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Raging Against the Machine

Although I have been inundated with rock and heavy metal this most recent rotation (my preceptor is something of an aficionado--how's that for office music!), my recognition of songs really stops at whatever made it onto the Guitar Hero album. However, the title of this rock band has something to do with the semi-revolution going on in the feeding business. People are beginning to get tired of eating flavorless, unhealthy, factory produced foods and are instead moving back towards the way that our grandparent's did things. Granted, no one was a millionaire, but there was a simple richness that came out of an honest day's work and working with your own two hands. There's got to be a reason that "grandma's home-cooking" is still held up in a place of honored respect--even despite the fact that in these modern days we have the finest of chefs. A lot of this has got to be in the quality and simple goodness in the stuff Grandma was cooking with.

Hence the back-yard farming, poultry producing, egg, and occasionally meat movement of today. However, I'm seeing where we're having some problems with even that source. How can we assume to be self sufficient if we're still dependent on the feed store getting their shipments of grain in? Is there anyway to grow comparable, pesticide-free foodstuffs for our own animals without mortgaging the house to buy acres of land an an army of machinery? How is it that our grandparents fed their animals without the combines of today? As a side note, when was the last time you did a focused analysis of your food down to an exact percentage of protein vs. carbs vs. fats? Make sure you have a starch, a couple of fruits and veggies, a dairy, and a meat--and variety is king is more the diet mantra I've heard over the years....why not apply it to our chickens?

Well, I've been on a bit of a quest the past few days as to what exactly does a chicken need. (To be entirely honest right now, I'm not sure that you could feed a larger animal very practically this way unless you only had one or two animals and they were obtaining a LARGE portion of their foodstuffs from pasture. Hence the need to carefully select pasture-friendly livestock..but I digress.) Getting back to the chickens, every place that I've read raves about the wonders of pasture--but around that raving, the feeding of bagged grains still occurs, albeit at a much slower pace, but outside food source, nonetheless. I've been scouring the web for information on feeding chickens and figuring out what exactly they need. Basically, it boils down to:
  • Pasture--as much as they'll eat
  • Carbohydrates--in the form of starches and sugars
  • Proteins and fats
  • Miscellaneous minerals, vitamins, and calcium
From the guidance from The Modern Homestead, Grit, this informative database from the New South Wales Department of Agriculture, and random gleanings from the web (clearly presented information on just nutritional value of "common" feeds were surprisingly hard to find!), I've found a variety of "substitutes" for the more mainstream grain choices--which are likely to be the most labor-intensive portion of this whole project.

Pasture--no brainer. Let your chickens roam free, or put them in movable chicken tractors.

Proteins--a little vermiculture, like Harvey Ussery, left-overs kitchen scraps, excess eggs, or the whey after making cheese are all good, cheap sources. That free ranging also allows your birds to find insect pests in your yard--ridding yourself of the nuisance and cutting down on the feed bill simultaneously.

Fats and all the minerals and vitamins tend to take care of themselves when the birds are given a good diet of everything mentioned and free range.

The carbs is where there seems to be lacking information as to viable alternatives to the traditional--and labor-intensive!--corn, wheat, and oats. From what I can find, cowpeas (black-eye peas) are a wonderful, high protein substitute that is relatively easy to thresh. Mangel beets, pumpkins, squash, sunflower seeds, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and buckwheat are all also good options. I was unable to find clear information on all of those feed options, but here's a little document that I put together of a selection of plants that I knew I could grown and harvest relatively easily without too much hard labor--and that happened to have information somewhat readily available. Sweet potatoes, comfrey, bounty from trees, and mangel beets were hard to come by and I think that their use doesn't have very good information available.

As with everything, I'd say a well-balanced diet with a variety of feed will keep everyone happy. Personally, I'd get entirely disgusted tending half and acre of mangel beets alone to feed my chickens. Now, a sizable patch of mangel beets, and extra large bed of potatoes and sweet potatoes for me with the culls for the birds, a good stand of comfrey, some worm bins, a swath or two of blackeye peas, field peas, buckwheat, and sprouts--I'd be a happy camper. A lot of those are foods for me, too. Just feed extras to the birds. Then an area for the birds to pick clean, scratch through, turn my compost, and till a new section of garden. Now, that's what I call a symbiotic relationship.


  1. Hey Paige,
    I couldn't see your document, but I love this post. Anything we can do to be more self-sufficient is a step in the right direction. I love that you're doiong all the research for me :) Hope you're having a wonderful day! Aimee

  2. I'm so glad that you all are enjoying/using what I've been compiling! It's even more satisfying (beyond my voracious curiousity/ocd-ness) that others are using it, too! :)


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