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I support the concept of choice-feeding for small poultry flocks, especially organic flocks, for the following reasons:
1. Poultry have some ability to balance their diets when allowed an appropriate choice of feeds.
2. The nutritional requirements of organic poultry have not been well defined.
3. The program is likely to be more profitable, as pointed out in this report.
4. Whole grain helps to promote optimal gut development, especially of the gizzard, which may assist in disease resistance.
4. Choice-feeding is closer to the natural way of eating for poultry.
If layers do well consistently when given the choice of grain or a 16% protein layer feed and consume about 30% grain and 70% layer feed, it follows that the 16% layer feed contains more nutrients than are needed by the birds in that particular flock. The possible drawback of this program is that the birds when in high production and possibly continuing to consume substantial quantities of grain may develop a nutritional deficiency.
In my book Nutrition and Feeding of Organic Poultry I have suggested a choice-feeding program based on grain and a Supplement (concentrate instead of a layer diet) as the 2 feeds. A Supplement provides all of the nutrients not provided by the grain and is therefore a safer choice than the layer diet. However producers may find it more difficult to purchase organic Supplement than an organic layer diet.
In either case producers should provide 3 feeders for the birds, the first containing grain, the second containing layer diet (or Supplement) and the third oystershell grit (for eggshell production).
The grain could be oats, wheat or barley etc. (or a mixture) and fed whole. Corn needs to be kibbled for feeding to poultry since the whole kernels are too large for the birds to ingest easily.
Robert Blair, DSc, FAIC
Hi Robert, have you tried feeding okara to layers? Thanks.
Not me. Okara has never been on my radar. I think it's a byproduct of soy milk production, and I'm over a thousand miles away from soybean country. Agriculture in my neck of the woods is dominated by the grass-seed industry, and its byproducts aren't very palatable to chickens.
So along the lines of independent, sustainable farming, have you tried rotating your chickens with wheat or grain crops? Surely the rich soil would provide excellent feed for the chickens, as well as straw for litter.
Even at today's prices, it's a lot cheaper for me to sell my eggs at niche-market prices and buy my grain and straw at commodity prices than it is to grow my own. In the meantime, the pasture absorbs all the nutrients and is presumably making the topsoil deeper as well as richer. The fertility will be there when I want it.
A farmer we know used to grow grain on about ten acres, and fed it to cattle and chickens. But he was an old, experienced farmer who was wise in the ways of cranky old combines. I'm not sure grain on small acreage makes sense unless you already have that kind of experience.
I'm planning on trying kale, sunflowers, and corn next year, though, as much for their shade as their nutritional value for the chickens. We'll see what happens.
I am interested in getting the soy out of our feed for our chickens. They are pastured and the organic corn and wheat we feed is of excellent quality, (we grow it ourselves and our fields are regularly tested). I also have access to barley but it is not hulled, can I feed that to the girls. We have 200 hens right now and I hope to grow when I can get through these soy issues. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
It's not hard to eliminate soy from poultry diets, just expensive. Chickens need some kind of balanced protein supplement in their feed, and soy (plus some other stuff, since its protein isn't balanced) is by far the cheapest. Has been for over fifty years. Replacing the soy with meat is very easy from a nutritional point of view, since meat has complete protein and vitamin B12 and a lot of minerals that soy lacks.
Trying to raise chickens on grain alone is a recipe for failure -- you'll be lucky if all you suffer is low production, and not deficiency diseases.
It depends on the cattle feed, but cattle and chickens have very different digestive systems, so fiber that is digestible by cattle does nothing for chickens, while chickens want higher levels of proteins. They're omnivores by nature, unlike cattle.
Now if they were feeding pig food or dog food or Purina Human Chow, that would work better. It would still be more expensive and less nutritious than feeding a high-quality chicken feed, but it would likely be in the right ballpark if you're not too particular.
I've been locking the chickens up for winter once our temps start getting down that far. We always have a morning wind and an evening one, wind chills can really be significant here and I worry about my chickens. They are in an unheated barn but inside.
I do have heaters for the water, otherwise it freezes way too fast.
