Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chicken Feed Quest II

The quest for chicken feed continues here in the Midway. More trials and tribulations have been endured since my last post on the topic.

As I wrote before, the feed I am looking for would be organic, wholesome, pelleted and locally sourced and available.

It is easy to find organic feed near the Twin Cities, but its only available in "mash". Mash is ground up grains, sometimes with other suspicious ingredients that form a near powder. Hens scatter mash in such a way that much of the bag goes to waste (not to mention an invitation to rodents). The scattering issue goes away when using pelleted feed. During processing of pelleted feed, the mash is pressed in to little nuggets that prevent hens from being so selective and when spilled, they are easily pecked up. I have learned that the pelleting equipment are expensive where costs preclude many small feed producers from investing in this machinery. I can order organic pelleted feed from larger outstate sources as Eric commented on a previous post. However, this requires paying the dollar and carbon costs of shipping individual bags. Ideally, I would like my locally sourced feed to also be available in bulk, so that I could bring my own storage bin and fill up. This would eliminate having large quantities of feed hanging around the urban henhouse demanding both space and many rodent proof containers.

Lately, I experimented with using a home-made feed called Ronda's Whole Grain Chicken Feed Recipe. A local chicken keeper, Jake, offered to mix a large batch. It contains 14 individual whole grains, seeds and legumes . It is not cheap, even when buying the grains in 50# bags. The reception by the hens was not particularly surprising and they have needed some encouragement. They tend to pick out their favorite grains and spill the lesser ones. I use a hanging piglet trough feeder for my feed and put a tray under it to catch spills. I can return the spills to the feeder, but not at the bird's delight. Much to my chagrin, I have now managed to train the local squirrels to now go into the henhouse and be rewarded by the unwanted peanuts and corn. I have learned that I can defeat the hen's hunt-n-peck by grinding Ronda's mix in the vitamix. It works, but then I am back straight to the mash mess. I can trick the hens to gobbling more of the feed by mixing the feed with meat drippings. Think suet-what is offered to wild birds in backyard feeders. This solution is a great way to use up meat drippings, however probably should be limited to an periodic treat. Cooking the grains in water also seems to entice them to consume them more completely too. All-in-all, these solutions are more work than a henkeeper needs on a regular basis.

Other Twin City chicken keepers report their hens are eating most of the feed, leaving behind the peas and a few of other grains. They also report that less feed is needed due to the high quality food value. Ronda's webpage says hens may need to transition into the feed. Some users mentioned that hens need to get hungry in order to eat it all up. I will keep trying, but it seems my quest continues. In the meantime, my next batch of feed may again be conventional pelleted feed, obtained after a long drive to the Anoka Ramsey Farm Store.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hamline SPROUTS and Frances Moore Lappé: Hunger and the Food System

The season of learning has begun now that the gardens are near buttoned up. Reading, attending lectures, conferences, meeting with other folks with good ideas are thankfully re-appearing on the calendar.

This week, a Panel Discussion about Hunger and the Food System was put on by Hamline University's SPROUTS. The conversation was meaty and the panelists from IATP, Gardening Matters, HECUA, and MN Food & Justice did a fine job of connecting climate change, cultural barriers, poor quality food, wasted food, hunger and the need for community based change.

The delivery person spotted my hens and he asked, "Are the worth it?". He meant are the costs of hens and their upkeep really less than store bought eggs? I shared with him that backyard chickens are not just about getting eggs. Just as valuable is their ability to consume most of the food waste our 4-person household creates, and then make significant nutrient contributions to our urban soils via composting. All very true, however, what I did not bring up was that my homegrown eggs do not have any of the hidden costs which industrial food prices ignore. In the case of factory farmed eggs, the hidden costs include environmental, public health and societal hidden costs which never appear into their retail price. For example, how much of the price of factory farmed eggs does the farmer see? The SPROUT panel discussed that in the case of our population in hunger, calories-for-the-sake-of-calories may fill empty stomachs, but the long term chronic disease encouraged by America's cheap diet is certainly wrought with further hidden costs.

SPROUT-ites also heard that food waste reduction is a goal worth obtaining in the efforts to reduce hunger. As Addie Broyles of the
Austin American-Statesman reveals, 25-50% of the food produced in this country goes to waste! Food that is produced, transported, and gotten to a market, home refrigerator or restaurant and then wastefully allowed to go bad or tossed because it doesn't meet some standard. There are known interventions to change this. It does not require sophisticated knowledge to implement smart purchasing, gleaning, or local foods initiatives. When the food waste percentage is seriously attacked, our hunger concerns will lessen, and so will greenhouse gases emitted from food buried landfills.

