Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What do Chickens Eat?

The short answer is everything.  I mean it.  If it's small enough to fit into their beaks, soft enough to tear it into pieces small enough to fit into their beaks, interesting-looking, in my hands, moving, slimy, green, in a bowl... you get the picture. 

I've seen them eat little bits of plastic, GIANT worms, toxic rhubarb leaves, and all other things that make me nervous with no trouble at all.  The last people to live in this house had all kinds of stuff and we're still finding small, degrading bits of garbage around the yard.  The problem is they are all about the right size to fit down a chicken gullet.  My mommy instincts are high, so I'm constantly picking up little bits of foreign materials so the ladies don't get 'em.

The fact that they eat everything is mostly a good thing.  Every little bit of something they find to munch on in the yard is that much less chicken feed I have to buy.  It's free food, man.  They also eat things that I don't want in my yard like slugs, weeds, and weed seeds.  They are my own herbicide/pesticide machines.

Another thing that they eat is leftovers and food scraps.  It's awesome to look at a pile of edible materials that I would normally throw in the compost and see it as free chicken feed.  I'll have some leftovers that are getting a little too old for my own consumption, that the chickens see as a gourmet meal.  It's become a bit of a hobby to look at everything and asking myself: "can the chickens eat it?" before throwing it away. 

I make sure to give the ladies a snack everyday.  I've noticed that it really improves their egg production.  The snack varies quite a bit depending on what I have in my 'fridge that needs to go.  Usually I mix a random assortment of things together that would normally gross a human out and they just looove it.  Here is a list of some of the things that they've gotten recently:

* Freezer burned green beans
* Stale rice
* Old apple sauce
* Carrot peelings
* The really hard part of a broccoli stalk (chopped up)
* Carrot tops
* Okara (Leftover soy pulp from making tofu)
* Old crusty raisins
* Gross chewy frozen corn
* Pumpkin seeds (shell and all...)
* Expired kinako (that's a sweet soy powder that Japanese often use in desserts)
* Stale bread

This is all stuff that I would normally toss in the compost, but instead I now can recycle it into fresh eggs and high quality fertilizer.  It feels really good to think of it that way. 

I also bake and crush up their egg shells and sprinkle that on top of their snack to make sure they're replenishing their calcium since they put so much of it into their eggs.  I know there should be enough in their layer feed but they eat so much stuff separate from their feed that I like to supplement it a bit, just to make sure.

Green beans, rice, kinako, and egg shells
Green beans, raisins, okara
The really funny thing about this whole chicken snack business is how obsessed they are with it.  They see us coming with the blue or green bowls, that have now become the official chicken bowls, and those ladies come running like they haven't eaten in days.  They've gotten so used to me feeding them snacks that when I go out back without one, they look confused and try to bite my fingers.  It kinda hurts.  It's also a super easy way to get them back into their run when we need to get them in before it gets dark.

They eat SUPER fast.
I'm currently in the process of making a funny video that shows how awesome they look when they run.  Hopefully it will be done soon, so you all can see it.

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