As for temperatures of 5°F and lower, my own experience only goes down to about 15°F, but the consensus of the old-time poultry authorities seems to be that open housing is good down to zero. Below zero, you'd prefer it if one side weren't completely open. At twenty below, the hens start suffering no matter what you do.
I would think that in a barn, the hens would be fine if they can find places out of the wind to roost. If you left a couple of lights on, they would be willing to move from place to place to get out of the wind if it shifted.
Before the fence, I discovered that predators would show up at dusk, before the chickens were willing to go inside for the night, so having a door I could close at night wasn't enough. Not unless I wanted to keep guard for an hour or so every night, until the last chicken went indoors. Since I'm not willing to do this (or to get up early to let the chickens out again), I don't put doors on my chicken houses.
Interestingly, I bought my 6 Buff Orpington hens and rooster from a man who has been farming his entire life. He lives north of Toronto in Canada where the temps probably range from 32 degrees down to 0 degrees throughout the winter, He raises heritage and endangered breeds, chickens, turkeys, and geese.
I have never seen such beautiful birds.
i was surprised though when I went to pick up my birds - all the housing was open on one side!
And there were chickens and turkeys housed together. He said that his birds are just healthier, and don't transmit disease.
Then I found your site. And bought the book.
Spring will be building season for the new chicken quarters - open of course.
Keep up the great work.
Unfortunately this year I haven't had access to my lovely winter pens so my poor chicks have been stuck in their summer chicken tractors with just plastic tarps on the side and a wooden top. We had an unexpected cold snap that got down to minus 18 degrees and windy. They all survived (terrible egg production) except for one the low chick on the totem pole who refused to roost with everyone else. I set hay bales around the pens, and set it up like I did last year. Everyone is happy again. Wind seems to be a bigger issue than the actual air temp.
Just rounding out my first year of chicken raising here in NE Kansas, I dutifully insulated and sealed up my coop-extraordinaire, provided a milkhouse heater because we've already had two spells of week-long single-digit temps and 3-4" of snow and I didn't want frozen chickens. (Very odd for KS this early, yes.)
It took me awhile to learn effective anti-predator tactics, unfortunately, so I'm down to 2 roosters and three hens--buff orpington, red sex-link, and a white leghorn (all still laying one-a-day, along with the ducks!). They free-range all day, and I close them up at night to keep them from being eaten. Both roosters and the leghorn have large single combs, and all three now have frostbite, in spite of some vaseline, and keeping the coop above freezing.
So I'm beginning to understand the reason for the frostbite is not the cold temperature, really, but the humidity. I thought the coop had adequate ventilation, and it didn't seem damp to me, but clearly, that's the culprit. Interesting that "all the books" tell us to carefully seal up the cracks to prevent drafts, mention that adequate ventilation is required, but offer almost no details about how to seal cracks AND ventilate!
I'm convinced by this great writing of yours, Robert, and greatly appreciate your personal account here of the great open-sided-experiment! Tomorrow I'm opening up a good portion of the south side and will just put up wire mesh there. (Already I leave the large human-door open all day, but it's obviously not enough to dry the coop out properly. It's quite humid in Kansas anyway, but I forget that in the serious cold times.) So I'm thinking I'll gradually take down one portion at a time until that side is entirely wire mesh, and see how we do. (BTW, I've slathered the poor combs with antibiotic ointment, and both roosters are fine. The leghorn looks kind of pathetic, but seems fairly happy, eats well, and lays regularly.)
Interesting aside... I also have 7 guinea fowl, which originated in Africa, so of course ALL the books say they MUST be kept dry, and fairly warm. Well, they're a remarkably stubborn creature and once they're set in the trees for the evening, they're simply not coming in. Period. One night a couple weeks ago they insisted on roosting in the tree above the coop/yard in spite of heavy sleet turning to ice. I thought sure I'd come out to find them all frozen solid guinea statues, but instead they were running around (still believing there must be SOME ticks to eat somewhere!) They are quite hearty and healthy in spite of it. Perhaps a little less hard-headed, but I doubt it...
Thanks again for this great work. It's helping me and my birds tremendously!
