[permaculture] ideas for growing chicken feed

Ute Bohnsack sustag at eircom.net
Wed Jul 5 09:49:44 EDT 2006

Wednesday, July 5, 2006, 4:13:57 AM, you wrote:

FG> Hello Everyone,

FG> I am looking into how I can sustainably grow chicken feed.  If you are
FG> already doing this, or have some ideas, I would really appreciate some
FG> input.  Ideally, I would like to be able to maintian about 50 birds year
FG> round.  I live in Central Texas which can range from zone 7 to 10 in any
FG> given year.  Most of our soil is sandy and slightly acidic, but we do have
FG> some clayey areas.  Not much lioam, but we are working on it.  Perrenial or
FG> self-seeding sources preferred.   Drought and heat tolerance always a good
FG> thing in our neighborhood.  We theoretically get about 34" per year, but
FG> that can very quite a bit from year to year.  I am  keeping the chickens in
FG> tractors and collecting the eggs for sale.

FG> Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

FG> Sincerely,

FG> Marjory

Hi Marjory,
interesting topic...
There is a good article in "The Best of Permaculture". 1986. By Max O. Lindegger and Robert Tap.
on Fukuoka style grain growing which i.a. kept a flock of chickens in feed for a
few months.
Chickens can find quite a bit of food on range (greens, bugs, snails, worms) but
for a production flock these can only be supplements in my opinion. A flock of
50 layers needs about 14 pounds of relatively high protein (c. 16%) feed per day.
In a forest garden situation some of the feed could come from fallen fruit, seeds in
undergrowth, seeds from trees like False Locust (Robinia), berries from genera
like Cornus, Sorbus, Lycium. You could also grow pumpkins, courgettes etc. in
the undergrowth/on the edges. But then you say you work with tractors so I guess
you can't just let them (the chickens) ramble.
An interesting plant worth considering may be the Lupin
see http://newcrop.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/nexus/Lupinus_albus_nex.html
Sweet Lupins contain no or low levels of alkaloids (which are antinutritive) so
can be used as feed.
The biggest challenge is to get enough protein of the right composition (in
terms of amino acids) into the birds for sustained egg production.
There has been some research on growing duckweed (Lemna) at a larger scale for
feed purposes in some developing countries. A Google hit with "Lemna" and
"livestock feed" and "poultry should yield ample results on this. However, you
need ponds to grow it which may or may not be an option where you are.
Sandy soil is quite ideal for buckwheat, which makes good chicken feed (up to
30% admixture). Don't know though whether it grows in your region. It's an old
European annual crop grown on sandy, acidic soil. Chickens can eat both seeds
and greens.
I remember reading many years ago about some work in the US on perennial cereals
but can't remember author/sources. Perhaps someone else here remembers.

I have 4 small flocks, a total of 21 hens and 4 cocks (and loads of chicks at
present). I have thought and read a lot about growing some of my own feed for
them but have come to the conclusion that I have to buy in their base diet. I
make my own mix from organic grains and beans (wheat, barley, oats, field
beans), about 20% organic layer pellets, and some non-organic bran. I supplement
that with varied (rotational) ranges, i.e. goat paddocks, top and soft fruit
orchards, small woodlot; and they get kitchen scraps, garden weeds, nettles,
comfrey, fallen top fruit, softfruit as high as they can jump :), left-over
milk (we have a few dairy goats), whey from making soft-cheese, surplus pumpkins
etc. During the summer their grassy paddocks grow almost quicker than they get
eat it down but during the rest of the year they destroy the turf rather quickly
and after they've moved on to a new paddock I broadscale sow a gamekeepers seed
mix with all sorts of tasties like black oats, various clovers, Brassicas, buckwheat,
herbs etc.
I have also seem folks growing maize/sweetcorn on used up ground (unfortunately
where I am climate corn does not really thrive outdoors) - once it's up high
enough, the hens are turned back in and it provides shade and shelter for them
and later cobs for the hens or people.
Another advantage of this system is that corn/maize takes up a lot of
the nitrogen deposited by the birds, preventing over-enrichment of the soil.

Just some things that come to mind. HTH
(in Ireland, Zone 8/9)

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