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Raising Chicks and Chicken Feed

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Like anything else on the homestead, including gardens, it is possible to blow a lot of money on your new hobby. It is also possible to raise healthy chickens and healthy food for your family quite frugally.


In this post I am going to focus on feeding chicks frugally, and raising some of their feed on the homestead without becoming a grain farmer.


After a predator disaster last year we rehomed the few survivors and set about reworking our outdoor chicken run. We examined it, figured out where we thought the predator had gotten in and rebuilt that portion of the run. Then we re-worked the rest of the run to hopefully keep our chickens SAFE.


7 weeks ago, the new chicks arrived. Buff Orpingtons. I had buffs years ago and really liked them. I decided to return to that breed. They are a good layer of BIG brown eggs. They are friendly birds and pleasant to work around. They are not aggressive and quite safe for grandkids. And they make good mothers. I ordered 14 pullets and 1 roo. One chick didn’t survive. I think I ended up with 12 pullets and 2 roos, but time will tell. I am not an expert at sexing chicks, but I am pretty sure I have 2 roos. We’ll see. Likely one will be a roaster as I do not need 2 Roos.


Previously, I had tried fermenting chicken feed but quit because it made my house smell like I was trying to make whiskey. In the summer, one can ferment outside. In our climate, though, fermented feed does better indoors in the winter. And I don’t like my house stinking! So for some years I had compromised by feeding my chickens wet mash, which provides some benefits, but nowhere near as good as fermented feed.


Nowadays, though, I have a sourdough starter that lives in our kitchen. Its smell is NOT objectionable. I decided to use that to start fermented chick feed. Because the sourdough starter was strong, it fully fermented the chick feed in 24 hours. So, I began feeding the chicks fermented feed and replenishing the chick starter daily, just as I do my sourdough. I presently use a glass juice decanter with a stopper lid that allows the fermenting gases to escape if needed, so there is no worry of an explosion when I open the jar each day!


Fermenting the feed does several things. It removes the anti nutrients that are present in grains, thus making the vitamins and minerals that are in the feed more bioavailable to the bird - the nutrients go into the bird rather than through the bird and out the other end. It adds B vitamins. It adds probiotics that eliminate any need for medicated feed - the probiotics provide a healthy gut and coccidia cannot get a foothold to cause illness. Studies show that birds raised on fermented feeds are healthier, produce more and healthier eggs, NEED LESS FEED (because the feed they are eating is so much more nutritious), and produce over a longer time. All this for a very minimal amount of work. It saves considerable money to feed fermented feed, since they need less of it. So it is a win-win proposition to do this. I am happy to report that my new fermentation method is much easier to live with than my previous method - no objectionable smell. Each morning after I feed the chicks, I add equal parts commercial flock raiser and water to the fermenting jar, stir it into the remnants of the previous day’s ferment, put the lid on, and set it at the back of the counter for tomorrow. I have acquired a gallon jar I will use when the chicks get bigger.


Right now I am feeding the chicks about 2-1/2 cups of commercial feed per day. That is for 14 chicks (7 weeks old), feathered out and growing FAST. That feed, when fermented, is at least doubled in volume when fed. That gets supplemented with an armload of fresh greens - lambs quarters, lemon balm, oregano, etc. Plus they get leftovers from the kitchen and garden. Plus they get things like mulberries. 


I love free fruit. When we moved in 5 years ago yesterday, we were busy moving, of course. But one of the first things we did, besides plant my transplants (I brought a bunch of plant starts from our last place), was to dig up a mulberry seedling that was growing next to the house foundation and transplant that over by the chicken run. My DH thought it was silly, that such a tiny thing wouldn’t produce anything useful anytime soon, especially not being a grafted tree like a commercial fruit tree (those produce fruit young because they are an old tree on new roots). I watered it and also gave it chicken manure feedings from time to time. Now it is as tall as the barn and has been producing berries for several years. I like the extended harvest - they do not all ripen at once. They are healthy fruits. Birds love them, and that includes chickens. Though it is tall, I don’t worry about it. It is a wild tree. I am not trying to harvest ALL the fruit. The wild birds are welcome to help harvest the branches I cannot reach. It produces plenty on its lower branches. We eat some. The chicks eat quite a lot of them. I have considered dehydrating some of the mulberries for out of season feeding, and I may do that next year. I have a 2 year old transplant that should be starting to produce next year, and the harvestable mulberries will be increasing. If you have the space somewhere on your property, I heartily recommend transplanting “weedy” mulberries there. 


Chickens also love garden waste: weeds, bugs, veggies and fruits that aren’t quite table perfect. Also, they love most of the things you do. So if you have some uneaten food on your plate, don’t compost it - let the chickens have it first, and compost their waste. They won’t eat some things -pickles, onions, and so on. But most things they will eat. Like most animals (including me) chocolate can harm them. So if you eat chocolate (I cannot as I am deathly allergic), do not give it to chickens. Don’t give them nasty science experiments from the back of the fridge, but they will enjoy a bit of stale bread soaked in sour milk. They can, in other words, get good food value out of things that you might otherwise throw away. They will eat leftover meats also, although in our house those scraps go to the dogs.


