Wednesday, 6 February 2013

How to feed chickens on the cheap

My Brown Shaver chicks at 3 months old

I love keeping pet chickens. Its not just the fresh supply of eggs every day, they're also cute and fun to have around. To ensure a good supply of eggs, its mandatory that hens are given a layer's mix containing the right amount of protein and calcium required for egg production. They need constant access to the layer's mix and water to produce eggs. Having said that, there are many things you can do to supplement their feed with little cost.

1. To state the obvious, they'll eat kitchen scraps such as stale bread and cake, or vegetable peelings.

2. Many people buy wheat to feed their chickens, which they love. But to get real value for money out of wheat, I plant it and let it grow into wheat grass. I just use an old icecream container and add a little compost to the bottom, add water then add the wheat kernels. When the wheat grass gets to about 20cm high (8 inches), I put the container in the hen house and let them demolish it. They love it and they get about 50 times more food out of a 20cm high wheat grass plant than from an ungerminated wheat kernel.

3. Something else they go nuts for is the leafy tops on radishes. Radishes are incredibly fast growing and take 4-6 weeks to grow from seed to a full grown radish (providing they receive plenty of sun). I plant out lots of radishes to use them in my cooking (they're great raw and thinly sliced in potato salad because they have a slightly hot, spicy taste and crunchiness). When I dig them out I take the tops straight over to the chickens and they just love them. If I put them in the chicken scrap bucket in the kitchen, I find they shrivel up very quickly so its best to pick the radishes and give the fresh tops straight to the hens.

4. Weeds are a great source of free food. I get plenty of weeds in my vegetable garden so I pull them all out and gather them into a bundle to give to the hens.

5. Grass clippings. After mowing the lawn, we throw a big pile of lawn clippings into the chicken coup and let them scratch around eating the blades of grass and lawn weeds.

6. After harvesting corn, I just throw the whole corn stalk into the chicken coup. They rip the leaves up into pieces to eat, and enjoy the tassels on the top of the corn.

7. You can use up egg shells by baking them in the oven (they need to be baked to kill any bacteria residing on the shell), crushing them up and then adding them into the chicken feed for an extra source of calcium.

8. For protein, a lot of people give their hens a cheap can of dog food or dog roll. They love meat (they're omnivorous  they like both plants and meat) so its a good treat now and again. I don't do this too often because I find dog meat isn't very cheap, but if there is a sale on dog meat I'll buy some for them.

9. Grow "chicken greens". I had some plastic pots lying around that I wasn't using, so I filled these with soil from my garden and let the weeds grow into them. Its important to just use soil from your yard rather than potting mix, because you want the soil to be full of weed seeds. Once the weeds are ready, simply pick up the container and put it in the chicken coup. After a few hours the chickens will have ripped most of the leaves and flowers off, so I take it back out and let the weeds recover for a few weeks. I keep about six of these going so the hens can have one every few days while the others are recovering.
Instead of waiting for the weeds to grow in, you can buy seeds such as clover, mustard seed etc to plant into your chicken greens containers. These seeds are cheap to buy.
If you don't have any spare garden pots lying around, I also use old plastic buckets with four holes drilled into the bottom. These are very easy to carry because buckets have a handle on them.

9. Fallen fruit. I've planted two grape vines and a crab apple tree next to the chicken coup so any fruit we don't pick will fall on the ground where the hens can eat it or I can rake it up and put it in their coup. There are numerous fruit trees that hens will enjoy the fallen fruit from, such as plums, peaches, pears, apples.

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