pioneer chicken raising--feeds

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by JohnLongIsland, Mar 26, 2017.

  1. JohnLongIsland

    JohnLongIsland New Egg

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    This is my first post to BYC--after years of lurking and reading. A wonderful group. Polite, knowledgeable, friendly. I grew up in WI, and my grandparents had a full dairy farm when I was growing up. I don't remember my grandfather purchasing food for the chickens. They were allowed to run all day, and were locked down in a coop at night for safety. They pecked and gleaned whatever spilled grain and bugs they could find, and grandma would give them leftovers--veggie scraps, meaty bones, etc. They were fed soem scratch, which I think was just basic corn/wheat/barley. They would also grow some mammoth sunflowers in the garden, and throw in a head once in a while, or pick some from their feilds when they grew them.

    They were raised in the depression--as immigrants (German), and I can't imagine my grandfather would have spent money on purpose chicken layer rations. But the birds were always healthy and productive.

    I'm actually trained as a chemist ( :) ) so have taken a keener interest in the biology. I understand, protien is the expensive part of a ration, and cysteine is hard to come by cheaply.

    I'm wondering if anyone had thoughts on how it was done, on the small farm, or even pioneer days? I'm sure, if you motivation, was maximum profit, this wouldn't be a good idea. But I'm thinking for someone with a small flock--maybe a dozen birds, it should be possible to raise everything needed, and supliment it with free range bugs and worms.

    Like any other diet, I'm guessing diversity is the most important thing. I could, in theory, live on a diet of Big Macs and diet Coke--but I couldn't expect to live a real healthy life that way! What I'm saying, I guess, is, it should be possible to use the basic scratch recipe (corn, wheat, barley), but suppliment it with red and white barley, buckwheat (which grows great back home), boiled soybeans. Maybe get fancy, and throw in some home grown amaranth and quinoa, some rye, field peas.... dust the whole thing in good limestone for calcium for good shells. maybe occasionally adding a small amount of beef (or venison), some fish (carp from the local pond)...

    I appreciate that a huge amount of research went in to designing commercial rations. And I realize, if it came to feed to egg/meat prodcution, I could never compete at home. But it seems to me, the chickens came from hardy jungle birds, who ate whatever they could find. A strong gizzard to grind seeds, and a voracious appetite.

    I'm asking for 2 reasons. FIrst, my real interest is in "permaculture", and in addition to providing meat an eggs, the birds would be part of a recycling/composting program. Second, from a "prepper" point of view--what happens if a day comes when feed is not commercially available?

    I have seen chickens devour squash and watermelons. I saw some hens in Alabama circle a large snake, and completely consume it before I could even intervene. Seems to me, a good diverse mix of seeds (wheat, rye, buckwheat, qunioa, amaranth...) and some flower seeds--sunflower, mixed in with some good veggie protien (boiled soy and field peas) should provide the majority of what they need, and then let them level out their own diet on a good pasture. Moving the pen around (some kind of "chicken tractor" system, to keep the soil fresh and healthy)

    Any thoughts?
    thanks for any advice!!
    John
     
  2. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    Hey, John. I love your out of the box thinking. It seems that feed mills have taken chicken feed to an exact science: providing the feed that will produce the greatest profit to the mill, while providing just enough nutrient to provide reasonable production for the back yard flock. Is that feed perfect for providing all of the needs of a laying hen? IMO, it is sadly lacking, especially when it sits on the feed store shelf for a couple of months. Many BYF keepers live on a small town lot, with a manicured lawn, and perhaps a couple of garden beds, and consider that yard to provide a good "free range" environment, and expect it to provide a lot of the bird's diet. Then, there's the northern climate ( um, that would be ME!) where the ground is frozen or covered with snow for 6 months of the year.

    Much can be done to turn the average yard into an excellent free range for a modest sized flock: Deep litter management, planting high nutrient crops including berries, Siberian Pea, Comfrey, grains, some root crops, pumpkin/squash. If you are in the right climate, Black Soldier Fly larvae would provide lots of protein. Vermin control. Remove those pest squirrels and chipmunks, as well as other tree vermin, and use those for protein source. Even road kill could be used if attention was paid to serving it up fresh. And, as you stated, fresh fish would add to the bounty. I find myself wondering if collecting frog eggs in the spring, hatching them out, and feeding out the tad poles would be a good protein source. Then, there are ways to add protein to the grains you are able to provide. The issue for me is that I can buy a bag of OTS feed, usually cheaper than I can buy whole grains. By the time I add the mineral and protein sources, I'm probably doubling the cost. Fedco Seeds sells vitamin/mineral/protein additive that can be added to grains to make a complete feed. I'm sure there are other sources as well.

