With the modern lifestyle, it is a real luxury to be able to sit down for a moment and do some writing. Time is very precious for me at the moment with my City & Guilds course occupying the majority of my time. I rarely have time to do other things after writing reports of designers and making garments.
As well as experimenting with Andrew’s and my own diet for a more organic way of being/living, I have been experimenting with wholesome organic feed for my chickens. In my humble opinion, chickens are the easiest animals you can raise in a smallholding. Don’t get me wrong, I love all my other pets too, but chickens are the lowest maintenance right after Susie, my anti-social cat. They are robust, independent and lovely to be with, and as a bonus, they reward our ‘hard work’ with the most nutritious food on earth – eggs!
Eggs are so versatile – you can make sweet dishes, savoury dishes, they can be the focus of a dish or they can be the enhancer of a dish. There are many ways of enjoying eggs and I am always surprised when friends ask me how could we consume all the eggs produced by our girls. To the contrary, we have suffered from egg shortages from time to time as the girls are producing less eggs as they get older.
Eggs are pretty much part of our staple diet and I am becoming ever more conscious about the nutrient value of the eggs produced by our girls. From the very beginning, I picked the best chicken feed there is on the market for my girls. They have been raised on organic feeds and treats. However, I have always been wary of the fact that commercial chicken feed is heavily based on soy and wheat.
Over time, I got to question how nutritious the feeds are for my girls. Chickens have been domesticated for thousands of years and we have developed commercial feed formulas for convenience. However, if you look into what wild birds eat, you will see that what we feed our chickens is far from their natural diet. Wild birds will eat pretty much whatever they can get. For instance: grains, greens (like grass, plants or vegetable), small mammals (like mice, snakes or sometimes roadkill), bugs and worms.
After a lot of research and planning, I switched my girls to wholegrain diet. My girls are free ranging with the alpacas in grassland. They are constantly finding bugs and worms (and some times an odd mouse!) I thought their diet was pretty good and it would be awesome if I provided them with wholesome organic grains. The switch itself was very easy, they were readily accept ing of the wholegrain diet, all I noticed is that they required more grit to grind the food (in my case, they prefer egg shells than grit – will come to this later).
The more challenging aspect of this style of feeding is to get the nutrients balanced and correct for the girls’ needs. If you look online, there are many formulas shared by fellow chicken owners. However, Garden Betty has to be number one on my list. As well as a well-documented explanation about the ethos of the switch of diet, Grand Betty also shared her recipes and a chicken feed calculator. This is a very useful tool for making sure the grain mix you give to your chickens provides the right amount of protein as different ages of chickens require different levels of protein to thrive.
Some of the ingredients which Garden Betty suggested are not as easy to find in the UK and therefore, I have developed my own recipe. I get my grain supplies from an online wholesale company as they provide organic grains at a competitive price when you order in bulk.
Phoebe Patch’s Homemade Organic Wholegrain Chicken Feed:
Makes enough to fill a 12KG feeder.
4 cups oat groats
4 cups wheat groats
4 cups black oil sunflower seeds
2 cups rye
2 cups millet
1 cup lentils
1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup linseeds
As well as the above, the girls will get a cup of mealworms to share a couple of times a week. I also treat them with pumpkin, apples and other vegetables from my vegetable patch.
When you switch your chickens to the wholegrain diet, make sure you provide oyster shells and grit as they will require a little more of these to aid digestion compared to commercial feed. I normally wash, dry then crush the egg shells and mix them in the grit feeder for my girls. They definitely prefer the egg shells over grit and oyster shells which is great as egg shells take a long time to biodegrade in my compost heap.
I switched their diet in January and I was warned that they may stop laying for a while before resuming as they are adjusting to the diet. Honestly, I did not experience that, the girls continued to lay as normal. However, I noticed the local birds started to go into the chicken run to help themselves to the wholesome organic grains!
I used to use Olmet feeders which was pretty much like an open house party, (everyone was welcome to join the banquet!) I then invested in a treadle chicken feeder which holds more feed and prevents local birds from helping themselves to the gourmet food. These feeders automatically shut to prevent pests.As soon as the chicken steps on to the treadle, the flap opens. There are a few settings on the treadle so you can adjust to make sure bantams have their fair share of the food too.
It took about one week for my girls to learn how to operate the feeder and all we did was place some stones on the treadle for a couple of hours for two days to make sure they knew there was food. Occasionally, we put one of the girls on the treadle to encourage the others to follow. I can see that the food does not go as quickly as it used to, as I was probably feeding the Warwickshire bird population previously. It is also handy for us as it holds 12 kg of food and I always fill up the feeder before we go on holiday, saving my helper from having to mix the grains up.
If you are looking for a better diet for your chickens and would like to try this formula, I would love to hear from your experience. Next time, I will talk about organic diet for my dogs. Stay tuned.