Saturday, October 6, 2012

Free Chicken Food and the Self Sufficient Life

In the spirit of being frugal and trying to live a self sufficient life, I have been gathering/harvesting for my chickens and guinea fowl.  My goals were to get plant material for mulch, seeds from the weeds for free food and something for them to scratch in to keep them occupied on the days that they aren't able to free range.  With a thick enough layer of mulch, maybe the ground won't be frozen solid on some of the sunny winter days.  And of course, that helps to support bug life which is more free food later.  We have an enclosed run behind the coop and a fenced area in front of the coop.

Probably the best move I made with this last bunch of chicks was giving them ragweed for treats when they were still caged up in the enclosed run.  Now when they're free ranging, they still chow down ragweed and lambsquarter.  So I cut off ragweed, lambsquarter and a few other grassy looking plants that I have no name for, and put them in both runs.  When the leaves dried and fell off the plants, it looked almost like hay.  The chickens were going nuts in there, scratching and digging.  Now, it's just a pile of dry weed stalks.  The rain and sun have bleached the plant material.  But when I lift the stalks, the scratching starts again.

This late in the season, all the weeds have seeds.  Ha!  More free food for the chickens. We hauled in more weeds and grasses that we had pulled up or cut down.  If we had the room, I'd be cutting big weeds and hanging or storing them to dry (away from rain and sunlight). 

Last year I threw scratch grains into the front run every morning.  They always have access to feed in the coop, but they like the scratching outside more.  This past spring, there was a jungle of plant life in their front yard!  Lots of milo, millet, sunflowers, wheat, etc.  What didn't get eaten grew into plants which held moisture and offered shade during our hot, drought stricken summer.  And of course, more free food. 
Of course, the birds get all the egg shells, fruit peelings, etc.  But now I throw everything into one of the runs.  Last year there were three volunteer tomato plants in there from the previous years scraps. 

I would have a hard time stocking up on chow if I kept feeding it to critters as treats while I gathered.  So now, as I have bread ends, cracker crumbs, crumbles from the cat and dog food bags, etc, they are saved and put into the feeders or the metal trash can that I store their purchased grains in. I just make sure it's all good and dry.

And of course, there's always the gardening aspect of it all - pumpkins, squash, etc, etc.  But this wasn't the best gardening year in our area, so I have nothing other than some buggy tomatoes.

In my search for new ideas on this topic, I saw a blog post where a gal engaged the help of her little kids to gather jars of dandelion seeds.  Later in the winter, she sprouted them for her little flock!  She had the pics for proof.  I wish I had bookmarked her page!!  I also wish that I could hire her kids.

Anyway, here's yet another page with pictures of common weeds that you might be able to use for chicken feed:

http://simple-green-frugal-co-op.blogspot.com/2009/05/chickens-eat-my-weeds.html