    Also, fermenting the grains/feed you do purchase will cut your feed bill by as much as 30% while providing greater nutrition.

    I would love to see you expand this thread, perhaps with a bit of research into "poultry feed mixes" that were used by our great grand parents. Perhaps a nutrient analysis of those, as they compare to current off the shelf layer ration.
     
  3. JohnLongIsland

    JohnLongIsland New Egg

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    Mar 26, 2017
    Thanks for the thoughts, Lazy--I think your'e getting what I'm thinking. I'm not someone interested 100% in "profit". I would like to feed the girls (and maybe some capons) on a diet of some good, high quality scratch and grains/legumes, and hopefully have enough land to let them eat the weeds, bugs, worms, etc.

    As a permaculturist, I think the birds evolved with a tough gizzard to digest some really tough seeds. Given the room, they would probably live just fine on their own, out in the woods/pasture.

    I agree too--as a permaculture believer--that deep litter is great. It soaks up waste, and recycles it into excellent compost feedstock.

    By "going cheap", I in NO WAY mean that I want to feed the birds garbage. I would feed them a diverse and healthy diet. But a diet more along the lines of what they might have seen 5,000 years ago. They have the digestive system to handle big, hard grain. Seems to me, offering some freedom out on a pasture, and some supplimental (and nutrious) grain, would do more for their health than whatever I could cook up in a lab.

    Just seems to me, the pioneers and early adopters of chickens didn't worry too much about the specifics. They fed whatever grain they had, and the birds spent they day pecking and eating whatever they could find. Seems to me, a good scrath mix--corn, hard and soft wheat, and barly, and some other grains, could provide the basic survial needs, while the birds figured out the rest.
     
  4. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    What growing zone do you live in? Much available land? Current vegetation? Do you have a flock right now?
     
  5. CLutze27

    CLutze27 Just Hatched

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    This is getting rather interesting. I would tend to agree with you in that the early pioneers were not very particular in what was fed their birds. Again not saying it was garbage but like you said probably some grain and then they were left to fend for themselves. Personally I've got 20 acres with about 2 being well lets just call it a lawn (it is by no means well manicured but it is mown on occasion). And while I'm looking forward to the bugs that will be coming out here soon for the birds, Im not sure how much hey will be able to get from the other 18 wish acres. It has all been field that has kind of overgrown and now is more brambles and small trees than any real sort of grasses. Ive been wondering if it would be a good idea to till a section of it up and plant either a deer mix or blend together a bunch of different grains (wheat, barley, oats), as well as grow some sunflowers for the chickens in the fall when they go to seed and the heads can be cut off.

    Te idea of cutting my fed bill in half really appeals to me. Ive got a local grain mill, but they only have a 15% layer crumble that they see aside form the grower. And while i could go to the local TSC and get something with a higher protein i would much rather buy local than the big box store.
     
  6. JohnLongIsland

    JohnLongIsland New Egg

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    Mar 26, 2017
    I'm on Long Island, NY, which I believe is zone 7. Significantly less brutal than my home state of Wisconsin! I am working with a community garden group. Last year, we started with 10 hens, and all 10 made it through, living on a bit of scratch as a treat, but mostly with commerical layer rations. We are using a "chicken tractor"--a coop built on top of an old hay wagon, that gets moved frequently through a lot of about 1.5 acres. It's really an un-improved pasture, that they have been mowing, mostly to try and minimze deer ticks (Lyme is a TERRIBLE problem here).

    He had about 1/3 acre as a vegetable garden, but have access to a couple more acres. We are starting small, and building up the operation in segments. No sense in getting in over your head, and failing. The veggie operation did well, no real serious problems (other than vistis from the local deer...)

    We were kicking around the idea of cultivating some small amounts of grain, both for human and chicken consumption. Just trying to figure out what would provide the most bang for the buck. Corn, definitely, probably soy (if we can find any non-GMO seed), sunflowers (they loved last years sunflowers). We were thinking to get as diverse a diet for the birds as possible. Adding buckwheat, maybe qunioa and amaranth, flax, etc. Between that, and a nice pasture with plenty of bugs and greens, they should have a healthy diet
     

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