Getting Your Chickens off Industrial Grains
The most exciting thing in my garden this week has been in the chicken department! We madea commitment several months ago to getting ourselves (our chickens really, we already are) off industrial grains. We have been feeding the baby chickens chopped comfrey, mixed with chicken minerals (the fastest and easiest way to produce high Brix eggs while you get your pasture and chicken food up to scratch) and milk curds from the cows, with a small amount of organic whole grain mixed in, maybe 10% of the total volume.
Chickens, like most other animals are creatures of habit, what you fed them when they are young, they will always prefer. Comfrey and curds are high protein in a form the chickens can digest, and that same mix has been fed to the laying hens as well. All of them are free range as well. We have in the last few weeks set up scratch yards for them, where they make compost. The idea is that they get a significant amount of their food from the decomposing material or more accurately the microbes , insects, decomposers, (called ‘recomposers’ by Harvey Ussery) and fungi that live in the compost heap. This process takes a while to get happening, as a biologically active compost heap in a chicken pen, based on using sawdust as the carbon source because it’s easy for the chickens to scratch and turn over, takes time to begin decomposing and become biologically active.
This past week we began incorporating animal waste from our home kills into the sawdust piles as well, and it has been so exciting to see just how keen the chickens of all ages are to get to the maggots and just how many maggots the waste produces. Maggots are yet again another source of high quality live protein, perfect chicken food. We are learning to incorporate sheep and goat paunch into the sawdust so that there is very little smell and so that the chickens get the high-quality feed for free. They prefer the live maggots, comfrey and curd to grain most of the time anyway, and maggots top their preference list so far. They will scratch for maggots all day!
High protein is critical for high egg production. Chickens are very selective eaters when given a chance and providing them with such a range of protein sources can only mean they will get their nutritional needs met better and better without industrial grain. It’s a buzz to see how easy it can all be, it just takes a little more time. Grains make things very quick and easy. As a global community, we are now facing the results of industrial grain production (check out The Vegetarian Myth by Keith Lierre) and it is way past time we found alternative regenerative solutions. I’m excited about being able to breed and select chickens for both growth and egg production based on a non-industrial, regenerative system. Right now, I’m seeing 4 and 5 year old Golden Wyndottes laying quite well on the high-protein diet, whereas they hadn’t been laying well on organic sprouted whole grain, and free range only.
It’s really important to keep your chickens free of lice as well. Lice-ridden chickens will not lay as well, nor be as healthy. You can make a dust bath and add some diatomaceous earth, a non-toxic, naturally occuring product, high in silica, to keep your chicken’s lice free for the summer. You get a 20ltr plastic container, cut it in half, nail it to a board, so the chooks can’t flip it over when they stand on the edge. Mix 1/2 kg of diatomaceous earth with an equal amount of sand; they’ll use this as their bath and absolutely love it. Use this method as a preventative measure; if your chickens are already badly infected, then you can dust their wings directly – just make sure to wear a mask, as the fine dust is not good to breath in directly. A 1kg bag should last you for the entire season.