Successful 100% forage diet experiment (long post)

Don 27

Crowing
Aug 13, 2019
2,136
6,007
372
OH
I'm also currently working on developing a free range breed similar to what our grandfather's did. ... This time of year I give mine corn as supplemental feed, I found that the snow is thinner under conifer trees which is about the only place they can forage unless I snowplow the yard. Like a lot of people said, unless your neighbors don't mind having chicken in their yard, you need to have land to do 100% free range.
 

April In New York

In the Brooder
Feb 27, 2021
9
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So, It's been crazy busy around here for the last week or so. We got about 3 inches of snow, which is really rare here, and it stayed on the ground for a couple of days. The chickens did not go out foraging in it. I had to supplement feed until the snow started melting.

Egg production is still good. I'm getting at least a dozen a day. Shells are thick, membrane is thick, and yolks continue to be very dark orange. There is a noticeable lightening of yolk color for a day or two after supplementing with feed. They seem to have chosen 3 primary egg laying spots and are returning to them daily, even when I remove all of the eggs. I am not finding eggs in the wooded areas lately.

We culled 7 of the 9 roosters yesterday. They were not meaty birds, that's for sure. :lol:
Visually, the carcasses were on par or slightly under the weight of average dual purpose breeds. One went into the pressure cooker right away and turned out some really great bone broth. I honestly feel like they wouldn't be worth the effort to process if you are interested in meat only. They may have been a little meatier if it hadn't been winter time.

So, update in a nutshell:
-feed is supplemented with 2 or more days of rain/snow,
-egg production isn't affected, yolk color IS affected with 2 or more days of rain/snow,
-chickens don't like to walk in snow,
-chickens don't like to forage in snow or heavy rain,
-8 month(ish) old forage roosters are almost equal to dual-purpose breed weights.
So how did everybody fare during your freak cold weather? I’m seriously considering doing a study of different breeds in a mixed flock on 99% free range forage. I have space and want to know which breeds survive predators best, then breed them stronger. I really think better, stronger chicks will hatch from foraging chickens.
 

PopoMyers

Songster
Aug 19, 2020
469
990
226
Kitsap, WA
This, or something very similar is how much of the rest of the world keep chickens.
The backyard chicken keeping craze is essentially an American thing, along with the evils of hatcheries, casual breeders and the way chickens are valued and kept.
Your loss rate is quite high. But, if you keep going and let the hens sit and hatch their chicks, the losses get replaced.
In time, I've been at it ten years here, your losses willl reduce because the naturally reared chicks will learn from their parents and the rest of the groups how to stay alive; much like any wild creature.
Chick deaths are inevitable with such a system but this is one of the reasons hens sit and hatch clutches, the survival rate is low in the wild.
I and many other keepers here where I live do feed their free range chickens. it gives you an element of control which is useful for study, identifying the sick and locating the nests which is important if you want to gather the eggs.
Many here who are chicken enthusiasts keeping free range groups make their own feed.
The coop and run keeping system isn't something one sees a lot of here. Unfortunately American influences are changing this, to the detriment of the chicken in my and others opinions. Many of the traditional farms have their chickens roosting in outbuildings attatched to the houses; many more have theirs roosting around the property.
So nice to hear the flock keeping practices from other countries. Sadly, those of us who would love to have your space to do this, also live in areas with ordinances and laws governing livestock. We can only dream.
 

PopoMyers

Songster
Aug 19, 2020
469
990
226
Kitsap, WA
currently I have hens laying eggs between the barn & a sheet of styrofoam, between the garage and a folding table, and under a flipped over canoe. plus the lovely ladies who actually use the nest boxes. 🥳
I had a daily egg hunt as well from the young layers, or maybe the nesting box was occupied and it became a drop as you walk situation. Lol.
 

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