Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What do you feed poultry?

Well first, let's talk about what to store your feed in. I personally use trash cans with locking lids. They provide an inexpensive way to store poultry feed out of the weather and away from rodents. Your main concern is to keep the feed dry so it does not spoil or get moldy, either of which would not be good to feed your poultry. Your second concern is keeping rodents out of your feed, as not only would they consume the feed that you intended for your poultry, but would also pose a health threat to your poultry and to you. In addition to the health threat rodents would also attract predators such as cats, snakes, hawks and owls.
     It is a good idea to use a measuring cup so as you can adjust the amount of feed that you're giving them. You should treat your poultry as you would goldfish, never feeding more than they can eat within a 15 minute period. This eliminates waste and reduces the chances of wild animals getting into the feed that was intended for your livestock. 

Lay pellets or pellet feed is the most common poultry feed. This is usually a blend of grains and alfalfa or just straight alfalfa that is mashed and pressed into pellets. It is an adult feed that is high in protein and helps with the production of eggs. Although this may not be your poultry's favorite food it is one of their mainstays. 
I have found that if I feed this to them in the morning I have less problems with them eating it. Otherwise they act like a bunch of kids eating their ice cream before eating their broccoli. 

An alternative to lay pellets is a feed referred to as crumbles. This generally has a similar composition of ingredients but instead of being in the form of large pellets it is in the form of small crumbles. This is a feed that can be given to adult poultry as well as smaller poultry. It is not recommended by the Department of Agriculture for chicks as it does not contain antibiotics or growth hormones. Personally though I think we have enough antibiotics and growth hormones in our food supply as it is. Chick start also comes in this form which is not recommended to be fed to your adult poultry or any poultry that is laying eggs. You can get chick start without antibiotics or growth hormones, but I have found it to be expensive compared to just buying regular crumbles. Chick start is generally intended for baby chicks that are being raised in a brooder, where sanitation can be a problem. As I raise my chickens free range it would be impossible to use this type of feed without my laying hens getting into it as well.
    Chicken scratch is usually a mix of grains and cracked corn. I usually feed this to my chickens later in the day so it does not spoil their appetite for the lay pellets or crumbles. I will also sprinkle a small handful in areas around my gardens to encourage the chickens to thatch specific areas. As this product usually has a large quantity of corn in it, I can also use this to fatten up poultry that I intend to butcher. If I need an even larger fat content I can also purchase straight cracked corn. You can also purchase straight whole grains such as wheat and barley to create your own blends or to manage food costs.
You can also purchase products such as whole-wheat (livestock feed or food grade )for the purposes of sprouting the wheat in order to create a product referred to as fodder. Fodder is essentially sprouted grains which adds bulk and increases the nutrient content to the feed that you're giving them in addition to giving them greens. This can also reduce feed costs substantially as it increases the bulk of the food by at least 2 to 3 times its original volume. The grain is generally sprouted in flat tray containers for seven days and then fed to the livestock. With the rising cost of alfalfa hay, fodder has also become popular with larger livestock such as cattle and horses as well.
    One of the ways that I grow my own fodder is to simply use clear plastic storage containers with holes drilled at one edge for drainage. Place 1 cup of whole wheat or other grain in the storage container and then water and drain once daily. I do not sprout the wheat for much more than seven days as beyond that it tends to mold. When it is ready to harvest I also clip the wheatgrass for my own consumption and use it in salads or make wheatgrass juice using a special juicer for wheatgrass juicing. I can then feed the remaining product to my livestock, which is cool because nothing goes to waste. One of your other feed products that you need to keep in mind is called oyster shell. This is essentially oyster shell that has been crushed into small enough pieces that your poultry can then consume. It is generally fed your poultry to add calcium to their diet and is generally fed to them when you need to thicken the shells of the eggs that your poultry are laying.
Oyster shell can be purchased at your local feed supplier but whenever possible you should try to purchase your oyster shell in 40 or 50 pound bags. The reason for this is that many retailers will try to sell you a 1 to 5 pound bag for the same cost as the 50 pound bag. Oyster shell does not spoil and generally a 50 pound bag will last you several years for a small flock of 20 or 30 birds. I do not feed oyster shell to my poultry on a regular basis as feeding them too much will cause egg shells to become extremely thick and making eggs difficult to crack when cooking. I can also use egg shells as a substitute or supplement so long as I crush the egg shells before feeding them back to my poultry. The reason for this is that I do not want my poultry to recognize the egg shells as a food source. If they think that eggs are a food source they will begin to cannibalize their own eggs and once they start cannibalizing their own eggs it is near impossible to break them of the habit.
    Table scraps are also another source of food that can be used to supplement your poultry's diet, but you should use extreme care in how you handle and what you feed your poultry from your table. Like many pets and livestock, chocolate, onionsand apple seeds are food product that you should never feed them. Greens or vegetable trimmings, as well as breads, and other grains are safe to feed your livestock so long as it is not spoiled or moldy. Meat products should be avoided as it will cause chickens to lay eggs with blood spots and may taint the flavor of the eggs. Although my father told me that when the family was raising poultry commercially during the depression, they would quite often catch live carp and other bottom fish to feed to the poultry. As the poultry they were raising were for meat, blood spots in the eggs was not a problem and it was a cheap source of protein for the chickens. It is said that chickens are closely related to prehistoric raptors and after witnessing chickens eating another live animal, you never look at a chicken the same way ever again.
    Free-range chickens will quite often eat mice and other small animals if they can catch them, but it should not be of serious concern as it doesn't happen very often. I do recommend that you fence your chickens out of your food garden as many of the foods that we like such as tomatoes are also a favorite of theirs. I have had turkeys in my food garden as they have a preference for eating insects and weeds but as with any poultry you may have to keep an eye on them and discourage them from eating anything that you consider food . Poisonous or toxic weeds are generally not a concern as most are bad tasting and your poultry won't eat a sufficient quantity to be lethal. Some flowers and other ornamental plants may have to be protected with a short fence or cage, but for the most part they will do you a huge favor by thatching your yard and removing insect pests such as Grubbs and scorpions.
    If you have any additional questions be sure and contact your local extension office which is usually associated with the state agricultural University. And for more garden and livestock information check out the following link.

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