Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chicken Feed

A year ago we started mixing our own chicken feed using mostly whole grains. We have fed the same mix to our layers, starters (I ground it up for the new chicks), meat birds and ducks. I thought that I would continue to research this topic and after observing our birds, make slow changes to their feed recipe. The birds have been thriving so I hadn't ever revisited the feed recipe or done any further research, until now.

Recently I started trying to figure out exactly how much our chicken feed recipe was costing, the post is here. You can see my original chicken feed recipe and the sources I used to come up with it here. I've been wanting to get a better idea of the nutritional content of the different ingredients and how they work together. Conclusions that I have come to are that our current recipe is too expensive, too high in corn and not diverse enough.

Here is the recipe that I have been using for the most part of this last year, if you check out the original recipe I began with, you'll notice it has changed a bit. This totals to about 80-85 Ib and lasts us about two weeks. I often make a double batch, one batch per tub side by side. If I don't have to move bags of feed, the process of dumping, mixing and moving the feed into lidded garbage cans takes less than a half hour. I usually mix it on a weekend so I can crack a beer and mix in peace (without assistance from the kids who would double the time) which makes for an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
  1. 30 Ib cracked corn
  2. 20Ib whole wheat berries, white or red, winter or spring, or a mix
  3. 10 Ib whole barley (local)
  4. 10Ib whole oats (local I think)
  5. 4-5 Ib alaskan salmon meal
  6. 3 -4 Ib flax seed
  7. 2-3 Ib kelp meal
  8. 1 Ib salt
  9. 1/4 - 1/2 Ib herbal vitamin supplement
Changes I made this week are that I added 5 Ib sunflower seeds and 5 Ib split peas.

Other things we feed the chickens regularly:
  1. kitchen scraps: veggie, bread, dairy and meat scraps that are not spoiled
  2. kombucha tea ( provides beneficial yeasts and acids, immune boosting, detoxifying)
  3. kefired raw goat milk (when in season, most the year, not now- beneficial yeast and bacteria in a symbiotic relationship - takes the place of dried yeast and probiotics)
  4. grit and oyster shell  provided at all times
  5. wormer and anti parasitic herbal formulas as needed
  6. Brome and occasionally alfalfa hay
  7. As of this past week I've started sprouting various grains and legumes and have been feeding the chickens several cups of sprouts a day. I hope to continue this practice at least through the winter until the chickens can get out and forage.
I still don't know as much as I'd like to about the ingredients we are using, so my current investigation is far from over. Here is a link to Lionsgrip, a site that offers chicken feed recipes and nutritional information. This particular entry is titled Is your feed to corny? The following are a few things I've learned about chicken feed lately:

A high protein diet is important. From chick starter to broiler grower protein levels range from seventeen to twenty two percent. Most processed chicken feeds have a large amount of ground soy meal to the feed, in addition to fish meal. I have declined to use soy in our chicken feed for a number of reasons, partly because eighty five percent of soy in our country is from genetically engineered sources, in addition to containing large amounts of pesticides. There are a number of other health concerns associated with soy products which you can easily look up if you are so inclined.

In the Lionsgrip nutrition article I just linked to, I read about the importance of B vitamins in the chicken's diet. Too much or too little of any of the various B vitamins can lead to deficiency related health problems. The source suggested that most feeds use synthetic B vitamins which are quickly depleted and not as helpful as those directly from legume and grain seeds.The following is a list of the ingredients we are using and what little I know about them:
  • Corn: provides energy and fat. Feed more in the winter, less in summer. Often makes up a large percentage of processed chicken feed. Downside is that a large percentage of corn comes from genetically engineered sources. It often contains high levels of pesticides which build up in animal fat and are transferred to the consumer. 9% protein. Low levels of B vitamins and most vitamins and minerals.
  • Wheat Berries: There are spring and winter wheat berries, hard and soft. Depending on the variety protein content varies from 11 to 15 percent. Supplies moderate amounts of other vitamins and minerals
  • Oats and Barley: oats are 14 percent protein, barley 12 percent. One of my original sources said never to have Barley or Oats make up more than fifteen percent of the chicken feed, whether alone or combined. I feed more than this fifteen percent, but I do check myself when it comes to these ingredients despite wanting to use more of them as they are inexpensive and local, nine dollars for a fifty pound bag. I feed them whole. 
  • Fish Meal: May be one of the healthiest and most natural protein sources with the exception of living bugs or worms. 60 % protein. Increases Omega 3 fatty acids in the eggs.
  • Kelp Meal: dried seaweed, great source of vitamins and minerals
  • Flax Seed: Boosts omega three fatty acids in eggs. High in B vitamins and minerals
  • Black Oil Sunflower Seeds: high in fat, minerals and B vitamins
A couple ingredients I've been looking at adding to our recipe are whole or split green peas. They are high in protein and cost about seven dollars plus shipping for a twenty five pound bag. I'm also looking at lentils which are also very high in protein. I guess before the soybean revolution farmers fed their livestock a much more varied diet of legumes. Now it is rare to see legumes of any kind in feed recipes except soy beans and alfalfa. 