It is fun to read how others take care of their chickens.
Also, with the rooster around, I haven't been able to get the hens to allow me to pick them up. I can get close and they get close to me but when I reach for them, they go away. Any advise would be appreciated. Lovin' Leghorns!
I am wondering if you have any ideas for chicken producers who live in actually really cold climates. I live in Northern Alberta where we get -40C which is the same as -40F every year. We also get extended periods of time where it is around -20C. I don't know what that is in F except it is really cold. I want to have a feed made up at the feed mill but I am not really sure what to have in it. I don't like to buy the small bagged stuff because I don't know what is in it nor do I like the price. this is the 2nd year I've had hens through the winter and they seemed fine last year I would just like them to be better this year.
My personal experience doesn't go below about +15F. According to the literature, chickens in reasonably windproof housing don't suffer until the temperature hits -20C or so.
Traditional wisdom is that heating the whole chicken house works, but is too expensive, and if you do it wrong the house tends to burn down (the chicken manure and ammonia tend to rot equipment, and feathers and straw are bad for fans and heating elements, etc.)
Grain and Exercise. The traditional method of keeping the hens warm is to have fluffy litter, usually of straw, and to scatter grain in the litter first thing in the morning and again before dark. In the daytime, the hens warm themselves through the exercise of hunting for the grain in the litter, and the grain provides the fuel to keep them warm. At night, the hens to to roost with a crop full of grain, which they digest throughout the night to provide readily available calories to keep them warm.
I haven't tried the following, but I suggest two methods of keeping the roosting area less frigid:
Aluminized bubble insulation above the roosting area This stuff goes by brand names like TekFoil and AstroFoil, and consists of a couple of layers of bubble wrap sandwiched with layers of aluminum foil. It reflects heat. Stapling this to the ceiling and back wall, above and behind the roosts, should make the area warmer.
Heated roosts. I've always meant to try this, but it's just not cold enough to be worth my while. Make roosts out of electrical conduit or galvanized pipe. Run heating cable down the inside of the pipe. Hook up to a thermal switch if the cable doesn't have one already. Plug in. In sub-freezing weather, the thermostat will turn on the heating cable, and the roosts (and the hens perched on them) will be warm.
Oh well, you live and learn!
Greetings from the middle of the UK!
There is evidence that my hens snuggle up to the brick. Plenty of warm water & high enery foods seem to be keeping the girls going. They won't step on the snow & are content to stay in the run during the day - even when I clean the run & they could get outside...
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I started raising chickens when I was about 4 and have on and off for the last 60 years. Great information, thanks for the recovery process you are doing so well.
This dryness might also contribute to controlling the coccidiosis. I use deep litter and have done many things not recommended and never had an outbreak, even when broody hens raise their chicks in the chicken house.
Great information by the way.
If you shovel wet litter into the corner of the house, it's amazing how quickly this impromptu compost heap heats up, dries out, and becomes indistinguishable from litter that stayed dry the whole time. The same is true for litter that has become caked over with a layer of manure. Toss it in the corner, and in a few days it turns back into litter. So with almost no work, a nasty house can be turned into a nice one.
Just another way that Mother Nature can do our heavy lifting for us if we pay attention.
I haven't tried it, but was told this on a plane. The guy next to me owns a company that sexes chicks (his dad was brought over by Tyson in the 50's from Japan to do this). I hope I have the top and nestled sex part right. I'd hate to have it backward.
One advantage of buying sex-linked crosses from hatcheries is that they can't get away with putting in so many males "by mistake," so you actually get the pullets you're paying for. In the feed store, of course, you can tell the genders apart easily and select what you want.
My very first chicks came on Oct 1, 2008. I didn't know any different. I wanted what I wanted and just did it after reading your "Success with Baby Chicks" book and "The Dollar Hen". I got 200 that month. They all did great! Since then, I have raised over 600 more. I really enjoy the fall chicks the best.
I can't wait for the farming season to slow down a bit so I can read more of your books! I study something about chickens, turkeys, or other farm related EVERY day, but I want to read a whole book.
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and wisdom with us!