I would love to say everything I eat is whole and unprocessed, but working full-time causes me to live in the real world. So, I'm a label reader. These days you have to be. There are many hidden gmo-derived "natural" ingredients out there, citric acid, xantham gum and even Vitamin C, to name a few. So, if I'm reading the labels of my food so thoroughly, why shouldn't I read the labels of my animal feed? As my concern over GMOs has grown, so has my concern over the corn I was feeding my chickens and the alfalfa I was feeding my rabbits. After all, we eat the eggs from the chickens and sometimes the chickens themselves, and we definitely eat the rabbits. If I will put a package back on the shelf because it has soy lecithin in it, how can I justify feeding my animals feed laced with GMO products?
In my research I found this website, which is a fabulous resource for formulating your own chicken feed. However, the problem for me is finding all of the different ingredients used in a particular recipe and at a reasonable price. When you can't find all of the ingredients, you start to mess with the protein content and you then need to know how to formulate your protein based on the ingredients to which you have access. Using the list of grains I could get locally and this website as a general source of protein content, I turned to one of the best homesteading blogs around, Five Acres and a Dream, for Leigh's explanation of the Pearson's Square Protein Calculator. Right now I have access to whole oats, barley, wheat, flax seeds, black oil sunflower seeds and millet. With all of these ingredients, how did I use the Pearson's Square, which only calculates the protein for two ingredients? Well, I actually did not use the square itself. I basically used Leigh's Step 2 to formulate my feed. My formulation is totally an experiment and would not be appropriate for every flock. They've been eating it for almost two months now, and so far so good.
I was shooting for 16% protein in whole parts to make it easy to measure and mix.
Step 2 from Leigh's post:
% of ingredient x its % protein
+ % of ingredient x its % protein
% crude protein in grain mix
Wheat .30 x 13% = 3.9
Oats .30 x 14% = 4.2
Barley .15 x 12% = 1.8
Millet .10 x 11% = 1.1
BOSS .10 x 16% = 1.6
Flax Seed .10 x 36% = 3.6
Total % of crude protein: 16.2
I do add mineralized salt and DE to the mix but I really just eyeball these two ingredients. They also have free access to oyster shells and I know they pick up plenty of grit while they are out foraging. I have plans to add brewer's yeast and kelp to my mix soon, and once I add the brewer's yeast and kelp, I will reformulate based on this method.
I really like to think of the feed as a supplement to the other ways in which the flock gets fed. I depend on them being able to forage for some of their food, both for economy and for their overall health. Even living in a neighborhood, my chickens have a pretty good free-range area. In addition to a large area in my back yard, they have access to the back side of my neighbor's yard, which is approximately 1/4 acre of jungle. He doesn't care that they are back there, and they love it because there is plenty of overhead coverage to protect them from hawks and it's a treasure trove of bugs and other goodies. I recently started raising meal worms, but because I'm building up my population, they only get meal worms as a treat. They also spend time scratching through the compost beneath my rabbit cages. They get plenty of garden cast-offs, and they pick through the throw-away organic produce I get from my nearby natural grocery store. In the garden this year, I experimented with growing field peas, which the chickens love and are an excellent protein source. They did well so I'm hoping to expand and grow more next year.
I know the combination of all of these feed sources contribute to happy healthy chickens.
Foraging Jungle Birds