I noticed that our local feed store is finally carrying organic chicken feeds ranging from twenty two to twenty seven dollars a fifty pound bag. Most of my feed ingredients are not organic, although I wish I had access to more organic whole grains at reasonable prices. Mixing chicken feed is not rocket science. I do see why people are intimidated by coming up with their own recipes. After reading about B vitamins I started worrying about whether I was giving the birds too little or too much of something. Chickens are resilient, as are our own bodies. I eat too many sweets and dairy, too many red meats and not enough fish or organ meats. I don't pull out a nutrition chart for every meal. Everything is a balance. I am trying to feed my chickens a healthy whole grain diet (natural and local when possible). 

Despite not being formulated by scientists,  I think there is a good chance that my chicken feed is healthier than the processed organic feed sold in crumbles and pellets, primarily because I am using whole grain. Organic or not, processed animal feed is generally not quality ingredients to begin with, and then what nutrition is in the grains to begin with is lost once ground, pressed and sprinkled with synthetic vitamins and minerals before being put in a bag for months. As I make changes in the chickens diet I'll be calculating costs and keeping an eye on the birds health. For now I am feeling pretty good about my chicken's diet, and beings that we eat their eggs and will at some time eat them, I'd say that is a good thing.



Anonymous said...

I have been feeding my chickens whole grains (corn, wheat, barley, and oats) that I sprout. I sprout them in buckets, and the chickens devour them

Emily said...

I'll have to try sprouting corn. It feels great to be feeding something living to the chickens this time of year.

Michelle said...

Your feed recipe looks good. Where do you get your Alaskan salmon meal from?

Emily said...

Michelle, I buy the Alaskan Salmon Meal from the Alaska Feed Store on college rd. I would imagine that the other feed stores in town would carry it as well.

Michelle said...

We're in Michigan, so I'll have to hunt around for it or order it online. I haven't see it in the feed stores around us, but perhaps I could request it. Thanks!

Emily said...

Michelle, you might not find AK Salmon meal easily but there may may be other types of fish meal available at your local feed store. There are numerous brands that not only contain different types of fish, but also have different methods of processing - some retain the nutrients better than others. I was thankful to find a somewhat local source of wild salmon kiln dried fish meal.

Callie Brady said...

We feed our chickens organic feed. I had never thought of mixing our own feed. You have done a lot of research. Great post! Thank you.

Callie Brady said...

We feed our chickens organic feed. I had never thought of mixing our own feed. You have done a lot of research. Great post! Thank you.

Jackie said...

Recently, I have begun looking into raising pastured chickens and making a whole grain feed(hopefully organic). Whole grains are healthier and they should sprout if not eaten which provides another source of food and less waste. As you, I don't want to use soybeans and just a minimal amt. of corn, if any. Some of the things I have found that may be helpful to increase Vitamin B, Omega 3 and other nutrients are mung beans and purslane. Hoping to get started soon but a bit overwhelmed at this point. My husband is calling this the golden egg as I have yet to purchase any chickens and have spent a bundle just trying to get ready for this new venture. :)

Emily said...

doing your research ahead of time is the responsible way to venture into animal husbandry. Mung beans should be a great source of protein. Other grains I'd like to incorporate into our feed would be quinuoa and amaranth if they were cheaper. Last I checked the cheapest legumes I could find were lentils and whole peas, which both do better sprouted or ground. Another free idea of protein I thought of recently is siberian pea shrub which people often use as hedges here. If I had the time to gather seed pods that would be a great source of protein.Or I could plant a hedge somewhere the chickens range-someday.

Carrie said...

Wow, hats off to your super-healthy, home-made chicken feed! It is intimidating though. I am a mother of two also, and have chickens and goats as well so I can't imagine having the time to mix that every few weeks.

I am lucky that I have found organic lay pellets near me. I worry most about GMO grains.

