Living Center Oregon

Sustainable Living Center Oregon

Seven Ways to Feed your Chickens Free

Selling chickens or eggs for almost exactly the same price as their feed is not sustainable.  Below are seven ways of feeding chickens at a lower cost.

dome_400Chicken Dome — A Dome provides a large run area for the chicken to free range. A 11-foot dome provides 95 square feet of grass for the chicken.  By moving the Dome around your yard or field and having the chicken access to fresh grass can be 15-20% of a chicken’s entire diet.

The Dome is made of grey plastic 1/2 “ PVC conduit covered with UV resident vinyl chicken wire.  Since it is made of plastic, it is light enough for one person to move it around, so the chickens have access to fresh grass every day.  The Dome protects the chickens during the daytime from dogs and chicken hawks.

Another reason for using a dome rather than a square shape. Chickens will naturally establish their pecking order – literally pecking the weaker chickens! Being a circular cage, it is difficult for the weaker chickens to be cornered, after chasing around a couple of laps, they all forget what they were doing, so the maintaining of the pecking order is not so relentless as in a cage with corners.

chickensfreerange_400Free Range Feed
—  If you have plenty of space, chickens can feed themselves pretty well. They’ll eat grass, worms, seeds, roaches, frogs, leaves, berries and just about anything they can peck into pieces and swallow. Letting them run on the edge of forest and meadow is perfect. However, in a free-range situation like that, you deal with predators… chickens laying eggs randomly in the bushes… and runaway birds. Unless you’re around to play chicken guard, you’re going to lose birds. Hens can be taken by dogs, beheaded by coons, torn to pieces by hawks and whacked by owls. This situation is not friendly for your chickens. The cost of making a predator-proof run is expensive and then you have to feed them. Building a “Chicken Statuary” is our low cost solution using the feed methods listed below.

fodder_chickens_400Sprouted Fodder Feed —  Sprouted fodder is not a new idea. There are references to sprouting small grains for fodder dating back at least to the 1600s. What is new is the technology and engineering that makes it economically competitive with other feeding options. Light, moisture and consistent heat are critical for sprouted fodder to work. Attempts have been made using greenhouses to produce the sprouts, but have proven difficult and expensive for controlling humidity and heat. Greenhouses are just not consistent enough for reliable fodder production.

Nearly all of the starch present in the grain is converted to sugar by sprouting, which is better utilized by the rumen than the dry grain. This reduces acidosis problems, as the rumen pH stays more stable without the constant input of starch.

Mineral and vitamin levels in hydroponically-sprouted barley are significantly increased over those in grain; in addition, they are absorbed more efficiently due to the lack of enzyme inhibitors in sprouted grain. Sprouts provide a good supply of vitamins A, E, C and B complex. The vitamin content of some seeds can increase by up to 20 times their original value within several days of sprouting.

Barley is the most nutritious of the small grains, stores well and is easy to grow. Barley sprouts the best, grows the fastest and is most cost-effective of all the grains. To work well for sprouted fodder, the barley seed needs a high germination rate and must be very clean.  A general rule of thumb is a yield of 1:7–one pound of barley seed will produce seven pounds of sprouted fodder.

To sprout barley consistently and economically, you need a climate-controlled space, lighting of sufficient brightness (lumens), a soaking vat, a rack and tray system and a watering system.  The systems must be insulated and climate controlled. The ideal temperature is 70 degrees F, with humidity held high and constant, but not too high that mold becomes an issue. Air movement is is controlled by fans.  Our Solar Heat Grabber serve this function.

The barley seed must be very clean and have a high germination rate. Dirty seed will have mold problems and require a lot of labor time in cleaning both seed and equipment. Low germination rates will decrease the efficiency of the system.

Clean grain must be soaked 8 to 12 hours. Hydrogen peroxide or bleach is sometimes used in the soaking water to kill mold spores and the soaking water is sometimes aerated.

After soaking, the grain is drained and spread onto trays. Temperatures should be kept between 60 and 75 degrees F, with 70 degrees ideal. The grain must be kept moist to sprout. Seventy percent humidity is the target in the growing room.

The sprouted barley is harvested between six and eight days of growth. Nutrition will be lost but weight gained by days seven and eight. At harvest, the barley shoots will be about six inches tall with a two-inch mat of interwoven roots. The sprouted grain is harvested by removing the tray or sliding the mat off the tray in one long sheet. The mats can be cut to the appropriate size and fed to the Chickens.

By starting new grain every day, the system can constantly provide fresh fodder.

cgwednesday_1Compost Feed
—  Chickens love to scratch. That’s how many once green fenced chicken yards become barren brown wastelands. If they free range, they most likely love to scratch in your garden, often digging up precious plants. They will scratch up nice dust bathing holes, eventually making a chicken-style moonscape. Some have even dug their way out of their enclosures. They scratch litter into their food and water dishes, out of the coop onto the ground, making a mess of everything but the point is: while chickens loving to scratch can be detrimental, it can also be used to our benefit.

