Faced with rising feed costs, poultry farmers must find alternative sources of nutrition for their flocks in order to remain profitable while still ensuring healthy animals. It is crucial that before implementing them into feed formulations, their nutrient matrix be fully understood.
Chickens are omnivores
Chickens are omnivores, meaning that they consume both plants and animals for sustenance. While their primary diet consists of grass, seeds and garden scraps, they can also hunt small animals such as reptiles, amphibians, insects, or worms that they find prey for.
Birds first evolved from meat-eating dinosaurs called theropods (not T-Rex from Jurrasic Park), who consumed both insects and eggs along with meat. Birds utilize clawed feet for hunting prey while their beak can easily tear flesh. Birds even cannibalized each other!
Grubs and black soldier fly larvae make great alternatives for feeding chickens, with cheap yet nutritious results. Simply toss these out the backdoor for your flock to devour. Chickens who consume scraps tend to be healthier overall and produce richer eggs; peanut butter also can provide them with an important source of nutrition and help their bodies digest protein better.
Chickens are not created to eat grains
Wild chickens feed on a wide range of fruits, insects, grasses, seeds and roots that provide nutrition. While some people assume chickens need only grains as food sources, this is simply not true and if your flock consists solely of grain eaters it won’t thrive!
Feed accounts for a considerable portion of poultry costs, yet there are ways to lower these expenses for small flocks. One solution would be using whole grains rather than ground mash or pellets; whole grain feed contains more nutrients while being more digestible than its counterparts.
Sprouting and growing fodder as another option to consider can reduce feed needs significantly; all grains become 40% more digestible after sprouting or growing fodder is used. Furthermore, sprouting/growing can help prevent soil erosion and water runoff; this environmentally-friendly choice for raising chickens also enhances their nutritional needs.
Chickens can eat a variety of foods
As a homesteader, you know how important it is to provide your chickens with a balanced diet that allows them to flourish. While commercial feed is certainly essential, there are other alternatives you should explore that could save money and provide essential nutrients – for instance dried kelp collected from beaches or fresh, nutritious vegetables grown in your garden, table scraps or whole scratch grains (or mealworms as treats) should not exceed 10% of daily consumption as otherwise this could create nutritional imbalance.
Your chickens need access to essential vitamins and minerals for good health and wellbeing, including protein-rich sources like cockroaches. Feed them these in moderation; or feed them cottage cheese which provides calcium and protein benefits without lactose intolerance.
Chickens should not be fed soybean meal
Soybeans, while an ingredient found in commercial poultry feed, wouldn’t naturally form part of a chicken’s natural diet. Soy is expensive and growing concern among small-scale poultry producers; additionally, their phytoestrogen content mimics estrogen’s action which could prove hazardous both to chickens as well as humans who consume chicken meat or eggs from them.
Spirulina or partially defatted Hermetia illucens larvae offer an ideal alternative to soy products, with high protein and amino acid profiles similar to soy meal. A recent study demonstrated that spirulina can completely replace soy meal without significantly impacting endogenous bioactive (anserine, creatine and carnosine) and flavor-related compounds found in chicken breast meat.
Make the rounds of your local grocery store from the back door, looking out for food that has been damaged, spoilt, dropped on the floor or has sat too long – these foods contain protein and other vital nutrients, and make an ideal supplement to complete layer feed for chickens. In addition, provide your flock with some coarsely broken up oyster shell and free-choice grit – this enables their gizzards to grind up food more effectively and aids digestion.