I’ve been researching alternative feeding regimes for hens. As you may have gathered from things I’ve written like feeding chickens on scraps, I believe the current legislation in the UK is at best ill-judged and probably influenced by large feed manufacturers who would prefer we buy their products.
The large commercial egg producers wouldn’t dream of using food waste. Their industrial systems are based on feed inputs obtained for the lowest cost in controlled amounts delivered by mechanical systems. But home keepers and micro producers at least might well be better off with an alternative system.
Ecologically transforming waste foodstuffs and garden waste into high quality food (eggs) and excellent manure has to make sense.
Research into Alternative Ways of Feeding Chickens
Since it’s illegal in the UK to feed even pet hens on food waste and the large producers aren’t interested in alternative feeding, there’s no research from this country available. There’s quite a lot of current research and experimentation amongst micro-farmers going on in the USA who, in this area at least, have more sensible legislation.
The problem I have with the US information is that I’ve only found Youtube videos so far.
The ones I’ve found are superficial and lacking hard facts like how much is ‘some grain’ and what the laying rates are.
Compost Feeding Chickens
One system that seems to offer potential for smallholders is compost fed chickens. It takes up a fair bit of space, so not really suitable for the average home keeper here in Britain with our small gardens. The system is beautifully simple and gives the hens total freedom to express their natural behaviours like scratching over.
- Vegetable and other garden waste, along with food scraps are deposited at one end of a run. The hens eat what they like from this pile, depositing their manure which is a great compost activator.
- This is then forked over to further down the run and grain seeds added to it. Then hens scratch this over and eat some of the grains. This is also forked over to the next section.
- The grain seeds missed in the previous stage will sprout and the compost is at a stage to encourage worms and other bugs. The hens scratch this over, eating the sprouted seeds and insects.
- The final rich compost is then removed to the garden.
Home Poultry Keepers – Alternative Feeding
The best applicable information I’ve found so far on alternative feeding for egg production for home keepers actually dates back to the second world war. At that time eggs were on ration but home poultry keepers could forego their egg ration which entitled them to buy poultry feed. The poultry feed was also rationed.
Balancer Meal Poultry Feed
Rather than feeding on layers pellets or mash, the feed they could obtain was known as ‘balancer meal’ It was formulated to provide the basic needs on the assumption that the main part of the diet would come from the keeper’s waste bins and garden.
I’m currently reading a fascinating work from 1944 on feeding laying hens for egg production. It’s only 50 pages but they’re packed with information from an experienced poultry farmer. More on this soon.
Very interesting! I did a project on sustainable hen nutrition for my Permaculture certificate, and I am always interested in new methods of alternative feeding. I agree wholeheartedly that the current law is wasteful and redundant where small keepers are concerned.
Thanks for the support, Sue. Economically it makes sense for commercial producers to use layers pellets that can be distributed by machinery. Those pellets make up the protein content using soya which is generally GM soya most often grown in huge monoculture farms in the Amazon.
That may well be the cheapest way to grow it – if you ignore the cost to the local people and the Amazon jungle.
We really must move to sustainable and regenerative agricultural methods if we are going to avoid catastrophe in the future.
I agree the methods of soya production are destructive and unsustainable. I choose to feed my chooks with organic pellets and corn but it costs double gm feed which is not possible for many keepers. I investigated growing various plants in and around the chicken compound in order to provide some supplement to standard feed. Red clover was popular. This year I am going to try sunflowers.
I totally agree with you John. As a hen keeper on an allotment I’m keen to keep my costs down without harming my chooks. They love some of the unwanted greenery that crops up when I feed it to them and will naturally scratch around for bugs and worms. Please keep me in the loop with any updates that you might have.
I’m a novice regarding chickens but decided to buy two and determined to give them organic feed by adding any fresh leftover organic greens, I recall my childhood in Italy my mother had few chickens and a small organic allotment and every day after preparing our vegetable she gave the discarded cabbage and potatoes skin to the chicken amongst the abundance of corn . They still maintain this in France, hence the food is so tasty. I’ll keep a close eye on this post for any positive news.