Chickens and compost are like “a peanut and jelly sandwich”, because of their digging and scratching. Turning your compost pile is labor-intensive and back-breaking work, however, chickens will gladly do it for you!  Chickens find great pleasure in digging through the compost in search of the high protein bugs and beneficial microbes that are a favorite snack, as well as, the weed seeds, food scraps, and any edible green plant tossed into the compost pile. This free food not only improves the quality of the eggs, but it also reduces the amount of feed you have to buy. Because of their constant scratching, the raw compost materials break down a lot faster.

If you don’t want your current compost pile to be disturbed, but you still want the chickens to have access, you can enclose it with pallets, wire, or our Chicken Dome. That way it can still “heat up” and fulfill all the normal “requirements”. With pallets or wire the chickens won’t be able to get as much use or enjoyment out of it, but they would still enjoy scratching through the top layer. Another option is to have the compost contained on three sides, and let the chickens scratch through it. Then, if you want, you can shovel the compost they scratched around back into the pile. But, that kind of defeats the purpose of the chickens doing “all” the work.

With our Chicken Dome, the chickens have full access to the pile and can start a Chicken Garden.

bsf_400Black Soldier Fly Larvae Feed —  The Black Soldier Fly larvae will eat kilograms of scrap food every day, eliminating your food waste before it can even begin to rot.  Black Soldier Fly larvae do more than just eat waste.

When they are done eating your food waste, they will harvest themselves into buckets and let you feed them to your chickens.  High in protein and fat they could become a main ingredient of chickens feed.

On average a household will produce a little under 2 pounds or a kg of food waste per day. This food waste can be composted at home using black soldier fly larvae much faster than worms can do it.

To use Black Soldier Fly Larvae as chicken feed requires a design with these features:

  • large for plenty of compost
  • portable so it can move
  • auto-feeds chickens
  • easy to build and replicate
  • made from common materials

This composter can turn everyday food and garden waste in to a nutritious food source for chickens. Simply place the food scraps in the barrel and the Black Soldier Fly (BSF) larvae does the rest. The larvae converts the scraps in to rich organic compost. Once the Larvae are mature, they crawl up a ramp and fall in to the chicken feeder. The chickens love the BSF and they get a healthy dose of calcium and protein. Once the composter is full of compost, it is ready to be used. This device reduces household waste and provides a free dietary supplement for your chickens. The BSF larvae that are not eaten eventually transform in to adult BSF, lay eggs, and you really don’t see them much at all. The pheromones produced from the BSF repel the common house flies. There is not much odor that is produced from this process, similar to a conventional compost pile but the process is much faster.

ch-fig07_400Duckweed Feed —  Duckweed is the common name given to the simplest and smallest flowering plant that grows ubiquitously on fresh or polluted water throughout the world. Duckweeds are small, fragile, free floating aquatic plants. At times they grow on mud or water that is only millimetres deep to water depths of 3 metres. Their vegetative reproduction can be rapid when nutrient densities are optimum. They grow slowly where nutrient deficiencies occur or major imbalances in nutrients are apparent.

When conditions are ideal, in terms of water temperature, pH, incident light and nutrient concentrations they doubling their biomass in between 16 hours and 2 days, depending on conditions.

Duckweed grows on water with relatively high levels of N, P and K and concentrates the minerals and synthesises protein. These are the nutrients which are often critically deficient in traditional fodders and feeds given to poultry.

Liquid Nitrogen rich fertilizer or Liquid Gold would be poured into a small old hot tub with duckweed. Since duckweed covers the entire surface of the pond, very little ammonia would volatilize and give rise to unpleasant smells. The duckweed harvested each day makes a wonderful feed for chickens and, of course, ducks.

Chicken Forest
—  A forest for the chickens has a mulberry tree dropping fruit throughout June, July and August.mulberrie_200 There is a clover, alfalfa, grains, sunflowers, buckwheat, peas, and lentils in the more open areas. Fruit and nut trees are surrounded by siberian pea shrubs,SIBERIAN PEA SHRUB_200 chickweed, dandelion, amaranth, sunchokes, raspberries, blueberries, Comfrey and Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle many might call a noxious weed, but it is abundant and consistent food source.   When it’s dried, it’s Stinging-Nettle_200up to 40% protein and is a most excellent nitrogen source for chickens. It grows well nearly anywhere. Chances are you already have it.  In that case, find it and transplant it to where you want it.  Collect the mature seed heads and drop them anywhere you want nettles to grow.

Comfrey_perfect_200Chicken like Comfrey.   It’s high protein feed for chickens.  Comfrey is easy to grow (it can be planted anytime of the year that you can work the soil, and it will stay alive in extreme cold and heat.  In addition, comfrey contains high levels of Vitamin A and B12 that can contribute to those deep yellow eggs we all desire. As you can see, Comfrey and Nettle are two great resources.  Be sure to stay on top of your management to keep them at bay.

We talk a lot about sustainability, but we will never achieve true sustainability until we learn to give back to nature in a closed loop everything that she needs to sustain us.


This entry was posted on February 20, 2016 by .