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WELCOME TO CHICKENFEED!
We are just beginners here, looking for knowledge and health, wanting to start out right. Beginners like us usually choose to use commercial mixed feeds, and supplement with our own blends as we learn more. The many questions that arise can best be answered at the
ChickenFeed group at Yahoo!Groups. Please enjoy this website, and post anything and everything that you find of interest.
The Basics of What Chickens Need
For more detail, go also to the Recipes page and the Feed Instructions page.
Man has the dirtiest mouth of any animal. Getting
bitten by a human is far more likely to lead to infection than any other kind of bite. Why? Because we eat more kinds of things than any other animal on earth. So, because there is a greater variety of food for organisms in our mouths, we have more kinds of organisms growing there than any other animal has.
Man has mastered all kinds of situations, and has grown to a very high degree of dietary versatility. Animals are not so "fortunate". They must have very precise types of food, at precise times. Some more than others, of course. Domesticated animals, living with man for the last several millennia, have adapted to man's diet to a far greater extent than wild animals.
Chickens are one of man's closest domesticated friends. They, like dogs, have grown to eat many of the foods of their keepers. But chickens cannot be assumed to just "make it" on any kind of stuff. They will probably "make it" on man's junk food, but they won't be as healthy as they could be, nor will they be much good as egg layers, unless they are fed the basics of what they need. And mold or salt in table scraps and old grains can quickly kill a chicken.
WHAT CHICKENS NEED (It's simple!)
1. Grains (whole, living grains are way better than cracked, and a mixture is way better than pure corn)
2. Greens (grass! weeds! fresh veggie parings from kitchen!)
3. Protein (in summer, they get enough bugs -- but in colder weather they need protein supplementation, including perhaps the following: yellow-jackets from restaurant traps, soybeans -- see below, worms, milk, meat --- but sea fish is the very best)
And WATER, WATER, WATER.
Chickens won't always search far for food or
water. Sometimes they won't even go around a
see-through fence to get it. And they need lots
of water, especially when laying. We put the
water dish right by the door of their coop,
where they can get it every time they go by.
They can die of salt toxicity in a few hours
if not given water at all times. They will shun dirty water, so make a point to keep it fresh using the BAMN method (By Any Means Necessary).
If they're Fenceless Free Range, that's about it. But if you keep them penned up most or all of the time, even in a largish yard, you will also need to make sure
they get . . .
4. Hard grit (do not confuse this with
oyster shell or calcium --- these dissolve
in the chicken's digestive system, grit
does not --- grit is used in place of "teeth"); quartz-based sand with angular edges (not rounded, as often is found in riverbeds) can be collected wherever you find it.
5. Calcium (crushed oyster shell, other
shells, ground or hammered bone) (There's
lots of calcium in greens, if they get to
forage all day.)
6. Vitamins A (and D if the weather is cloudy for long stretches)
7. Salt (best given separately, free choice; kelp is the very supreme choice for this, if you can get it --- it supplies all the minerals in the world --- see below)
Producing a huge lump of protein in the form
of an egg every day doesn't leave room for
erratic protein consumption. A 5-ounce egg is to a five-pound chicken what a 9-pound egg is to a person weighing 150 pounds (so to speak). To produce this lump of pure protein is thus something like giving birth to a baby, every day! That protein needs to be replaced through the diet!
If you're confining your chickens at all, even in a largish yard, and feeding them only one pre-mixed type of feed, you need to blend in the correct proportion of grains and protein. See the protein section for mixing grains and protein. (Contact our Feed Experts if in question, but not until reading the Protein section.)
If your birds are Fenceless Free Range, you don't need to mix the protein into the feed. Rather, let them have a special protein
dish in the morning or afternoon. An ideal one, that will keep them laying all Winter, is soybeans, mixed with a little bit of instant oats, a few nuts, and milk for variety. Or, some fresh fish you have left over. They really love canned ~~ unsalted! ~~ fish, but it's usually too expensive for the usual fare. Unless you have a good source. There are all sorts of ways to make your chickens happy as well as healthy. And happy chickens aim to please; they are not so prone to bad habits. For some real fun, see the "Traditional Recipes" section for how supplementary feeding was done in the Old Days.
