There is organic feed on the market that uses non-GM corn and soy; it is very expensive. I’m looking for something affordable and easy to obtain and sustain. That means searching for acceptable alternatives to corn and soy that the chickens will eat and that are readily available. This way of feeding chickens will be more labor intensive than opening a bag of feed, but (hopefully) worth the effort.
When it comes to protein in livestock feed, soy is king. At first, it was overwhelming to come up with a suitable alternative. The Internet supplied some answers. There is a company that makes feed for chickens and pigs that contains no corn or soy. Reading the labels got me headed in the right direction, as did Andy Lee’s chicken books.
Animal protein is usually not an ingredient in standard chicken feed, even though chickens are omnivores. Free ranging chickens eat bugs, dead animals and even rodents. When I feed Kent’s Extra Egg, which contains fish meal, my chickens lay better and have better overall condition. Some form of animal protein will replace some of the soy in the new ration. What can I grow or source that will give my chickens the protein they need while avoiding soy?
This easy to grow pond weed is often a nuisance because it is so prolific. Chickens and ducks relish this nutritious plant and it can supply 25% of the diet. According to the Centre for Duckweed Research & Development, duckweed contains up to 43% crude protein.
There is plenty of this stuff growing around our homestead. I started with three root pieces about eleven years ago and the comfrey flourished. “The Alternative Crop’s Manual” lists the protein content at 15 – 30%. I have never seen my chickens eat fresh comfrey even though they have access to it. When I dried it, they gobbled it right up.
I thought finding a source for field peas would be easy. Not so! The grain mills will have some peas for planting available in the spring. That will be fine as long as they are untreated. The best information I could find on this crop was from a 2002 NDSU publication. At that time, 70% of the field peas grown in this country were exported. For folks feeding just a few hens, the split peas that you buy in the grocery store are field peas and contain 24.5 % protein. Lentils are also high in protein. I soak both of these for a day to soften them for the chickens.
Now we get into creepy crops. You can grow your own nutrient-rich insects and choose among meal worms, super worms
, compost worms, black soldier flies or roaches. Meal worms we’ve grown for a home school project and they were easy to house in a Tupperware container. Super worms are like a much larger model of the meal worm. Compost worms are definitely worth a second glance since they can turn kitchen waste into a valuable garden amendment plus feed the birds. I am intimately familiar with roaches from living in Florida for 15 years. Frankly, they make my hair stand on end. If roaches don’t make you shudder, there are several varieties that are grown for gecko food. I’ve seen a lot of discussion about black soldier flies in various forums, so how-to-grow info is readily available.
I’ve found the easiest source is the packing house. We buy meat for our dogs that’s referred to as something like “sled dog”. Everything that is not packaged for sale is ground up. The dogs and chickens love it.
A brief search yielded no source that sold this product. Some people are feeding Koi fish food to their chickens. I need to do more reading on what else besides fish meal is in this type of food.
Whole Grains/Sprouted Grains
There are, of course, plenty of grains that can be fed to chickens. My birds like wheat, barley, oats, bran and linseed meal. Soaking the grains for 12-24 hours makes the nutrients more available to the birds.
Sprouting grains for chickens is fairly simple and increases the availability of nutrients and enzymes. I use a simple system composed of an ice cream bucket and drain buckets with holes drilled in them. I soak the grain for 12 hours and then dump in a drain bucket. I do this everyday and feed the grain on day four or five when it has small sprouts.
If you are intrigued enough to want to grow your own protein sources, place a call to your local pet store to see what is available. You may be able to pick up some duckweed, meal worms or super worms and try your luck with these.
Please comment with thoughts and advice. Feel free to share how you plan to work around the Franken Food and still feed your livestock a balanced diet. I’d like this blog to be a place where we can share ideas on how best to avoid the calamity of tainted food.
Ideas for Further Reading
Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil, Homestead (3rd) Edition by Andy Lee
The Worm Book: The Complete Guide to Gardening & Composting with Worms by Loren Nancarrow
Sprouting to Enhance Poultry Feed by Harvey Ussery
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