I’ve never been one to accept what the majority says just because there are more of them than me. Being a bit stubborn and occasionally contrary (pay no attention to my spouse sniggering loudly in the background, please) I generally prefer to do things my own way. That’s particularly true when it comes to feeding animals. The baby chicks I raised this year did not have a single bite of commercial food.
Chickens are omnivorous. In fact I’d say that based on my experience, chickens will eat literally anything, with one exception – citrus peels – and they might even eat those if they were ground up and mixed with other foods. I suspect they turn up their beaks at citrus peelings just because they’re too darned hard to peck (remember, chickens don’t have teeth). But with that exception, chickens will eat everything from soup to nuts, apples to zucchini and everything in between.
Baby chicks, like all animals, must have plenty of clean, fresh water available at all times. Once you have that in place, you can start thinking about all the other things they need. First on the list is protein. All young growing things must have plenty of protein to build strong bones and muscles. You don’t want to raise skinny chickens – you want plump, robust birds loaded with vitality that will provide you with dynamite eggs, calcium-rich broth and meat. In addition, your chickens need all the other basics: carbohydrates, fat, minerals, vitamins and trace elements. The key is variety and plenty of it. However, you shouldn’t get obsessive about measuring and mixing and food chemistry. It’s not rocket science. Pay attention to your birds, provide them with plenty of variety and they’ll do fine. So, here’s how I do it.
Protein – I use things such as clabbered milk (raw milk that has been allowed to sour and thicken), chopped hard-boiled eggs, ground meat scraps, leftover meat, cheese bits, fish scraps, etc.
Carbohydrate – any sort of whole grain or grain product. Home baked bread, rolls, leftover pasta. Vegetables of any sort, grasses such as clover, weeds.
Fat – the milk I use is full fat raw milk from my milk cow. In addition, leftover cream, butter, animal fats that are trimmed prior to cooking, fats from the frying pan, salad dressings made with olive oil and egg yolks are all good sources of fats. When we butcher an animal, I save all the meat and fat scraps. I trim out the meat, render the fat for cooking use and grind the trimmings. Sometimes I mix them with ground vegetable scraps, sometimes I just freeze the ground meat scraps.
Minerals and trace elements – we give our animals supplemental kelp and I use a mineral compound called Azomite in gardens and orchard, so the food I grow here is generally fairly rich in minerals. If I have food from somewhere else, I usually sprinkle a little kelp or Azomite in. I also crush eggshells and return them to the chickens.
Baby chicks, as I’ve mentioned, don’t have teeth, which means you need to provide them with sand or fine grit to grind their food in the organ called a gizzard. They can’t handle big chunks of food, so when they’re really little – say the first two weeks – I dump the various food stuffs in a blender with some milk and whiz it up. Then I mix it (not in the blender – it will cause a blender heart attack!) with finely ground grain byproducts called screenings. I go out three or four times a day and give them some fresh mix. The amount they get depends on how well they clean it up. As they get older, I switch to chicken balls for protein and fat. Breads are crumbled a bit, since they’ll they peck them apart, and while I chop celery stalks or whole carrots, I don’t bother with things like carrot peelings or lettuce leaves.
There you have it – the easy way to feed baby chicks – and nary a feed store in sight!