Also, we're really interested in getting into worms
for protein! Another great, unused protein resource is the plethora of yellow jackets that are caught in traps near restaurants around the world. The attractant in those traps(1) is not a poison, it is just an odor; (2) is not consumed by the yellow jackets, and (3) is highly volatile anyway, meaning that any trace that might be on them will disappear after removing the (dead) yellow jackets from the trap. Chickens will instinctively avoid the dead yellow jackets at first, but their curiosity and good sense will quickly win out, and they'll gobble them up whenever they see you bringing them. Many restaurants will happily give you their yellow jackets. Or, offer to put up a trap for them yourself, at a restaurant that you see has a problem with yellow jackets. (In which case, study the directions for placing the trap thoroughly, to avoid causing a highway of yellow jackets that patrons might cross!)
Here's what we currently give our chickens:
Scratch grain mix, from feed store,
containing many kinds of grain ($5/50 lb)
Extra yellow corn (cracked) ---
it gives them warmth in the winter, we're told
GRAINS MUST NEVER BE WET AND MOLDY --
Kitchen trimmings (thrown in the compost
pile near their coop)
PROTEIN (MAINLY SOYBEANS)
Every morning (quantity for 12 chickens): 3/4ths cup of boiled soybeans
~~ (make a batch every week or so: SOAK 2 cups of dried soybeans in three or four times the volume of water overnight; bring to ROLLING BOIL in the same soaking water for 15 minutes; DRAIN; STORE in fridge) mixed
with 1 cup of instant oats, some sunflower seeds,
milk to moisten, warmed up.
Every other afternoon, same thing, with
some fish flakes, bits of scrap fish, or some canned
Crushed, is kept in their coop, $5 for 50 lbs
Dried kelp fronds (the leafy parts, not the stalks, which are too hard to
chop up and don't get eaten) are kept in their coop on a sturdy clip. They
can free-choose it, letting them adjust their salt and
mineral intake. There are nearly 100 minerals on Earth. Only sea water and sea life has them in the ratios that animals need. All blood of animals contains these minerals, in the same proportions as in sea water! Scientists have barely scratched the surface of understanding all the things that these minerals do in living bodies. For optimum health, it's best to get all of them.
Just gather a mess of kelp off any beach that is more than 50 miles from a city, sling it into a garbage bag and take it home. At home, set it out in the yard, and in a very short while, it will be dry and crisp. Take the flakey parts, and clip them about a foot off the ground where your chickens frequently go --- those document clips with a black "hinge" and two folding silver "arms" work best.
Collect angular granite grit from trips to areas that have it. Tiny chicks need tiny grit, so get a variety of sizes. A little lasts a long time. The girls will pick and
choose a few choice pieces now and then. Fun to watch them study and try out the different grains of grit.
See the "Family Poultry" feed instructions section for a published account of standard feeding practices for small flocks of chickens.
