine during the day, with commercial feed available during the day if they want it. They eat surprisingly little during the warmer months but they do hit it harder during the winter. They still forage a lot in the winter if the ground is not covered with snow so deep that all the grass and weeds are hidden. With three or four inches of snow, mine are still out foraging. Not much, but some. I live in a different time and place than my parents.
  4. cybercat

    cybercat Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 22, 2007
    Greeneville, Tn
    Pature fed and free range are different when it comes to chickens. Pasture /grass fed are usually in tractors comerical companies have big tractors just for chickens to be listed as pasture/grass fed. If you go onto one of the pasture/grass fed chicken lists you would see a whole nother side. I was on one for a year before I got off it. It has nothing to do with free ranging for your own food but making dollars for big producers. One at home rasing chickens outside of coop and pen would be free ranging. Not controling where chickens were going to eat by moving them there for a few hours then moving again. They would be wandering where they want to and eating evertying they liked.

    I free range here I do not call my chickens grass fed. What is not known is most grass fed are fed a regular feed diet too. So all that benifit from the grass is only half if that since most tractors are maxed out. They can call it grass/patrure fed since 50% of diet is that, not just all feed.

    Corn itself is not bad but GMO corn is since it has been altered. Most feed corn has been sprayed and genitically altered which is what causes so much problems in humans, pets and livestock.
  5. AquaEyes

    AquaEyes Chillin' With My Peeps

    First off, you need to understand what "grain" means, and that is simply the seed produced from a grass. Thus rice, corn, wheat, rye, etc. are all grains. The old name for the grass family is "Gramineae" which is based on the Latin for "grain." The name now used for the grasses is "Poaceae." Sometimes, seeds of non-grasses are listed as a "grain" in terms of food classification, but they don't come from grasses. Examples are buckwheat, amaranth, and all the legumes.

    The point of this botany lesson is that even if you don't offer "grain" to free-range chickens, they WILL eat "grain." The seeds from the grasses out in the field are technically "grain." Unless you have penned chickens and feed them a controlled diet without "grains" (and I don't even know how you'd begin to do that, other than making some kind of starchy vegetable, nut and insect mix), you cannot guarantee that chickens are not eating "grain."

    If you have someone with a sensitivity to a PARTICULAR grain, such as corn, then you can come up with your own feed mix that is corn-free, and use it as a supplement for free-range chickens. And I guess it is possible to have a truly "grain-free" feed if you use the seeds from plants that are not grasses (like buckwheat, amaranth, legumes, etc), but that would probably be very expensive. Or, I guess, you could feed chickens the way that hogs used to be fed -- with a sort of slop. But, again, I think that would be totally impractical.


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  6. urbanchickenmomma

    urbanchickenmomma New Egg

    May 31, 2011
    I get where she is coming from, as I am excited to have eggs now that are from chickens that free range and don't eat corn. I don't eat GMO corn in any other part of my diet and eggs were the last part. Here in Portland our local hipster chicken store has their own organic feed that is corn and soy free and is made up of a mixture of other grains. This feed might possibly satisfy your potential client but I imagine it would be expensive to ship plus costs more then normal feed. I love how outrageously orange the yolk in my one laying chickens eggs.


    Ingredients: Peas, triticale, wheat, barley, aragonite, crab meal, fish meal (60%), poultry nutri-balancers, canola oil, enzymes.) and available from here http://www.magillranch.com/
  7. EastmanEggs

    EastmanEggs Chillin' With My Peeps

    This thread is dated 2011.

    It's been a few years... Any new experiences? Anyone try not providing feed?

    I am curious about buying chickens and putting them out to pasture and collecting them 4 month later to be processed.

    I understand the predator issues, fencing issues, and potential for birds to stray off- but I want to know:

    1. Would it be humane to put 50 young birds out to find their own food, water provided. Given you buy day old chicks, feed to independence, then release.
  8. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    I would say, no.
    But go ahead give it a shot, let us know how it works out.
  9. EastmanEggs

    EastmanEggs Chillin' With My Peeps

    From what I found on some other threads... Chickens are good foragers, very adaptable, and afterall. this is how our forefathers raised chickens! It should work.

    Im going to try with 50 straight run birds this spring.
    2 people like this.
  10. Teila

    Teila Bambrook Bantams Premium Member

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