At the moment I feed pellets bought from the local farm store, wheat, sometimes maize, scraps and then let them out for fresh grazing and bug patrol in the afternoon.
I'm not liking the pellets much anymore after reading about them (horrible by-products, rancid and overprocessed) and they have always smelt a little stale to me, so I haven't really liked them anyway. But it's a matter of how to replace those.
Growing grains is possible, but how much would I have to grow? And how much effort would it be? I have ideas of using the chooks to scratch up a patch of dirt, plant it up with buckwheat or rye and then let the chooks back in later to self-harvest.
But the protein they need is harder. The above link has articles on feeding maggots and worms and these people, Farmlet, are actually trialling the maggot thing right now (mmmmm, makes you really appreciate that omelette!).
Chickens do get some protein from the bugs they find when they free range, but the amount of bugs around varies with the time of year. Also I'm wanting to do more planting around our section and if I don't fence or protect every little plant and bit of ground, chickens do dastardly things. So I'm also thinking about how to contain them more but still keep some access to grass.
I use the chicken house to deep bed them , which makes compost or mulch. I chuck in old hay, grass clippings, weeds and let them turn it over, poop all over it, eat the weed seeds and in six months time or so, I can haul the lot out and it's beautiful, rich, dark stuff that gardeners love. I used to be able to tow the house around onto fresh pasture, so I didn't deep bed the chooks and I could contain them more. But the house started to collapse (whoops!) so now it stays where it is).
In an ideal world:
- I would have several (for different ages and breeds), small, towable chook houses with wooden floors.
- They would get locked into these at night and the houses would have a deep bed litter.
- During the day I would open the door and they would have access to pasture whilst being contained behind some sort of movable fence - electric netting would be perfect.
- I could use the chickens to de-bug and fertilise exactly where I wanted them to, rather than where they like to be.
- I would grow sunflowers, amaranth, corn/maize, and lots of other stuff to feed them
- I've won Lotto to provide all the funds for the houses and netting. And the grains would magically plant and water themselves.
So I need to stop, slow down and break it down to manageable steps.
First, I'm going to continue to sprout the wheat and maize (although none of that has sprouted so far, might need longer soaking or longer time to sprout?) that I buy.
Second, I'm going to experiment with maggots (GROSS! But if it's too bad, I'll stop).
Third, I'm going to work with hubby on a design for a new chicken house. Towable, easy to use, cheap to build....
Forth, I'm going to investigate more about growing my own grains. Including some research into a plough/hoe attachment for the tractor.
I'm also going to continue to feed pellets until my chook food systems are a little more developed.
Thanks for reading my ramblings - blogging is so great for ordering my thoughts!!