My generous hens are each laying an egg most days. In return, our feed costs have grown. In an effort to save money I’ve been minimising feed wastage and growing our own chook food. Their laying pellets are now supplemented with forage greens, worms and egg shells.
The supplementary home-grown food doesn’t replace commercial laying pellets. They still have access to a continuous supply of pellets, but thankfully I now need to refill their feeder less often.
A good quality rain-proof chook feeder reduces the amount of grain spilled, spoiled or taken by pests and other birds. I’ve been very pleased with our Australian made Royal Rooster chicken feeder.
It’s also important to reduce wastage of stored chicken food. I store our bulk feed in galvanised metal garbage bins.
Our chooks get a basket of freshly picked greens at least twice a day. I raid our veggie garden for silverbeet, spinach, kale, beetroot leaves and weeds. I also have a bed of forage greens grown specifically for the chooks. I planted a seed mix by Green Harvest called Clucker Tucker. The mix includes bok choy, buckwheat, forage chicory, clover, cocksfoot, linseed, lucerne, millet, forage plantain, silverbeet, subclover and sunflower.
The chooks get access to bugs and more greens when I move their chicken tractor every fortnight and during free-range time at least once a week.
My chickens also get a big handful of worms every few days. Worms are high in protein, and given the response when I toss a handful into the chook pen, are considered a delicacy. I usually have at least two worm farms on the go and sometimes more to ensure I have enough to sacrifice a few to the chooks. An easy way to collect worms is to crack an egg in one corner of the worm farm. Return a day later and that corner will be full of worms ready to collect.
Chickens need calcium for strong egg shells. One option is to give them shell grit, but a cheaper option is to feed them egg shells. I collect our egg shells, dry them in the sun (or by the fire in winter) for a week and then crush them.
There’s a range of other home-grown chook feed options I’m exploring. I’m growing extra corn and sunflowers and plan to grow meal worms.
I like that these home-grown chicken feeds not only save money, but also reduce food miles.
Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 9th November 2013.