What NOT to Feed Chickens and Ducks!
One thing that I am quickly learning with a flock of 25 chickens is that chicken feed is really expensive... Like really expensive. I purchase my feed from a local mill, Professional Proteins, that specializes in certified organic poultry feed and select feeds for other livestock. I absolutely love their product and the people that work there, so we don't plan on switching over anytime soon. The difference this year is that I have 19 more chickens than I did before. With six hens, it took a while to go through a 50 pound bag of mash.. Now I go through it in about a week, but I am also feeding 8 ducks who eat like monsters! We are starting to want to get creative with what we feed everyone now.
While I am a huge advocate for compost, I am noticing that my "compost" on the farm is mostly made up of poultry manure and bedding. There's not a whole lot of kitchen scraps in there anymore because they all go to the birds! It fills their bellies and keeps them occupied over me feeding them multiple times a day. At this time, they get about a half gallon of food each per day. That keeps them satisfied with the addition of scraps from our kitchen and some whole grains that I keep on hand. The ducks and chickens also get some added supplements like an herbal blend and brewer's yeast.
If you are in the same boat as me, wondering how to get out of the mindset than hens need grain, I am taking advice from the wonderful Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms:
"If every kitchen in America had enough chickens attached to it to eat all of the scraps coming out of that kitchen, no egg industry or commerce would be necessary in the whole country.”
Chickens can live off of scraps! In fact, before soybeans were so popularized for their feed, they got a lot of protein from several sources including whey. Read this article by Joel in Mother Earth News about it - such a good read! The idea is to still offer them a smaller amount of their feed so that they can have the option of added nutrition they need. Somehow chickens and ducks just know what their bodies need to be healthy!
By feeding chickens and ducks scraps, you also have to know which types of food they cannot and should not eat! That is really important.
What NOT to Feed Chickens
- Avocado (flesh, pits, or skins) - contain toxic persin, which accounts for myocardial necrosis. Just 5% of avocado can kill a small bird in 48 hours!
- White Potatoes (cooked or raw, skins or flesh) - part of the nightshade family, one that is not good for chickens, and contain the toxin solanine. It can destroy red bloos cells, cause heart failure, and diarrhea. Don't let your chickens eat the potato plant, either!
- Tomato or Eggplant Leaves - these are also in the nightshade family and can be toxic. You can feed your chickens ripe tomatoes or eggplants, but no green fruit please!
- Apple Seeds - this should be taken lightly, as chickens can eat an apple. The seeds contain trace amounts of cyanide, so it's best to feed them an apple that has been cored. The same goes for the pits and seeds of apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, and plums.
- Rhubarb - The leaves of rhubarb are toxic to both humans and animals. They should not be eaten at all! While chickens can eat the stalks, they contain oxalic acid which can cause eggshells to become soft.
- Beans (raw or dried) - beans that are raw contain a natural insecticide called phytohemagglutinin that can be toxic. If the beans are cooked, they are fine for your flock to eat. The act of sprouting beans also kills off this insecticide.
- Onions - contain thiosulfate that destroys red blood cells. All alliums should really be avoided as well! This can cause anemia in your flock.
- Chocolate, Caffeine, Salty, Sweet, Fried, Junk foods. Just don't do this! Ew!
- Citrus - this can actually be okay, it won't hurt the birds, but they usually don't like it. Citrus is often not recommended for compost piles either!
What NOT to Feed Ducks
The duck list is the same as the chickens, but there are a few other things that ducks should not eat!
- Spinach - this can interfere with calcium absorption, though it is okay in small amounts! Low calcium levels can mean thin shelled eggs.
- Iceberg Lettuce - ducks have loose stools to begin with due to the amounts of water they drink. Iceberg lettuce is okay (though very low in nutritional value) and can give ducks diarrhea. It is best to give them super greens like kale, collards, and cabbage!
Now that we have changed up our feeding habits, I have noticed a big change! Neither of our birds are laying yet, but we are expecting to begin receiving duck eggs mid-July. The chickens and ducks are completely free range, and they have access to outdoor feeders all day. They really don't eat much of the feed except in the morning when I first dole it out! There's always still some leftover at the end of the day, too, which makes me happy knowing they got enough even though I am feeding them a smaller ration. I used to give our other hens at the Little Homestead treats on the daily (in teaspoon amounts) and these birds definitely get a lot less... I maybe give them a treat every 3-5 days! They're just doing good eating bugs and our scraps. It feels right, more sustainable. I plan to mostly use their bedding and manure for our compost piles and eventually the garden.
They are a fun bunch to watch!