Making Your Own Poultry Feeds: Part Two
Unless you are feeding very few chickens, making your own feeds requires a serious grinder. While it is true that I started out making feeds using a Corona hand mill, that’s more a testament to my stubbornness than to my good sense. I now make about four tons of feed a year, which requires a grinder a good deal more macho than I am. My heavy-duty feed/flour mill I bought from Lehmans. (Key in the search word “mill.” The model I bought is their Item # 2360.), powered by a 1-½ hp electric motor I purchased locally. It will grind a 25-lb batch of feed grains in a couple of minutes flat.
Some sort of catch basin beneath the grinder is needed to catch the feed. I like a heavy plastic, 15-gallon utility tub.
I recommend making a chute of some sort to channel the feed from the grinder to the catch basin, in order to minimize dust while grinding.
Storing the quantities of grain I’m using in 50-lb bags is not practical. I used materials left over from a house addition to build a storage bin, capacity about three-quarters ton. Interior partitions divide it into four separate bins, each with a sliding gate at the bottom for drawing off the grains. By adding new deliveries at the top and drawing from the bottom, I continually rotate the feedstocks. Once or twice a year I schedule a complete draw-down of the bin, and get inside the empty bin with my shop vac to vacuum out accumulated seed meals, weavils, and their eggs. Following that practice, I rarely have a serious infestation.
One of the challenges for the homesteader making her own feeds is finding high-quality primary ingredients close by, at a reasonable price. I encourage like-minded homesteaders to band together, sharing orders and delivery chores. Such co-ops are especially desirable if they expand to include local farmers willing to grow specifically to meet their needs. In such arrangements the greatest obstacle, typically, is that of storage. Go on, try it—you need a challenge to your creativity.
I am lucky to be within the delivery area of Countryside Natural Products in the Shenandoah Valley of central Virginia, and receive monthly deliveries of certified-organic feed grains and legumes, as well as supplements. I buy the greatest diversity of primary feedstocks CNP can supply, which fortunately has steadily expanded over the years. The following are the ingredients I am now using in my feeds, or have used in the past.
- Fish meal
- Crab meal
- Cultured yeast
- Flax seed
- Alfalfa pellets
- Mined from mineral deposits. High in calcium, needed by the hens for good shell quality. “Feeding limestone” can be used interchangeably. Note that hens on pasture have less need for such supplementation, but it can always be added for “insurance.”
- Fertrell’s broad-spectrum mineral supplement, now in an organic-certified formulation. Though I’ve used it for years, more and more I question its necessity. I am feeding the highest quality natural foods I can buy. If in addition the birds are getting plenty of enzymes from green forage and (in summer) insect food—all of which help achieve a more complete absorption of the minerals in the diet—why am I spoon-feeding them basically non-food mineral supplements, however natural? I am experimenting with a gradual reduction of mineral supplementation, other than that of kelp and salt.
- An essential nutrient for chickens, but usually supplied in sufficient quantity in commercial mixes or a supplement like Nutri-Balancer. I am currently using a high quality livestock feeding salt that includes many trace minerals in addition to sodium chloride.
- Dried seaweed meal from the coast of Iceland or Maine, an excellent natural source of minerals. [Note that someone recently told me that kelp is not being harvested sustainably off the Maine coast. If some of you can point me to good information on this subject, I will post more about it.]
- Live cultures added in very small amounts as a supplement to boost the flora in the gut, making it theoretically more efficient. This is another area where the science has been formulated with reference to a seriously flawed paradigm: chickens in high confinement without green forage or live animal foods, eating instead stale feeds based on highly questionable ingredients, birds with compromised genetics to begin with—well, duh, perhaps the digestive tracts of such birds need as serious a boost as we can provide them. But birds eating more natural foods are likely to have more healthy, abundant, and diverse intestinal flora to begin with, and perhaps need little additional boost from us. I no longer use probiotic supplements. [Incidentally, I recently met someone online who is feeding her birds raw milk cultured with kefir, as a part of her flock’s daily diet. Probably her birds get far more benefit from the cultures in that milk than those receiving a commercial probiotic. If you have access to high quality farm milk or its byproducts (skimmed milk, whey), by all means experiment with culturing it and offering it to your flock.]
