Saturday, August 27, 2016

Self reliance in chickens, part 1: feeding

Old English Game cock, appropriately named Tiny:  he's miniscule

Let's talk about self reliance in chicken food.

Bought feed

Since I have begun tracking chicken feed (a few months ago) it seems we regularly buy 40kg of feed per month.  At the moment we buy the premium layers pellets;  when we bought the cheaper pellets, our hens began laying soft-shelled eggs--we prefer the higher quality for good eggs.  It's about £22 per month (compared to about £12 a month for the cheap feed), to feed 16 chickens, not all of whom are laying (three cockerels and two young hens).

Actually, I just did the math, and it's approximately what we would pay for the same amount of eggs at the store (slightly more expensive than the cheapest caged eggs, a bit cheaper than cheapest free range).  Certainly our eggs are better quality than store bought eggs, even free range, so it's still a good deal.  However, if we could save a bit of that money, it'd go a long way towards self reliance.

Other food

Our chickens eat more than just feed, however.  They get regular access to sections of the lawn and garden.  They eat grass, weeds--in fact they prefer most weeds to grass:  our lawn is pretty much weed free now!  They also eat all kinds of bugs and slugs, snails, worms, woodlice, beetles...  And they eat the leaves off some of my plants if they can get them, both vegetables (not allowed!) and perennial ornamentals like roses, mallow, bamboo, daylily.

They also get any garden trimmings, including vegetable garden trimmings:  if I cut a lettuce or cabbage I'll give them the ragged outer leaves before taking it inside.  They get most of the weeds I pull, and can pick over leaves off any prunings before I toss them in the compost.

This other food is season dependent;  in summer they can hardly keep up with the grass on the lawn, while in winter they eat it down to bare earth;  I keep them on the beds--or in their permanent pen--for the most part in winter, to save the lawn.  While there is some growth in winter, there's not enough to give the chickens much of it;  this translates into more bought feed.

Other options

What else can we do to cut down on bought feed?  This time of year is good for gathering and storing food for us people, but how about food for the birds?  Here's some ideas I've been thinking and/or reading about:
  • Wild blackberries:  we pick these for ourselves, but a lot are wormy.  Chickens don't mind!
  • Other wild fruits:  apples, rosehips, sloes, hawthorn berries, etc
  • Dried leaves of their favorite weeds:  dandelion, clover, dock, etc.  These could be gathered and dried in bunches in the garage, and added to feed, either dry or reconstituted
  • Make silage out of grass clippings or weeds to feed in winter
  • Collect wild acorns or other nuts (crush with a sledge hammer before feeding)
  • Collect seeds of other weeds:  dock, nettle, goosegrass, etc
My goal is to reduce their feed by half per month.  That's one bag of layers pellets.  I guess I better get to work!

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