Feeding the chooks

I’ve been fed up lately with the rising cost of organic chicken feed. It’s gone up from $30 to $40, probably due in part to the storms and drought through the corn belt last year, which means that during their best laying months, my girls’ egg output is just covering the cost of their room and board, with a few dollars profit. During the winter months though, it means we’re actually paying to have chickens.

I could go non-organic, of course; conventional feed only costs $20/bag. But then I’d have to lower my egg prices too, so that wouldn’t actually help.

In a bid to become more self-reliant, I began researching how to make my own chicken feed, instead. My first email was to Ohiofarmgirl, of course – a better internet farm pal could not be had! She grew sunflowers and wheat for her chickies last year, so I knew she’d have some good advice, and she did. She sent me a couple links, which I followed to a couple more links…

I found this article Choice-Feeding of Small Laying Hen Flocks, which strikes me as brilliant.

You have 2-3 food dispensers: one for carbs/protein, one for vitamins/supplements, and one for grit/calcium. Chickens are smart enough to balance their own diets, so your only concern is providing a good balance of grains that add up to the right percentage of proteins (around 16% for layers, 20% for roosters and chicks).

Blue Viola Farm blogged about how to make soy-free chick starter from cat food, wheat, and alfalfa, among other things. But I didn’t want just soy-free, I wanted organic. I did find some organic catfood (did you know Newman’s Own isn’t just for salad dressing any more?) but at $20 (on sale!) for 14 pounds it sure wasn’t a cheaper option.

I did find a simple formula calculator through her site though, that would enable me make sure that my grain mix hits the right percentage of protein. It’s called Pearson’s Square, and it’s beautiful in its simplicity.

The site also includes a list of grains and their protein content, for added ease of calculation.

So, ok. I’d decided I could do free-choice feeding, and I figured out how to calculate my grain mix… the only thing left was to source the organic grains. The easiest part, right? …. right?

Well, no.

While there are plenty of organic whole grains available in bulk 50 pound quantities for human consumption, paying $80 for 40 lbs of organic wheat berries is not cheaper than buying a $40 bag of complete, pre-mixed feed. Turns out, at least in my area organic grains are sold (and priced!) for human consumption only.

Sadly, this means that making my own organic chicken feed is simply not a viable option for me at this time.

There are a couple cost-cutting methods remaining to me.

1) go conventional, but soy-free, and make my own. Actually, this wouldn’t really save me money, but it has different health benefits. I may use it on my broilers rather than my layers; I just have to decide if I’m more scared of pesticide or phytoestrogen accumulation in my meat birds’ flesh.

2) supplement by growing my own. I don’t have the space to grow multiple 50-pound bags of wheat by any means, but I am growing a few sunflowers and I could grow a small patch or two of grains and alfalfa. I can grow some sugar pumpkins (we’re not fond of them for eating, we prefer butternuts), and I could do a better job of foraging acorns in the Fall. Additionally if I invested in some fencing I could greatly expand their foraging territory, to more than an acre of woods for 10-15 hens. This article from The Modern Homestead provides some interesting options too – comfrey, mangel beets, etc.

At this point it seems like growing earthworms or grubs might be one of my better options… ugh, that’s all I need, more livestock to worry about feeding!

2 Responses to “Feeding the chooks”

  1. ohiofarmgirl Says:

    great thoughts – and all good info! yay! and yep sometimes starting with supplementing is just fine. and really, we love to just open the door and say, get out there and free range chickens! just got to keep them out of the garden.

  2. Diana Guillermo Says:

    Yes ma’am, my thoughts exactly! Our chooks freerange on about a 1/4 acre of woods, but we hadn’t fenced our additional wooded acre because of the cost, mostly. But it ocurred to me that it’s just sitting there empty, breeding ticks and earthworms that my chooks could be rooting up (and keeping grass off the garden fenceline). So that’s my newest project. As soon as I get these garden gates built and spring planting done… hopefully sometime before the Fall!

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