I hope that every mother will see a movie called "The Future of Food" - an very thorough look at all aspects of the GMO crop issue.

Emily said...

Carrie, it is really nothing. At first I was more precise about measurements. I was concerned something might be lacking and I'd have mutant chickens. Well now, spending twenty minutes mixing feed every couple weeks is nothing. Scoop out some buckets of this and that, mix it together and voila. I fed organic and sometimes non organic crumbles to our meat birds and turkeys this summer and didn't feel so good about it, but they had a harder time with the whole grains. Pellets and crumbles just seem so foreign and unnatural, but at the same time that is what is standard.

Pork scratchings suppliers said...

Recently, I started looking at chicken farming and grazing takes a whole grain food (hopefully organic). Whole grains are healthier and should germinate if not eaten which is another source of food and less waste. Like you, I do not want to use soy and only a minimal AMT. Corn, in his case. Some of the things I've discovered that can be useful in increasing vitamin B, Omega 3 and other nutrients are mung beans and purslane. Hoping to start soon, but a little overwhelmed at this time. My husband is calling this the golden eggs that I have yet to buy any chickens and have passed a set trying to prepare for this new venture.

Chanan, Rachael and Hope said...

HI Emily, enjoy your posts. very wise and informative to say the least. I am like Jackie here...I have just started and I am spending alot to just get started. I want to raise some grain and greens over the summer and have it for my fall chicken project. BUT your mix is very overwhelming for me. I had no clue anybody fed their chickens like that. How did you decide all of that mix was needed? What would be a more simple but still meet the nutritional needs of the chickens?
Can you post on my blog at: http://heirloomforlifefarm.blogspot.com/

Emily said...

One of my guiding principles with feeding the animals is that the more diverse their diet, the healthier. Especially here in Fairbanks, the chickens are only free ranging for bugs and greens six months out of the year. So, it is up to me to make sure they are getting everything they need in their feed. If one is trying to lower the overall cost, sprouting the seeds and grains you are feeding increases their nutrients and you get more for your money. Also growing your own, or foraging for wild greens to feed the chickens would be way to do it. You want to make sure the chickens have a vitamin source, kelp plays that role in my feed recipe. They need a protein source, I use fish meal. You could also raise or dig worms, people even raise fly maggots or let meat rot and feed the maggots, not quite my style, but inexpensive protein sources. Then they need energy and fat sources. Some grains provide more than others. If I had to choose one grain to feed, regardless of cost it would be wheat berries. Oats and barley are the cheapest and provide the least, unless you sprout them. Sunflower seeds and corn both provide fat, which may not be needed everywhere, but I think our chickens do better with them in the winter at least. To initially buy all the individual ingredients may be daunting. But some items like kelp and fish meal we buy twice a year. The oats, barley and wheat berries bi-monthly. Once you get in the groove it is not complicated or more costly that buying crumbles, just getting started is. Our birds look really healthy right now, we are getting six to ten firm orange eggs a day. We haven't had any chickens die in months and have no pecking or bald chickens. And they have pretty much been indoors for the last two months as we've had consistently cold weather.

If you want to simplify your chicken feed I'd suggest leaving out oats or barley. Corn or sunflower seeds.

If you are trying to reduce costs, leave out wheat berries and sun seeds but sprout your oats and barley. You could also forego the kelp but then you need to buy a vitamin for their water, which wouldn't be as good but certainly cheaper.

I know you asked for me to post on your blog, but I'm short on time today and that was just one too many extra steps. Take care, and good luck with your chicken adventures, Emily

Beth said...

I appreciate that your recipie is simpler than many I have seen. I still don't know how to source a lot of these things without huge shipping costs......how do you find out about local sources?

Emily said...

Beth, as far as finding out about local ingredient source, your local feed store(s) is good place to start. Ask for a list of the grains or products they sell and where they come from. Or if that is not available ,make a list of the ingredients you are interested in and ask about them. If the store help doesn't know, ask to see the bags and look at the labels. Sometimes they will carry the same product from two different sources, at different prices. Asking around with any other farmers you know, looking at feed store bulletins, farmers markets, googling local farms and then asking where they buy their supplies. Buying local can often be more expensive, but if you drive to the source and buy in bulk you can come out cheaper for the better product. Corn is half as much at our Walmart, while we are trying to reduce the amount of corn we feed, it is worth buying at the box store. Wheat berries are cheaper through our food coop than the feed store- by a lot, so we order those through the mail. I thought our health food store would be a better source, but their mark up on shipping was too much. good luck.

chiro1973 said...

