Back in May, I wrote a blog post on “Feeding the Flock,” in which I explained how I change the types of feed my small flock of chickens eat: from the medicated starter that they briefly receive in their tiny little feeder when they are first hatched, until they are on layer pellets as adults. I ended the post with a question: What do you feed your chickens?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It’s partly because I’ve spent the summer and early fall reading about poultry farming, healthful eating, organic gardening and homesteading, but it’s also because I’ve been thinking about the effect of drought in some of the areas where grains for feed is grown. I have also become very conscious of what goes on my own plate — which led to thoughts of what’s on my chickens’ plates.
But I also know that easiest is not necessarily best. According to the reading I’ve done, foraging is likely the most desirable choice, especially for summer feeding, but that’s not really an option here. We are not able to safely free range our hens because of the close proximity of the road to the coop — we live on a narrow strip of land in a valley. On one side of the coop there’s the road; the other side is flanked with the hillside and home to an active red fox den. Red-tailed hawks nest in the trees, and dive-bomb mourning doves at my bird feeder for lunch. So, we keep the girls fenced in a good-sized run, and take them out a few at a time to forage in the small, screened summerhouse. I supplement commercial feed with greens and kitchen scraps, and on cool fall days or cold, snowy winter mornings I even offer a dish of warmed oatmeal, nuts and raisins.
Do you mix your own feed? I have two books giving specifics on growing and grinding grains, and the proper proportions to feed laying hens. According to Jay Rossier, in Living with Chickens, “Growing feed is a considerable effort and expense. … Mixing feed with the correct protein, carbohydrate, vitamin and mineral content is more easily done in the laboratory.” Even so, he notes, there are reasons for avoiding commercial feed, ranging “from the use of pesticides, petrochemicals, and patented seed in the production of the feed to the inclusion of medications in the rations. ”My well-thumbed copy of Harvey Ussery’s The Small-Scale Poultry Flock has an entire section devoted to flock feeding, which includes a chapter entitled “Making Our Own Feeds,” in which he promotes the process as “fun.” Lisa at Fresh Eggs Daily has some other suggestions for mixing feed at home.
What do you do? What do your chickens eat?