Monday, April 15, 2013

Feeding the Chickens

Chicken feed is really, really expensive in Hawaii. In fact, I am not sure how small flock owners can afford to use commercial feed and still make any sort of profit. The large commercial chicken farms have all gone out of business because of the high cost of feed here.

When I got my first chickens 8 years ago, I started out with commercial feed. Because of my aim to be self reliant, I gradually began shifting part of their diet to home sourced foods. After a couple of years, it became a more and more important to me to see if I could wean myself away from using commercial feed. I've discovered some interesting things along the way.

Initially I simply threw fruits, greens, and leftovers into the pen for the birds to eat. I quickly saw that there was a lot that they either wouldn't eat or just wasted. About this time I was researching how chicken feed was made and discovered that ingredients were finely ground so that the birds ate it all, instead of wasting most of it. So I tried that myself, using a small food chopper. Thus I discovered that if you chopped it all up fine, everything got eaten. I quickly outgrew the small chopper and moved on to a blender and food processor, both of which I pick up cheap at the thrift store.

I discovered that chickens are crazy for meat. And they will eat just about anything that has ground or cooked meat mixed in it. Since I was already running a wood stove to make biochar, I modified the smoke stack to accommodate a large cook pot. So I began cooking waste meat for them.

I then began exploring on the internet what other farmers around the world fed to their chickens. With this knowledge in hand, I began experimenting here at home. So here's a list of what makes up their diet thus far. Keep in mind that no particular item makes up more than 10% of the diet. The birds get a highly varied assortment of foods. And while I use to cook foods for them in the past, the only thing that I now take the time to cook is meat and restaurant/store waste. The reason is to avoid introducing disease organisms that commercial food sometimes are contaminated with. All the food gets ground up except for the meat.

I am still experimenting on foods for the chickens. So this is not my final list.

Fruits- entire fruit unless otherwise noted. That means skins, seeds, etc. Some fruits I don't have access to, such as longon, lychee, rambutan, abiu, and more. Others don't grow here or are scarce, including apple, peach, pear, many berries, etc.
.....Banana (any stage), pineapple, guava, thimbleberry, papaya (ripe and green), mango (seed removed), all citrus, strawberry, avocado, cherimoya and relatives, sapote, eggfruit

Veggies- entire vegetable (skin and seeds) unless otherwise noted.
.....Asparagus, stringbeans, green shelled beans, cowpeas (shelled), pigeon peas (shelled), corn, eggplant, fennel, dill, melons, parsley, snap and snow peas, shelled english peas, peppers, pipinola, potato, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, tomato, tomatillo, watermelon

Veggies - entire plant, such as leaves and stems that are not overly fibrous.
.....Amaranth, basil, beet, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, chinese cabbage, collard, coriander, dandelion, kale, lettuce, mustard, nastursium, oregano, portuguese cabbage,  purslane, radish, rutabaga, spinach, sugar beet, taro, turnip, tyfon, yacon.
.....Sunflower (entire seed head before the seeds are fully dry)
.....The leaves and shoot tips of beans, pipinola, squashes, pea vines, pumpkins, sweet potatoes. 

Also, grass clippings, ground up banana trunk, old buggy rice, stale bread, old cheese, sour milk. Just about any kitchen scrap or leftover. Most spoiled foods. The hens own eggshells (commercial eggshell gets cooked first). The seeds of Jobs Tears. Sugar cane juice. Macadamia nut harvest waste (put through a shredder). 

Meat includes commercial meat, which is cooked first. But also included is local slaughter waste from neighbors and hunters, roadkill, trapped rats and mongoose. Most is cooked first. Rats and mongoose are cooked whole, fur and all. 

Flies.... We maintain several fly traps in order to protect our sheep from maggot infestation. Due to the large population of horses, cattle, sheep and goats around here (if they die, they are left in the field for the flies to pick clean in 3-5 days) , there is a never ending supply of flies. Our traps capture 4  cupfuls a day! That's a lot of flies. 

The chickens hunt on their own too. I hve seen them eat all sorts of bugs, worms, lizards,and even mice. Plus they have access to soil and gravel. I supply them with coral sand and ground shells. 

My next step is to try growing more grains & seeds for them. They currently get corn and waste rice. Plus the seeds from basil, coriander, radishes, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, and amaranth. This year I have planted, or will be planting, buckwheat, rice, wheat, oats, and awnless barley. In the future I'll add sorghums, millet, and peanuts. Also plan to give alfalfa, clover, vetch, and moringa a try. 

I have avoided only a few things because they seem to adversely affect the flavor of the eggs. So, nothing in the onion family....onion, chive, leek, garlic. 


  1. You have pointed the way for so many people to become more self-reliant in feeding their flocks. Much can be done to divert so much waste from produce and meat processors, from garbage from restaurants and other sources. A business that could process the various sources and deliver it to customers for feeding their flocks would have a competitive edge over the import feeds. Diversity of crops could increase, as the grains produced could be used to produce local feeds, with higher quality than the imports. Stock animals, from rabbits to goats to cattle would be more economical to grow locally, using customized locally-produced feeds, which could reduce unemployment and dependence on the current major source of revenue, tourism, while enhancing that industry's profitability.
    I see only the ubiquitous tendency of government to try to "regulate", but even so, voters might take interest in electing representatives who demonstrate effective ways to allow such businesses to prosper. Of course, the islands would surely benefit from a federal elimination of the strangling restrictions for shippers by cancelling the Jones Act, which was supposed to protect the nascent shipbuilding industry nearly a century ago. Its continued existence serves no meaningful purpose, except to shield Matson and Young from competition. But that is waaay off-topic, isn't it?
    Again, thank you so much for such a helpful post!

  2. Have you considered raising black fly larvae or maggots?

  3. I don't purposely raise maggots but soldier flies naturally reproduce here in any bucket of manure or compost that I've forgotten and left in the rain. So if I've forgotten a bucket, I'll set it inside the chicken pen (clip it to the fence to prevent it from being dumped over) and let the girls eat any larvae that wiggle to the surface. After a while I'll just dump the bucket out for the hens to pick through. The bucket at that point is usually loaded with hundreds of larvae, which they eat in a matter of minutes. It's more like them eating a snack rather than a main component of their diet. With 50+ hens, it would take a hundreds of buckets to keep them supplied with maggots, but since I have easy access to other protein sources, I don't bother with setting up a soldier fly or maggot colony.

  4. Interesting article that I stumbled across via my wife's cruising the net. Lots to think about, do you feed the trapped flies to the birds? Also, in that you are in Hawaii, grow some Moringa for the wonderful greens that are valuable to all birds, animals and human beings. The tree grows quite well in Hawaii.

    1. Yes, I do feed the flies to the hens,

      Thanks for the moringa suggestion! I have two small trees already planted, but because of your suggestion, I'm planning to put in several more, again, thanks,