- Fish meal
- Dried, ground menhaden, a species taken in quantity by commercial fishers, but not valued as a human food species, so converted to a potent protein supplement (60 percent protein). Most people I know who are making their own feeds do use fish meal—it’s hard to make feeds that are high enough in protein without it (at least if you want to avoid highly refined/processed alternatives like pure lysine from corn)—especially for growing birds, whose protein needs are higher than for mature fowl. Also, eating fishmeal, like eating insects, boosts the Omega 3 content of egg yolks. However, I am increasingly uneasy over the question: How sustainable is turning countless thousands of tons of fish into feed supplements? Furthermore, though a potent source of protein as said, fishmeal is not a fresh, live food, so will never be as good a food as possible alternatives which the homesteader or small farmer is in a position to supply, especially in the warm season. (I explore some of those alternatives in “Feeding the Flock from the Homestead's Own Resources”.)
- Crab meal
- Dried, crushed shells from commercial processing of crab meat, a good source of protein (about 25 percent or so), and of needed minerals like calcium. Though a good source of selenium as well (an essential trace mineral in which many of the nation’s soils tend to be deficient), it should for that very reason be fed in modest amounts: Selenium is one of those vital minerals needed in trace amounts, which actually become toxic at greater concentrations. I limit crab meal to 1-½ lb per hundredweight of feed. [Kelp also boosts selenium, incidentally, both as feed supplement and as addition to soil.]
- Cultured yeast
- Supplements not only protein (18 percent) but a number of minerals and vitamins, especially the B complex. It is particularly useful for waterfowl, whose needs for B vitamins, and especially niacin, are greater than for chickens. Contains live cell yeast cultures which become active in the gut. Together with digestive enzymes in the dried yeast, the live cultures enhance feed digestion.
- Flax seed
- Flax has become something of a buzz word because it boosts Omega 3 fatty acids in egg yolks (as does eating live animal foods such as earthworms and insects). In our modern diet we tend to get far too much Omega 6 in proportion to Omega 3, thus any way to get them into better balance is desirable. I only feed flax seed whole. Flax oil is highly perishable (i.e., goes stale/rancid readily when exposed to oxygen), so feeding flax meal is in my judgment not a good idea. It is important that the birds have free access to grit if you feed flax seeds, which are small and hard.
- Alfalfa meal
- I start with 100 percent alfalfa pellets (17 percent protein), the kind fed to rabbits and horses. The chickens resist eating the pellets whole, so I grind, along with the corn and peas. I include alfalfa only in the winter, when green forages are less available.
- A high-energy feedstuff which I store whole and grind as needed.
- I no longer use any soybean in my feeds. I can’t get into a long discussion on the subject here, but there are schools of thought I am influenced by [if interested, check out “Soy Alert!” on the Weston A. Price Foundation website to get you started] that find use of soy highly problematic, starting certainly with humans, emphatically for ruminants, though I am not as sure about avian species. Anyway, I haven’t fed any soybean since being able to substitute with what my supplier calls “field peas” (Pisum arvense, a relative of the garden pea, Pisum sativum). Peas of the Vigna group such as cowpeas can also be used if you can get them in quantity. I store the peas whole until ready to make feed, then grind coarsley along with the corn.
- As for soybeans. . .
- At one time farmers grew many different legumes to feed livestock. Following the “soybean revolution,” however, soybeans are typically the only feed legume available in most areas. If you only have access to soybeans for your feeds, remember a few important points. Whole soybeans are the best option if you can get them, but make sure they are roasted. Never feed raw soybeans to any livestock—they contain growth-inhibiting factors which are a disaster for the animals who eat them. From commercial sources, the typical form of soy available is soybean meal as a byproduct of processing soy oil. Not only can such meals contain residues of hexane (a solvent used to extract the oil), but the high heat and pressure of the processing rancidifies whatever fats remain—that is, soybean meal is a stale feed. Finally, most soybean in the American market today is genetically modified, a fact deeply troubling to many thoughtful homesteaders.
- Wheat, oats, and barley
- The small grains I never grind—just weigh them out and stir in when I’m grinding and making the mix. If I could get other small grains I would use them as well—probably the greater the diversity of feed ingredients, the better. [Note regarding oats and barley: Do not feed at greater than 15 percent of the total diet, either individually or in combination.] During much of the year I hold the small grain portions out and sprout them prior to feeding.
- Oyster shell and grit
- Though not listed in my sample formulations, remember your birds’ needs for grit in the gizzard to grind their feed, and for oyster shell as an additional boost of calcium and other minerals needed for strong egg shells. When the birds are on pasture they usually get enough grit and mineral on their own. In the winter house, however, it is wise to offer them free choice.