I just won't leave it.
For one thing, I need to provide some entertainment for Randy at the feed mill.
For another, I'm cheap.
But mainly, I don't trust conventional wisdom when the "wisdom" comes from a multinational agricorp and the "conventional" is the convention of the compliant customer.
We're talking about a woman who personally salvages whole cow tripes -- innards so vile that the slaughterhouse workers refuse to touch them -- for her dogs. Because they are that good for them.
When I got my first chickens I bought commercial chicken feed at Tractor Supply or Agway, in fifty pound sacks. The food is in pellet or crumbled pellet form, its constituent ingredients unrecognizable. It is "complete and balanced."
You can guess how long that lasted.
When we bought our first flock of meat chickens, our friends Rachel and Stan encouraged me to have feed made up at Zanella's.
Nineteenth-century technology, still going strong at Zanella's and mixing my chicken feed; photographed with a five-year-old cell phone camera that is already obsolete.
Randy, the animal-feed guy at Zanella's, ground up the standard corn/soy mash for broiler chickens, and I drove off with a half-ton on the trailer. Did the same this year, and while I was kvetching about the high cost of layer pellets, Randy pointed out that the broiler mash could also feed the hens, as long as they were getting oyster shell.
But later this summer I started reading and talking to people and thinking (always a mistake), and then buying sacks of whole grains and experimenting.
How locally can a chicken eat?
What are the optimum protein, calcium, fat contents?
Are the whole grains better for the birds than pulverized?
How can I keep egg quality and hen health up during the winter, when pasture is snow-covered or just dead?
I goosed out a recipe that we'll try:
cracked roasted soybeans
(All the above grains are local)
ad lib (in separate hoppers):
add in winter:
alfalfa meal (as rabbit pellets)
Pasture all year when it isn't encased in snow, but the food value of the pasture starts dropping off to negligible levels around now (the psychological value is indisputable -- just ask the chooks who were snowed in for much of last winter).Soybeans and corn need to be cracked for the chickens; the other grains are served whole
Scraps from wherever I can get them -- our kitchen, friends. I'm going to try to work with some local restaurants on recycling scraps this winter. I hate waste even more than I'm cheap. Chickens eat anything. The commercial diet is deficient in animal protein and fresh green stuff, and they can't make that up on pasture in the winter. I'm interested to see how much difference the rabbit pellets might make.
At the moment, store brand layer pellets (think chicken kibble) are $12.89 per 50# bag at Tractor Supply, my closest feed store. 25.8 cents per pound, or $516 a ton. Purina Layena is $13.99 a bag, or $559.60 a ton.
I paid $275 for this latest batch of feed, which came to about 1150 pounds. $20 for rolling and mixing, $255 for ingredients, including the kelp which will also be fed to goats, cats, and dogs. (But not rabbits. It is "not recommended for rabbits." I do not know why this is.) 23.9 cents per pound.
Not the huge savings I got with the off-the shelf formula broiler feed, but the quality is just not comparable to the industrial hen kibble. This is primo chicken feed. My hens, and everyone who eats their eggs, deserve no less.
Since I was planning to add ad lib kelp to the chooks' diet regardless, and I'm not yet sure how much of it will be fed to chickens and how much to my other critters, it's reasonable t0 subtract that $35 and 50#, making the figure 21.8 cents per pound or $436 a ton. Eighty bucks saved looks a lot better than four cents a pound saved. Plus I expect to save a lot by not schlepping into TSC -- or for that matter, Zanella's associated hardware and farm supply store -- and picking up odds & ends that I could probably do without. I make feed runs every week or so when I'm buying bagged, and that adds up just for the gas.
I reuse my woven feed bags from Zanella's, bringing them back to Randy when he rolls and mixes my next batch. Or I forget them and get my chops busted until I threaten to tell blog readers worldwide which key ingredient he forgot to mix in to the last batch of feed. Most bagged feed is in paper bags, which are useful for trash, but one can only use so many. Tractor Supply and Purina are now using some pretty nifty-looking woven poly bags that can be re-used for other things. I've used some of them as shelf backing in the barn, and am experimenting with remaking others into reusable shopping bags for sale. But again, one can use only so many of these.
So far, so good. The poultry have been eating the custom mix for about a month. Egg production is up somewhat (it normally drops off in the fall, and some birds are still moulting) and shells seem stronger.