To vary your chickens’ diet, reduce your feed bill, and make your chicken and eggs more nutritious all sorts of extras can be added to their feed or by hand as treats. Eggs are not ‘ 100 % Organic’ if they are being fed commercial feed, even if they are local and free-range (although they will still be much better than store bought eggs). Feed can be eliminated or reduced by hand mixing grains, corn, oyster shells, and salt. The only local source I know of to buy organic pre-mixed feed is from Ozark Natural Feeds. Please speak with them for more information on their feed program.
In this post, the concentration will be on grains, legumes, and seeds. Chickens can eat them raw, soaked, or sprouted. Some require soaking and pouring the water off to remove the anti-nutrients and soften them, making them more digestible. Anti-nutrients? In the healthy bean, rice, or wheat?? Yes, all grains are seeds (but all seeds are not grains) and they have various anti-nutrients that help protect them from being eaten or helps them stay intact enough to still be viable after it passes from the gut of the perpetrator that just ate the plant or trees means of passing on its genetics. There are many types of anti-nutrients, and each grain or seed you choose to feed, or eat yourself, should be researched individually. These anti-nutrients are many reasons people choose to eat a Paleo diet.
Luckily, most seed eating birds have developed enzymes to combat some of the anti-nutrients found in many seeds (we will just say seeds for simplicity here, since all grains and legumes are the seeds of the plant). Simple soaking, cooking or sprouting can unlock the nutrients even more. Sprouting is quite simple, soak in water (I use warm water to speed up the process) for 5-24 hours, drain, and place in a cool dark place that has air circulation. I use multiple methods- a sprout jar, a crock with a towel or cheese cloth on top, a muslin bag for big batches, a plate with a towel on top, etc. Rinse every day (2-10 days) until they are the desired size, then a short sunbath (15-30 minutes) to activate the chlorophyll thus greening them up nicely. You can even pre-srout seeds before putting them in the garden. For more info on sprouting visit the Sprout People, as this post is only the tip of the sprouting iceberg. Here are some mung bean sprouts that are ready to eat over the next couple of days. We feed them to the chickens and eat them ourselves as well, especially in the dead of winter when greens are scarce.
Bringing seeds to a rapid boil then simmering will often rid or reduce them of anti-nutrients, some people choose to dump the first batch of water in case some of the anti-nutrients don’t break down in high temps. I don’t because I don’t want to lose so much of the valuable nutrients, and I don’t have an anti-nutrient phobia.
Cooked legumes or rice are a favorite of chickens. You can even drizzle in some healthy oils if it has been very cold, chickens need extra fats and carbs in winter to stay healthy and continue laying eggs. If any of my pantry items (beans, rice, quinoa) get mealy bugs I will cook it up for the chickens. Adding kelp is also another huge nutrient boost. When feeding more of my own ‘chicken feed’ and when foraging is at its best I leave out a hopper of oyster shells and will soon be making one for salt.
Some seeds I frequently give my chickens are cooked rice, beans, barley, lentil, peas, amaranth, etc. Some soaked or sprouted seeds we enjoy are wheat berries, peas, lentils, kamut, alfalfa, oats, barley, flax, etc. Raw sunflower seeds, oats, and sesame are quickly pecked clean. Most of these can be given prepared (cooked or sprouted) or raw, except for amaranth it needs to be cooked. For sprouting purposed organic, raw seeds must be purchased. Play around with it, you will be amazed at the flavors and nutrient value of each seed in its different form. Pay attention when purchasing at the price per pound and quality.
Anti-nutrients is a highly debatable subject with much more research to be done, so a little investigation paired with common sense and these powerful foods can be added to you and your chickens (and your rabbits, dog, cat, etc.) diet.
*If you choose to completely quit commercial feed a more detailed plan will need to be followed to get optimal production out of your chickens.