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Sustainable flock - flies, worms, grains - ADVICE!!!

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by SuburbanMomof4, Jan 10, 2013.

  1. SuburbanMomof4

    SuburbanMomof4 In the Brooder

    Hi all,

    So... my husband had to make a dash over to Tractor Supply for layer pellets a couple days ago. After paying $15/50#bag he came home and asked me
    1) if this was financially worth it (we agree the value of the kids learning responsibility is important)
    2) how other people feed their flocks.

    The answer to #1 is actually probably "yes" (or at least "close"). When we have to buy store eggs we buy the free-range ones (I know, they probably aren't...) at ~$3/dozen. Right now we have about 11 laying hens (+3 roos, 3 ducks, and 5 guineas) - it's chilly enough some nights that we have a warming lamp for them (not the best coop...) and they're laying 5-6 dozen a week. That is maybe $60/month... if we can only eat the eggs fast enough! Two of the roos are a bit mean - but we have some in the freezer right now - we aren't sure how to count those, since the meat we buy to replace with would probably not be organic (sigh... but with 5+ kids it's price!). I should be tracking better, but I think we are using 2 bags of pellets and 1 bag of scratch grain per month - we've been free-choice feeding the pellets and maybe can cut it down a bit. Still puts us maybe $15/month ahead while everyone is laying (and not counting replacing bulbs, or any other hardware).

    However I'd love to not have to keep running to TS (and running out when the kids forget to tell me). I'd love to setup a sustainable micro-system! Currently our family-of-7 (soon to be 8!) puts all the leftovers/scraps in the compost heap, with the good ones going to the birds - but the birds free-range and go get the other ones as soon as our backs are turned (if we could eat it, they can, I assume... it's stuff my kids didn't finish, even if some is Dorito crumbs or other cra- I mean fast food). I'm wondering if it makes sense to do worm-bins or soldier-fly buckets or something instead... I'm also wondering how hard it would be to grow/harvest/store/feed our own grain. Harvey Ussery's book was AWESOME, but I'm still not sure where to begin.

    How do you do it? What would you recommend to me?

    What has been most cost-effective? What was worth growing? What reduced your bought-feed costs best? What was fun? What really wasn't? What was way more time-consuming than you expected? Was it worth it?

    We're in Southern Indiana, near Louisville, KY. We're a zone 5b on the USDA chart. Warm weather starts in March/April (crocus) and goes through October/November (tomato fruit-set). We get about 35 inches of precipitation a year, mostly rain (it rained all day today), but we have 3-4 weeks DRY in July. Winter can go as low as 15F, but rarely goes below 30F. The poultry have freerange over (currently) about 1-2 acres, probably farther when it warms up, and have access under a 2-line electric fence to our neighbors' horse pasture (poop). Our soil is badly eroded and overgrazed from the last owners - mostly clay with rock showing through, and we have let the old horse pastures fallow (neglected, to be precise) since we moved in a year and a half ago, and several sinkholes (common in this area). We have a small tractor ("now we belong" my husband said - it seemed to cure his concerns that we were crazy city people) with a sickle-bar mower and no other attachments. We've had chickens for 3 1/2 years.

    And, ahem, I'm not really great at building stuff. I'm getting better, but my husband usually has to rescue me part way through (well, he doesn't *have* to, but it comes out better when he does). We homeschool our 5 kids (21mo through 11yo) and are expecting #6 in June. The older kids are great at poultry care (except for reporting running low on pellets in a timely way) and actually pretty good builders...
    ... but anything I try to start has to be pretty simple. My husband is going to be grossed out by worms and flies, though my 9yo daughter will be thrilled.

    Thanks for any advice!

    no-longer-suburban soon-to-be-mom-of-6!