Chickens will also eat some hay. In the fall we rake up leaves and put those in the outdoor run. The chickens love digging through them for bugs, bug eggs, etc. Similarly, they love grass clippings, if you have any to spare. I use grass clippings as mulch for the garden, but occasionally rake some up for the birds.


While I do not presently produce all of the feeds our chickens eat, I produce a substantial portion. In a SHTF situation it is helpful to know what you can do to keep your birds going. And, even in normal times, it helps to be able to produce your eggs (and meat) more frugally.


Things to stock for your chickens if you plan on raising some or all of their feed:


  - oyster shell or other calcium source for laying hens


 - good source of minerals and micronutrients such as dried kelp


  - grit if your soil is not naturally gravelly- so your birds can eat your home raised feeds


Hope this helps someone.





Edited by Cowgirl
Grrrrr. Autocorrect
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Very good presentation for chickens!  It's been a long time since we've had chickens.  They are different in many ways from water fowl [ducks/geese].  But then, ducks and geese have differences too.  Fermenting....never tried that.  Does it work for water fowl too?


MtRider :thumbs: 

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Thank you @Mt_Rider. I don’t have enough knowledge concerning fermented feeds and ducks and geese to answer that.

Edited by Cowgirl
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Mulberries are healthy and, at least in the Midwest where I live, are wild fruits that will volunteer from seeds planted by wild birds. Rather than eradicate these little volunteer seedlings, transplanting them to an area of your land will give you fruit in about 3 years, particularly if you are able to water them and feed them a bit of manure. You can, relatively quickly, have a free orchard that can produce food for you and your chickens. This fruit may be eaten/fed fresh, made into jams or jellies, used for pies, or dried for later use.


One advantage to mulberries is that they can be viewed as a sort of stealth orchard from a survivalist perspective. The average citizen does not view them as a food source. The average person does not know they are edible. Thus, a mulberry orchard is more likely to be left unstripped by thieves looking for food.


I have several transplants at various stages of maturity, the oldest of which is 5 years from date of transplant. It was about 8 to 12 inches tall at time of transplant. 4BB02A25-F605-4EA7-99E5-06BFC485880A.thumb.jpeg.805645bd7b851dffeb079eae42a920a8.jpegThe oldest tree began modest production at 3 years from date of transplant, and its production has gone up each year. It now stands as tall as our small barn. In the photo, that is the larger tree to the right. The other tree you can see was transplanted 2 years ago. The second tree was 6 inches tall at time of transplant.


If you are not blessed with volunteer mulberries, they are available for sale as grafted fruit trees. I have never purchased a mulberry, but one advantage of such a tree would be that its berry size and flavor will be known. As with any other wild fruit seedling, there is considerable variation in fruit size and so on in wild types. Think of all the named apples in the grocery store as an example of that - wild apples from seed would be highly variable, with different tastes and sizes.


The second photo is a closeup of a seedling mulberry that I need to transplant. I didn’t get to it last year. But this should help you to identify what you are looking for.






We certainly have grafted fruit trees in our main orchard - cherries and apples. And we have an investment in those. They are staked, watered, pampered (and expensive) trees growing on dwarfing rootstocks. But I happen to like getting these free wild fruits! The wild mulberries, which I have scattered around the property, are my stealth orchard, in addition to being chicken feed producers. I have a few at pasture edges which are not watered and are slower growing, that are our reserve SHTF trees.



Edited by Cowgirl
added seedling photo
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Another chicken feed that I mentioned in my first post is lambs quarters. This is a super nutritious annual “weed” that happily volunteers in many gardens. It can be eaten by humans in salads or as a cooked green prepared similar to spinach. This is another stealth garden crop. I let mine reseed around the compost pile and other spots on our property. My dad introduced me to this plant as a child. While it was never my favorite food, he told me it was an invaluable food if ever I needed to forage for food.


It is a super food. It has a great vitamin and mineral profile and has a good protein content. The protein content by weight goes up when dried, of course. But even fresh it provides nice protein. Chickens love it fresh or dried like hay. You can cut some and hang it from the rafters for winter feed. Just be sure to allow some to mature and reseed for the coming year!


Again, this is not a food widely known by most people. A few foodies will recognize it as edible. But the average person will not, particularly if it is growing as a “weed” somewhere other than an obvious garden bed.


If it will grow in your area, you should definitely be sure not to remove it. It could quite literally save you from starvation. And it is free and healthy chicken feed.




Edited by Cowgirl
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Very nice, Cowgirl.  A few years  back I asked my grandma about feeding chickens, and she said she loved raising them, because they would eat ANYTHING, being ommivorous.  I was worried about being able to afford all the expert recommended grains, mixes and supplements, and she relieved me of that fear quickly.  She raised chickens and provided eggs for a restaurant and a grocery store during the Great Depression, and said they were excellent money-makers.  (She is also the one that taught me how to butcher chickens.)  To this day, I always tell people if I ever teach homesteading classes the price of admission will be one live chicken... 