Frances Moore Lapp
é hit this message well on the Friday evening session of the Wisdom Ways Soul Conference, It's all tied together-- the choices we make in our dinner table ripple into the our food system and directly influence those around us.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Household Organic Waste: The Crib Sheet

This is a table I have been updating for the neighbors near my henhouse who contribute food scraps to our feathered friends. Just for comparison, I added the vermicomposting column too. Together, these 3 food waste options sure take care of almost any organic material from your household- some inedible. As I continue to learn about this topic, I plan re-post the crib sheet when new information has been added.

Organic Waste
coffee grounds
yes, the filters too.
Best place for coffee grounds as worms consider this bedding. Unbleached filter are OK
dried fruit
past their prime is fine, but if the dried fruit is hard and tough, then soften first before serving.
cheese (cream & cottage too) OK if has a touch of mold. Hard cheeses like Parmesan or dried out cheese edges are great but need to be diced. Yogurt must be soaked up with old cereal or similar. Try to serve these early in the day so that there isn't protein sitting in the chicken run overnight attracting mice/rats. No, attracts vermin
OK, but very liquid products should be avoided.
grain products: breads, cereal, crackers &
other grain -based foods
This is the best place for grain products. Stale bread is perfect for hens, but bread can't be hard and dried out when served to chickens. Soften with leftover milk, soup, sauce. Same for hard crackers and pretzels and hard pizza crust. Best chunk up into nickle size pieces to keep squirrels from stealing it all. Rice, noodles, quinoa, oatmeal, uncooked oats, etc.
No, attracts vermin
All, but only if whole grains (100% white flour products are not good for worms, or for you)
eggs & eggshells
Hens love cooked eggs. Empty hells of hard cooked eggs are great too (no raw eggshells though due to passing bacteria). The trick is that the hens can't know that they are eggs! They will start to eat their own and its very hard to stop that behavior. Crush any shells into tiny bits. Try to serve these early in the day so that there isn't protein sitting in the chicken run overnight attracting mice/rats.Provides good calcium for layers.
Shells are OK even if raw.
Shells are OK even if raw. They provide needed calcium to the livestock.
egg cartons (and packing material made of the same stuff)
OK, great source of carbon
super for bedding, would need to be torn up first.
drier lint and kitchen sink gunk
meat / stockpot leftovers
Hens will definitely eat meat leftovers. Can't be rotten though, and needs to be diced if its hard or grisly. After stock-making, Hens will love to pick the bones clean (remove bones later in the day). Try to serve these early in the day so that there isn't protein sitting in the chicken run overnight attracting mice/rats. No
meat drippings
Mixing meat drippings with hen feed, or even cat food until soaked up becomes fine hen food. Think Suet served to wild birds.
nuts Most nuts are hard, so really need to be ground up, like a coarse cornmeal consistency. Rancid is just fine. Try to serve these early in the day so that there isn't protein sitting in the chicken run overnight attracting mice/rats. No, attracts vermin OK
Fruit: citrus,
melon (rinds & seeds too),
apple/pear peel & cores (seeds removed),
berries, bananas,
Fruit is a real treat! Apples must be diced in order for the hens to take much. Apple seeds are toxic, so I usually cut that part out before dicing. Grapefruit halves are welcomed, even after eating.
All can go in no matter its state
All plus worms will take peels that hens won't
paper towels, napkins and tissues
All can go in unless there was a chemical cleaner used on the towels.
unbleached paper products only, no cleaning product on them
take-out and plate scrapings
Generally all good. Pizza should be diced, if crust is very hard best to soften with liquid. Try to serve these early in the day so that there isn't protein sitting in the chicken run overnight attracting mice/rats. No, attracts vermin OK
packing material - cornstarch peanuts & egg carton materials
tea leaves hens like the size of loose leaf
OK, with any paper teabag too
OK, with any paper teabag too
pizza boxes (unrecyclable corrugated due to food residue)
Yes, the best place for pizza boxes. Take the time to tear up the box, but it is not necessary
vegetable scraps:corn
lettuce, chard, beet greens, tomato, pepper seeds, cucumbers
Hens will take anything leafy without any prep and OK if they are not particularly fresh. Corn cobs with bits of left overs on them are well loved. Hard veggies should be diced. Root veggie scraps work best if cooked first to soften. I have read that folks suggest to go light on items in the cabbage family as egg flavor can be impacted.

This is the best place for onions, carrots and anything in the cabbage family, & avocados. These items are either toxic to, or not preferred by hens. Otherwise, any vegetable waste in any condition can be put in the bins.
Worms will take it all, but may have to limit onion.