  2. Den in Penn

    Den in Penn Songster

    Dec 15, 2011
    SE Pa.
    If you garden, having the composted litter adds greatly to the benefits chickens bring. The scraps from the garden can be fed to the chickens. If you don't garden, the litter spread out will help with the eroded soil come back. Planting a pasture seed mix to increase the variety of plants on your range will help them find a balanced diet.
  3. HouseCat

    HouseCat Songster

    I grow and dry popcorn (the red "strawberry variety) and sunflowers. They are pretty low maintenance and definitely make a small difference in the winter. Next summer I want to try wheat, oats, and spelt for the grain as well as the straw.
    Also, if you have any micro breweries/distilleries in your area, you could ask their Head Brewer/Distiller if they have any "spent grain" you could have. Most breweries/distilleries (including the one I work at) will give it away for free to pig/cattle/poultry farmers. Just make sure you look it over because if it sets for too long, it can get moldy. Spent Grain is packed with protein and other goodies. You could also bring a couple emply milk containers and ask if they could be filled up with yeast slurry off of one of their light(er) hopped beers- no IPAs. They may tell you to come back until they're ready to keg but it's worth it. You can add the slurry to their rations (up to 20%) making a sort of porridge. Your chickens should love it.
    If you do end up getting more spent grain than you can use at the moment, have your dh build you some drying racks to dry out the rest of the grain and store it in some old scratch bags or, better yet, a plastic bucket. The drying racks are easily made out of some spare screen or shade clothe wrapped around a box frame. You could even pull the screens out of your windows to use in a pinch.
  4. frederic

    frederic Hatching

    Dec 16, 2012
    Whoua, feed in USA is much more cheaper than Thailand. We pay 15US$ per 30kg/bag and the selling price for eggs is: 1.20US$/dozen. I'm trying to make balanced diet for not more than 0.35US$/kg but it's not so easy.
    I'm new in chicken but I think free range, when possible, would be a great save on food.
    Anyway, I think the price you pay for food is interesting.
  5. QuirkySue

    QuirkySue Chirping

    Sep 19, 2012
    BC, Canada
    I'm pretty new to chickens but I've tried sprouting seeds in canning jars for more volume and nutrition. They love them. BOSS (Black oil sunflower) wheat and lentils work well. Next I want to try fermented feed and fodder ( there are really good threads on both, a search should turn them up).

    My chickens get leftovers, garden scraps or anything that isn't top quality for eating or processing. I save bacon grease and make them suet cakes with scratch grains.We also butcher two veal calves each year and the chickens get the offal organ meats, suet and meaty scrap soup bones. (All cooked). The butcher said we could take whatever unwanted suet or scrap we wanted on kill day because they pay for disposal so you might be able to get some free meat if you're not opposed to the idea.
  6. aggiemae

    aggiemae Songster

    Mar 18, 2012
    Salem Oregon
    My hens forage 60% of their food. I supplement the rest with free produce from our grocery store and ferment our grains because the hens now eat half of what they were previously eating of the same grains un fermented and the fermenting grains provide double the usable protein.

    We have five fat healthy chickens. I bought a 50 pound bag of whole oats for $8.00 in September and still have about 10 pounds. Aside for the (free) produce I also feed the chickens any cracked eggs and the use crush the shells as a (free) source of calcium. The only thing I pricy thing buy is active cultured yogurt. I do try to buy it close to expiration @ 1/2 price. i also but the occasional bottle of natural vinegar but it's not expensive. I grow out the pumpkins that volunteer in the compost and plant more between the rows of my garden and also sunflowers.We harvested 30 pounds of seed last fall. We also grow grubs in our compost bin and keep a worm bin for castings that gives us a couple of pounds of pure protein a year. I would feed them meat more often if I had a free or low cost source.

    But in any case, if you could even find them as fresh, a dozen eggs of the quality your hens are giving you would cost much more than $3.00 a dozen. I know they currently sell for $7.50 a dozen at our local farmers market.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013
  7. centrarchid

    centrarchid Free Ranging

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I grew up near the OP's location. We kept games and some where used in the sustainable fashion she is attempting. Adequate acreage is a must with some sort of livestock that is supplmented with grain helps. Effort must be maintained to restore fertility of soil and she must deal with fact egg production will slow when weather is extreme. During periods of extreme cold and drought, direct supplmentation with grains will be needed.

    One to two acres is not enough to support a family of seven when animals are an intermediate step providing nutrition.

    With respect to weather, I remember is going below 0 F each winter with at least a week or two of below 10 F. Rainfall is also not so consistent from year to year.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013

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