Do those of you who feed sunflower seeds feed them shell on and ground into feed, shell on whole or shelled?


Emily said...

Whole black oil sunflower seeds. Not shelled, not crushed.

Jeanine said...

I am wondering how your meat birds turn out with this recipe. I have been making my own feed as well since this past summer and we love it! Very similiar recipe. I avoid soy like the plague so this was a big motivator as all chicken feed in the us contains it. Anyways, we want to raise some meat birds this spring but are concerned about protein content. I have heard that they require 21% or more protein. I do not believe our current feed provides this, though we are not using fish meal right now. Do your meat birds taste the same as other chicken you've eaten in the past? We are thinking of cornish crosses breed, but that's just the typical meat bird, what breed did you use for meat? Thanks so much for your response!!

Emily said...

We haven't been consistent in feeding this feed recipe to our meat birds. We tend to start them on it, coursely ground, but then end up feeding organic chicken crumbles. I was concerned about the lack of protein as well. The first year we were feeding this to our turkeys and meat birds, but at ten weeks, they were still not as big as I wanted them. We finished them on organic grower and they really packed on the pounds in their final weeks, we ended up letting them go fifteen weeks or so. I decided then that it as long as we were sticking with cornish cross, we should feed grower crumbles. Last year we harvested at twelve-thirteen weeks and had 4-9 lb birds. I'm thinking of trying a slow growing meat bird this year, maybe the freedom rangers. I'm debating what to feed them. It may take too much effort for their bodies to break down the whole grains, so maybe sprouted or coursely ground grains and legumes. If you are trying to stay away from processed grains, I would suggest adding salmon meal, maybe other meat or bone meal. Peas, legumes-alfalfa meal, lentils and quinuoa are high in protein.

Charity said...

I know this is an old post, but I'll comment anyhow.
I also live in AK, about 4 hours southeast of Fairbanks and keep a flock of 18 laying chickens (well one is a rooster). Most of them are buff orpingtons. I transitioned to feeding entirely home mixed feed this past fall about 4 months ago, though we were adding in whole grains in some way or another the past 2 years.
I was wondering why you were not supposed to feed chickens barley and oats in great quantity since those grains make up the bulk of my birds diet. They have been doing fine and I get about 10-12 eggs a day from my 17 hens right now. It will probably go up in the spring when its warmer with more natural light. My feed right now is:
50 lbs Delta oats
13 lbs BOSS
@5 lbs flax meal
8 lbs split peas
1/2 cup or so vitamin mix

I feed half this and half Delta barley for their regular ration. Everything I don't get directly from Delta (both barley and oats are $8 for 50 lbs there) I get in Fairbanks, usually at Alaska Feed.
Now I know this isn't perfect, and I plan to make some adjustments soon, such as adding fish meal and kelp, but so far the birds seem to do well on it.
I estimate I spend 30-40 cents a lb. I also feed oyster shell and grit and all our kitchen scraps, meat scraps from wild game and fish, and wheatgrass that I grow in flats inside in the winter.

Emily said...

Charity, I have tried to find out why my original source had limited the amount of Barley and Oats in the chickens diet and have never had any luck. I do know that they are cooling - whereas corn is warming. I have been feeding my chickens more oats and barley as well and they seem to do just fine. I've gotten pretty laid back as far as feeding the chickens. I haven't bought fish meal in a while, but give them a decent amount of meat scraps and milk. I am planning on doing a post on my updated chicken feeding practices. Take care, thanks for the input - by the way, we just went down to Delta and got three quarters of a ton of barley, oats and wheat berries -felt good to save a bunch of money on feed. Emily

Elijah said...

I am a little confused. I can see how you feed this to.the layers but how do you do it with all the othrer birds? Also what is the protein in this.I was thinking I could up it for meat birds. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I am a little confused. How can you feed this to your whole flock? Also what is the protein percent of this feed.

Emily said...