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Types of Feed
Mash: a blend of several feed ingredients, ground to a small size but not to a powder
Pellets: small kernels of compressed mash, causing birds to eat the whole blend, not pick and choose
Crumbles: pellets broken up into smaller pieces
Starter: a blend of feed for chicks and growing birds, usually in the form of mash; approximately the same as "Grower"; can be replaced with "adult" food as soon as chicks go for it, somewhere between 4 and 8 weeks of age
Grower: approximately the same as "Starter"
Layer: feed blend for chickens that are laying eggs, having extra calcium and protein added
Broiler: feed blend for chickens that are growing as fast as possible, in order to be harvested for meat as early as possible
Scratch: whole grains fed separately to chickens, usually scattered on the ground or litter of the coop; usually a mixture of grains, such as wheat, rye, oats, etc. (corn/maize must be cracked before using as scratch grain)
Concentrate: a blend of protein-rich foods, plus any other nutrients desired; usually fed together with a grain ration
Grit: angular, hard crushed rock, preferably from granite, used by the chickens in place of "teeth" --- seashells and bone CANNOT substitute for grit; for confinded birds, grit should be offered several times a month at least; it should be of the right size for the age of the bird (see Baby Chicks page); birds allowed to free range don't need to be offered grit -- they find their own ideal sizes and types to suit themselves
Corn: American term meaning maize corn, or "corn on the cob" (in England "corn" means what grain means in the US, that is, all food grains)
Grain: American term meaning any small, hard seeds, especially grass-family seeds (called corn in England); provides energy, B vitamins, phosphorus, and the whole grains are a fair source of protein, too
Bran: the outer coating of a kernel of grain; extremely high in silicon, which slows down its decomposing in the soil; cheap by-product of milling, often given away free by large mills
Germ: the embryo plant inside a kernel of grain; very nutritious and high in protein; wheat and rice germ (also called "rice polish") are a saleable by-product of milling
Middlings: an old milling term for the parts of the kernel that are milled off with the germ, and probably contain both the starch and bran (please email me if you have more specific information :-)
Calcium: provided by sea shells, crushed bone, and fresh or dried greens --- amounts need to be measured closely, if not free range; must be provided in higher quantities as soon as chickens begin to lay eggs
Protein: any food high in amino acids, used to build tissues; protein quality is determined by the "completeness" of the amino acid varieties in the food source; all meats, eggs of all kinds, milk, cheese, nuts, seed germs, and soy beans are high protein sources
Amino acid: a molecule that is one building block of protein; there are many different amino acids, most of which can be manufactured in the body; the few that cannot must be supplied by foods, and are called "Essential Amino Acids"; a food that supplies all 8 essential amino acids is called "complete"
Vitamins: an old, general term meaning "life-giving"; a chemical found in nature or made by man to imitate natural ones; new vitamins, and new uses for known vitamins, are always being discovered
Minerals: non-life-created chemicals found in nature; these and vitamins can be added to dietary regimens to improve health; sea water contains all the minerals of the earth, in their natural forms and safe amounts; "trace minerals" are those needed in relatively very tiny amounts, and can be highly toxic if these amounts are exceeded; "macro-minerals" are those needed in large amounts, such as calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium
Kelp: sea-weed, plants that grow in the sea; contains all the minerals of the earth; all kelp is edible, and can easily be dried and fed to chickens by clipping a sheaf of it to something in their area (also, this replaces any need to add salt to their rations)
Methods of Raising Poultry
Free range: ideally, not controlled by fences, able to get to fresh greens and insects; as commercially used, this term allows fences, with minimum amount of space per bird set by government agency definition
Pastured poultry: hens kept in movable, usually wheeled, pens, moved daily over fresh pasture, creating delicious meat and the very most nutritious eggs (and very fertile pastureland, too)
Organic: inspected by government agencies, organic food sources must not contain traces of harmful chemicals; the term as currently used does not insure that poultry has been raised in the best possible way, only that it has near zero harmful ingredients
Types of Chickens
Pullets: female chickens in their first year of lay, or prior to their first moult; female baby chicks
Hens: female chickens in their second year of lay, or after their first moult
Straight Run: a random mixture of male and female baby chicks, usually less expensive than only pullets
Cockerels: male baby chicks; male young domestic fowl
Rooster: adult male chicken, or adult male of other domestic or non-domestic fowl
Broilers: chickens raised to be eaten
Meat birds: old term for broilers
Layers: chickens raised to be egg-layers
Layer-Broiler: chickens raised to be both egg-layer and to be eaten
Bantam: a miniaturized chicken of any breed; most breeds have a regular-size and a bantam variety
Banty: same as Bantam
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