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Thanks Cowgirl. 


What are the ingredients for the fermented feed. 


The seedling mulberry I bought, over 30 years ago, turned out to be non-fruit bearing. I was so disappointed. DH likes the shade it gives. 


We feed the wild birds and I give the hens a couple handfuls, twice a day. Otherwise, we keep their feeders full all the time. 


I met met a man at TSC, that said he raises birds for sale. He recommended, when choosing the food, we should use one that has a higher protein content.  What I can find around here is usually around 18 - 20%. 


Thanks for your information. 

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1 hour ago, Annarchy said:

What are the ingredients for the fermented feed. 


The seedling mulberry I bought, over 30 years ago, turned out to be non-fruit bearing. I was so disappointed.


I buy a flock raiser from TSC - high protein. I add equal portions by volume, feed and water, each day and stir it into the previous day's ferment.


I do not free feed the fermented food. What I do is to put out what they will consume in about an hour. The balance of their diet is weeds, hay, scraps, bugs, etc.


Many years ago I fed dry feed and would dump a bag in a big feeder that dispensed it out as they ate. They would eat on that for a long time.


In recent years I have been reading studies and applying that to my chicken care routine. I tried fermented feed about 5 years ago but did not like how it smelled over winter in the house - I was using a 3 day fermentation method then and its smell was objectionable. After abandoning that, I fed WET mash. Studies show a reduced need for feed due to greater digestibility of wetted feed, although not as reduced as fermentation.


So due to changing over from dry feeding I began my practice of feeding once per day what they will consume and then supplementing with other foods. You definitely don't want to free feed wet food as all sorts of bad things could colonize it. I am not sure about fermented feed being left out for days, but I don't know anyone who does that. They do great on once per day of fermented feed, supplemented with foods that take longer to peck at and scratch for.


Mulberries are not self-fruitful. If there are no wild ones in your area to cross pollinate, it won't bear fruit. You need at least 2 seedlings if there are no wild trees nearby.


The other thing you must have for mulberries is plenty of bees. If your local pollinator population is too low to be attracted by your mulberries, they won't produce 


Some mulberries are advertised as self-fruitful grafted trees. Most "self-fruitful" grafted trees still produce better with cross-pollination.


I suppose yours could be sterile. But I suspect it just needs a buddy. 

Edited by Cowgirl
Clarity, I hope? :)
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One thing I think bears mention here. Like many super foods, lambs quarters should NOT be fed as an exclusive diet or even a majority of the diet. Like spinach, eaten in extreme excess it could cause problems. It is SUPER HEALTHY. But moderation is key.


I presently have a large-ish patch that I have encouraged to grow and increase in size for several years. It grows happily in a gravely area where not much else could grow. I cut it for hay and hang it to dry for winter feeding.


But again, moderation is key. A little is great. Vast amounts all at once? Not so much.

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About pollinators.


When I first came to this site I had recently moved and my Spidey Senses were going off about looming disaster. I was hesitant to plant anything but food. And I think I even wrote that. Could I afford the luxury of flowers at such a time?


But nonetheless I did plant some flowers. I am a gardener. :darlenedance:


There are reasons to plant flowers other than enjoyment, though. A wide variety of flowers makes for a healthier bee population, both for honeybees and native bees. I aim to have something in bloom every day of the growing season. Healthy pollinator populations mean food production.


I have a monarch butterfly waystation here. I grow 3 different species of milkweeds plus a variety of flowers they like. A huge side benefit of this is the explosion in native bee population here. In creating great habitat for the monarch butterflies, I have also created a habitat for the bees. Our fruit production is very good as a result.


So, a survivalist gardener who wants to produce a lot of food should also plant flowers.


A former neighbor from down the road a ways got very snooty with me when I offered her some flower starts. She said she only raised FOOD and had no use for flowers! She also complained that her fruits did not produce.


Plant flowers. Plant so that there is ALWAYS something in bloom through the spring, summer and fall (winter too if your growing season allows). Feed the bees and they will feed you (and feed your chickens, to keep this on topic). :D

Edited by Cowgirl
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Indeed! Flowers add joy to one’s life, and so do the many species of butterflies they attract. Yesterday while I took a tea break on the porch, I watched a black swallowtail fluttering from one echinacea to another. ?


One very important thing I haven’t mentioned here, about raising food for chickens — I do this organically — I do not spray weeds, and I do not spray bugs. I ***HARVEST*** them. Weeds are not weeds to be killed, they are additional crops that the chickens can eat, roots and all. Bugs are not pests to be destroyed (which will also kill off your very necessary pollinators and reduce your total food production), they are free, high protein food for your chickens. I could not do any of this if I sprayed poison all over my land. 

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