Elijah, it has been a while since I've done my feed research or written feed posts so I'm a little rusty. I believe I was aiming for a fifteen percent laying ration. My feeding regime has gotten more laid back since I wrote this post. I feed raw milk and meat scraps which help with the protein. I've also been feeding my goat's leftover sprouted grain ration which is eighteen percent protein. My layers tend to do just fine with this ration. I have found that the Cornish Cross grow a lot slower and I'm not sure their bodies were really meant to work so hard at digesting whole grains. I'm thinking of doing an experiment this summer with two batches of Cornish, feeding one my layer mix and the other commercial grower feed. The last two years I have fed organic starter/grower to my cornish along then corn at the end. I know a lot of people that feed half grower and half barley as they want to slow down their growth. I kind of like to raise them for as short a time as possible. I do throw them as many weeds as they'll eat. I haven't had many leg issues. When they stop moving around much, I butcher them. I plan on writing a post soon on my current chicken feeding practices so check back soon.

karen said...

hi, thank you for recording your path with homemade feed. i am stumbling my way through. my question for you is, you mentioned you a herbal vitamin supplement, 1/4-1/2 lb. what kind do you use? this is one of the last pieces of info i'm looking for...

thanks, karen

Emily said...

Karen, For a while I was purchasing Molly's Fiasco Farm herbal vitamin supplement. It is made up of dried powdered kelp, flax, nettles, dandelion, and some other herbs I'm not remembering at the moment. I was feeding to the goats and the chickens. The last two years I've gathered my own wild and cultivated herbs and dried them and fed them during the darkest coldest winter months. I've started buying fifty pound bags of kelp and that is the chicken's main vitamin supplement. That and all the fresh vegetable scraps they get. I haven't been giving them flax seed lately, but I might start again. My husband enjoys growing wheat grass for them, so that is another living vitamin source they get now and then. Best wishes

Unknown said...

Hi, I was wondering if you could give me the brand name of the organic chicken feed at the local feed store you mentioned; the prices sound much better than the organic feed prices I have been paying

Emily said...

Briana, This post is over two years old and feed prices have gone up considerably since then. We are still feeding whole grains to the chickens. This year I bought Nature Smart organic vegetarian chicken crumbles for $34 a bag. The bags might not be 50 lb, I'm thinking they may be 40 lb. I don't think I'll feed this again. I wanted the chickens to be organic, but I think it is more important for them to eat less processed feed. I think I'm going to feed them a mixtures of ground barley and ground oats with corn, fish meal and kelp next year.

Demosthenes Locke said...

Your link is broken, there should be a dot.html not a slash/html

Demosthenes Locke said...

Love your blog, thank you for taking the time to share with us. Your Lionsgrip link is broken you've got a slash HTML and need a dot HTML. Amber

Matyas said...

I did raise meat birds as well (in MA), and was appalled to see, that they used up 4 lb of grain mixture for every pound of meat they produce, i.e. roughly 20lb of grain for 5.5 lb of meat. I think I would have been better eating that much grain myself. I mean we can get meat out of grass, bugs, etc. - stuff that normally humans cannot digest - via goats, free-ranging layers, etc. So I started to doubt the soundness of putting grains into birds... Do you have any suggestions what else could I feed my chickens besides raw milk, kitchen scraps, grass+bugs, that I wouldn't normally eat? (I guess meat broilers won't perform on this type of a diet, but how well would egg layers do on it?)

Anonymous said...

Good info on here. I have read a lot about the apparent lack of B vitamins in corn, in reality there is quite a lot of B vitamins in corn, but they exist in a state within the seed that people and animals cannot readily use. The Spanish Conquistadors found this out when they tried to live off the seed like the natives. Instead, many of them suffered neurological damage from severe vitamin B deficiency. The Native Americans that first bred corn found a way around this by "slaking" the seed to make what is called Masa or Posole, used to make tortillas and hominy. All that's required is to soak corn seed for about 12 hours in a mix of water and wood ashes. The potassium hydroxide (potash) mixed with the water creates a primitive soap that chemically frees up and simplifies a lot of the starches and vitamins within the corn seed. Modern industry still uses this process to make many corn products only a synthetic chemical lime is used to treat the seed. I simply use a five gallon bucket and wood ashes, wait for the seed to swell then give it a rinse in clean water before feeding it to my poultry. Also a corn kernel swollen with water becomes much easier to digest. I havent had any B vitamin worries since using this method. Thought this information might be useful.

Emily said...

I have read about this process to make corn tortillas - and to make the corn more digestable. I've thought about doing this for our own corn products, never thought about it for the goats or chickens. Great idea though. Unfortunately corn is really tricky to grow up here as our seasons are just not long enough for them to finish. I'd kinda like to get away from using corn, it is getting so much more expensive, (as is everything) especially organic whole corn. If I could grow it, I would and I'd treat it with the wood ash, which brings to mind soap and how I've always wanted to make my own lye, but that is a whole other topic. Thanks for the great idea!