Warning -“The critical opinions of a writer should always be taken with a large grain of salt. For the most part, they are manifestations of his debate with himself as to what he should do next and what he should avoid.” - W. H. Auden
The above quote can be considered my disclaimer as I am somewhat of a boob when it comes to discussions on animal husbandry. Give me a potato, tomato, or even a funky climbing trombetta squash to talk about and my confidence level is fairly high...chickens, not so much. That said, we have somehow managed to keep our flock healthy and thriving for a few years and are only now faced with a slow down in egg production forcing us to contemplate a few new additions to the gang.
One of our future goals is to become more self-sustainable when it comes to feeding our fine feathered friends. We think that this objective could either be achieved by once again selling enough eggs to pay for the birds feed and/or growing all of the foods that a small flock might need to meet their nutritional requirements. My plan is to one day soon set aside a small section of land that we will use to grow enough corn and wheat to feed a flock of 15-20 chickens whose diet will also be supplemented with as much garden produce as we can get them to eat. I figure that this might be possible on about 1/4 an acre...we shall see and I shall share.
These carrots, mangles, beets, potatoes, squash, apples, and sunroot tubers are being grated for the chickens.
At this point we are still buying most of the grain products that we feed our flock but do go out of our way to augment their diet with as many home grown food stuffs as possible. This makes a huge difference in the amount of store bought grains they consume. Right now our birds have around one fenced acre of forest and field in which roam about foraging for bugs, grass, and anything else they might find...this also helps with the feed bill.
The flock heading out into the cold...they hate being cooped up even more than they dislike the snow. Their pen is always open during the day so they can come and go as they please.
Every couple days during the winter months we grate and then steam cook a wide variety of vegetables from our root cellar for the chickens. A portion of this is then fed to them late in the afternoon each day to provide enough carbohydrates to help them stay warm at night. In addition to root vegetables the birds are provided with alfalfa hay when they can't forage for grass and weeds due to the snow and I also try to obtain any "less than perfect" greens from the winter garden rows for them while picking our daily salad.
The chickens get a flake of alfalfa hay every 3 days when their free range is covered with snow.
Their eggshells are saved, dried, crushed, and added back to the feed to help provide them with enough calcium for all those eggs we no longer get. Every couple weeks after I have cleaned out the wood stove the "cool" bucket of ash is left in the pen for them to peck at...they really seem to like the ash and it no doubt adds some beneficial minerals to their diet. I do know that the ash contains some calcium because we add all of Rowdy's (the dog) and any other bones we might come upon to the fire. When it is time to clean out the fireplace any ash remaining in the bucket is then spread on the garden and replaced with the new stuff. Wood ash can also be dumped in a pile so the birds can use it for dust bathing purposes during the winter, although we don't do this as their pen has plenty of soil in it. Obviously, we are very careful that nothing other than wood and the occasional bones go into the fireplace.
I built our chicken house so that it could easily accommodate 30-40 birds, although we have never had that many. Their house is built right into the barn and has three adjoining rooms, the one pictured below is where they sleep and lay eggs.
As I've mentioned in a previous post an oil heater and bird bath warmer are ready to use during January when the temperatures sometimes drop into the negative digits for a couple weeks. The heater is surrounded by chicken wire just in case someone decides to try roosting on it...so far that has never happened.
There is nothing better than a nice dust bath on a sunny winter's day...dirty birdies.
Here is an interesting excerpt from Countryside Magazine on feeding animals from one's garden:
"While growing small amounts of grains will be fun and instructive, you'll soon see why farm folk welcomed mechanization. But what about those crops that got left behind in the process?
The leader is probably the mangel, or mangold, or mangle-wurzle or stock beet. These are fun to grow: they'll amaze your friends and neighbors.
The roots reach fantastic proportions. . . two feet long and more. Don't worry: they grow mostly above ground You won't need a backhoe to dig them.
At one time mangels were a staple feed for dairy cattle, even in the U.S. They were displaced because the growing of other feeds was more easily mechanized. . . and because of the research into and improvements in silage. (Some writers maintain that if as much work had gone into root crops as was invested in silage, root crops would be the more common today.)
After harvesting, cut off the tops and store the roots in clamps-rudimentary root cellars. Dig a pit, put the mangels in, and cover with enough straw and soil to keep them from freezing.
We once had a Jersey cow that ate mangles whole, just nibbling on them like people eat apples. But conventional wisdom says cows can choke on these beets, so they must be cut into bite-size pieces. If you want to feed mangels and you're lucky, you might still be able to find a beet-cutter hidden away in an old barn. Failing that, you might study one in a farm museum and replicate it. . . or devise your own. On a small scale, of course, they can be chopped with a large butcher knife or machete.
Other root crops include the aforementioned turnips and carrots. Turnips have made a recent comeback among some shepherds. Planted in pastures, the sheep can harvest them themselves. (Turnips are said to produce off-flavor milk if fed to cows or goats.)
Carrots require more work to harvest, but if you have good, sandy carrot soil they're certainly worth considering. Store these in clamps, like mangels.
Jerusalem artichokes have also been highly touted as livestock feed by modern homesteaders. This member of the sunflower family produces stalks and leaves that are relished by cows, sheep and goats. Any animal (including humans) will eat the potato-like tubers, but that involves a lot of digging labor for little reward. We have found, however, that pigs enjoy both the labor and the rewards.
And what about potatoes? At first blush it might seem like some kind of a crime of waste to grow potatoes for livestock feed, but why is that any different than growing corn for them? Potatoes were once a common stock food, and culls are still used in potato-growing regions."