Chicken feed Beyond the basics

Chickens eating buckwheatWhen it comes right down to
it, the success of a permaculture chicken flock is based on food. 
Do you just go out and buy 50 pound bags of milled grain from the feed
store, or do you try to make homegrown feeds nourish the flock 10%,
50%, or 100% of the time?

Harvery Ussery’s The
Small-Scale Poultry Flock
includes far more
information on feed than I can even tantilize you with in a short
post.  However, here are some questions to get you started.

your chickens get all three food groups every day?
  Ussery suggests that
chickens need three main types of food: high vitamin green plants; high
nutrient seeds and fruits; and animals (whether that’s bugs or beef

you ask your chickens to forage or do you let them act like couch
I’ve talked about several options for enticing your chickens out of the
coop, including
a daily ration rather than free choice feeding
and experimenting with
lowering feeding rates until production suffers (then raising the rates
to just above this critical window.)  Ussery adds other ways to
stretch your feed dollars, such as culling nonproductive birds,
stacking grazers with chickens, and buying only quality feed so your
chickens waste less.

of storebought feed, is yours fresh?
  For best nutrition
(and least picky eating), the kind of feed you buy pre-milled in 50
pound bags should be fed within the first two weeks after the grain was
ground, and definitely no later than 45 days after milling.  Older
feed actually suppresses your chickens’ appetitites — it just doesn’t
taste good.  Feed companies have to put the milling date on the
tags of their bags of feed, but the companies tend to hide that data
quite carefully, so you may need to call up the manufacturer and ask
which number is the date and how to interpret their code.

you feed your chickens weeds?
  If you have a garden
as well as a flock of chickens, this is one of the easiest ways (beyond
feeding chicken scraps) to nourish your flock for free.  True, all
of the weeds from your garden are going to fit into the “green plant”
food group, but that’s the category that’s most often missing from
overgrazed runs.  Ussery notes that his flock especially enjoys
prickly lettuce, purslane, dandelions, lamb’s quarter, yellow dock, and

Homegrown grains for chickensCan you set aside at least
one garden bed to grow seeds for your chickens?
  I put this tip further
down the list because if you’re not growing all of your own vegetables,
you probably don’t want to “waste” that space growing grains for your
birds.  But if you’ve got room, some of the easiest
chicken-friendly grains to grow at home include corn,
sunflowers, sorghum (Ussery says his
flock prefers the ornamental variety called broomcorn), and
amaranth.  Most of these grains
can be cut stalk and all and strung up on rat-proof lines under the
eaves of your chicken coop to dry and store until winter.

about food from the wild?
  Ussery gets into some
experimental territory here, running white oak acorns through his
grinder to feed the flock.  He cracks wild hickories and black
walnuts by hand for his chickens and also suggests (but hasn’t himself
tried) hazelnuts, chesnuts, and mulberries.  (
chickens turned up their noses at cracked chestnuts
, but yours might be less

can you get cheap, high quality animal feed?
  Remember the last food
group — animals?  That’s tougher to find for your flock, but
Ussery has a few suggestions.  He grows
soldier fly larvae

and also feeds
the flock skim milk and whey; cracked or filthy eggs; offal, liver, and
blood from slaughtering; and roadkill opened with a hatchet.  I
know some of you will think these options are just plain gross, but
chickens are omnivores, and especially in the winter when wild bugs are
scarce, they
get a real hankering for meat. 

By the way, if you don’t
want to rush out and buy Ussery’s book (although I think you should),
you can find a lot of fascinating tidbits on
, which is
also the source of the photos in this post.

Our chicken waterer washes down homegrown food
with clean water.

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