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Old 03-18-2019, 11:00 PM
KBee KBee is offline
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Default Ways to reduce reliance on commercial feed for homestead critters



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I wanted to post a pic and link to a method that I am starting to use this year to make a dent in how much commercial feed I have to purchase to support our homestead critters.

We started with muscovy ducks right about 2 years ago. The first year was spent mainly learning the needs of the birds, building infrastructure, and getting used to eating duck eggs as well as learning to butcher/process the meat.

I have our orchard, where the ducks are housed, right next to our main garden. The fence keeps the ducks mostly out of the garden, and allows us to throw garden scraps/waste over the fence. They love the garden scraps, but we don't have enough to really make a big difference in how much feed they eat.

I use a game bird mix/crumble and it has worked well to provide the main protein/calories/minerals.

The orchard is about half an acre and is also fenced in. The ducks mainly stay towards the garden end of the orchard, and in their ~1000 gallon pond. They are good foragers, which helps reduce the feed compared to if I had them in a small pen, but when the ducks start hatching out little ones, the growing birds can really eat! Last summer, when we had over 50 little ones at a time, the feed bill was way too high.

Starting in the fall, I decided to get more serious on making use of the compost piles for more than just garden/orchard nutrition. This video, from one of my favorite permaculture instructors, was a big influence:

So now, instead of taking the bedding from the duck house straight to the garden compost pile, I am using it along with weeds, cat-tail reeds, and other sources of carbon to make ~1cubic yard compost piles around the orchard, in between the fruit trees. I probably don't turn them as often as I should, so it takes a few weeks to a month before they start turning into something other than the starting material. After that, when I turn the piles, the ducks have it figured out that there is something very interesting going on...



Lots of worms and other creatures that they find tasty are easy for them to find when I fork and rake the piles around. I am curious to see how this goes as we move into summer, but I am hopeful as I keep building these compost piles in the orchard, I will have enough supplemental free food to minimize how much extra commerical feed I have to put out to grow out the young ducks for slaughter.

We picked up 3 laying hens a couple months ago and they are very interested in this program, as well. The scratching behavior of the chickens is different than the dibbling of the ducks in the piles, but it gets the same results.

I am still maintaining a large compost pile separate from the ducks that is in the main garden. It is probably between 3-4 cubic yards. Back in the mid-fall last year, I decided to quit burying the butchering waste in the garden, and put it at the bottom of the compost pile. So far so good. No terrible smells and there are mostly just pockets of bones and some wings/feathers that apparently didn't have enough heat/meat on them to break down quickly. I will keep turning them into the pile along with starting new material as the season goes on.

How are you using compost to help reduce your feed bill?
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Old 03-19-2019, 06:40 AM
inMichigan inMichigan is offline
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For purchased food, have you calculated how many pounds per bird per day you are buying? That will tell you how many pounds of protein and calories they are eating. Converted into garden plot size gives the upper limit to grow your own. And how many pounds of bugs needed for the protein.

Per your question, our plate scraps go to the chickens. Food prep trimming too, but put by the compost pile where our free range chickens and geese know where to go.

We buy food for them, too many for the amount of bugs available.

inMichigan
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Old 03-19-2019, 09:40 AM
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There is a video out there of a guy visiting his friends chicken farm. He has like 400 chickens and 3 giant compost piles. They are fed entirely from the compost piles and from food plots he planted. He rotates them from pile to pile so they don't kill it and it has time to rebound before they visit again. You shouldn't have any problem getting rid of your bill altogether.
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Old 03-19-2019, 09:56 AM
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Self sufficiency. This is the kind of preparedness topic focus we need more of. I imagine the preppers in Venezuela are wishing they had learned how to feed their livestock rather than being completely dependent upon the ability to buy it.
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Old 03-19-2019, 10:25 AM
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Self sufficiency. This is the kind of preparedness topic focus we need more of. I imagine the preppers in Venezuela are wishing they had learned how to feed their livestock rather than being completely dependent upon the ability to buy it.
They sold their soul for "free stuff"

Most live stock has gone the way of the zoo animals....

The true "preppers" bugged out a long time ago....
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Old 03-19-2019, 11:30 AM
Preacherboy Preacherboy is offline
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I do buy some soy free locally made scratch feed because they don't seem to lay any worse than when I buy the much more expensive soy free layer which is higher in protein.

Once the snow melts they don't seem to eat much of the purchased feed. I buy 200# and it lasts all summer, while in the winter they go through 100# or more per month. My chickens can free range during the day and have roughly 23 acres of lush grassy land and scrubby trees. This is their first year there, so they will literally improve the land.
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Old 03-19-2019, 09:56 PM
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I currently have 16 muscovies (12 ducks/4 drakes). A couple of drakes need to be processed soon so the ladies are not being pestered too much on the nests.

Between the ducks and the 3 laying chickens, I am feeding 4-5 pounds of the commercial feed per day. I will have to look at the packaging and see if it has the calories/lb. Good idea.

Once the ducklings start to hatch later this spring, I want to be ready with the extra compost-based feed supplement. If the momma ducks can teach the little ones to forage from the compost right from the start, I think it will work out well.

I think I have seen the video of the guy in the northeast (Vermont?) that feeds a huge flock of chickens off of the giant compost piles. I think they were bringing in restaurant waste to help keep the piles cooking. Great way to go if you have access to the waste stream.

I need to also work on reducing the purchased straw for an input to the bedding/compost, as well. Plenty of ways for me to grow more carbon rich materials, I just need to expand to areas outside my fenced main garden.

I have been doing a better job of turning the piles lately. The main garden compost pile must have appreciated the turning, because it is heating up again



We'll be starting to pull from it pretty heavily for the spring planting soon.

Thanks to each of you for sharing your thoughts on this topic.
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Old 03-19-2019, 10:30 PM
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During spring and summer, my great uncle used to grow an area about 20 yards x 20 yards of clover. He watered it from a well supplied water tank using lawn sprinklers and would mow it with a push mower.

The cuttings he fed to his chickens - they were fat and laid plenty of eggs. With that, hay he fed during winter and what the chickens foraged on their run, he didn't buy any outside feed.

I guess you could call it small scale cropping.
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Old 03-21-2019, 12:16 AM
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I thought about this a good while to ,,,and after a bit of research I came across a beet that is used as a feed in Europe ,,,its equal to grain as a feed [and way easier to harvest],for chickens and most other critters it seems to work ,,,my rabbits love them ,,,not sure how fine they would be need to be before they would work for ducks,,i get my seed from R H Shumway, its a colossal red mangle,, but from my rabbits reaction any beet would work I also feed them turnips and potatoes
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Old 03-21-2019, 03:48 AM
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Buddy of mine has success last year setting up barrels of black soldier flys to feed his birds.

I got some from him and just tossed them under my rabbit cages as they are reputed to run off house fly's and have no mouths so they cannot bite.
(And I can set up barrels from that "seed stock" if I want.)
-having friends with chickens and turkeys I don't raise poultry.
(although I've thought about putting a floating island in the pond for some free range ducks, but I'd bet the coons would get them anyway.)
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Old 03-21-2019, 12:05 PM
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Dedicating a patch of ground to a nitrogen fixing crop like clover or alfalfa is on my "to-do" list once I expand out from our main garden. Glad to hear the clover trimmings from a relatively small plot were enough to supplement the chickens to the point of not needing to buy commercial feed.

I grew a few of the red mangel fodder beets from Baker Creek seeds last year and did not get yields that were very large. I think they would be a good fodder crop for both the ducks and chickens if I could get them to size up. They would probably need to be at least partially cooked/softened for the ducks. Maybe keep a slow cooker on the woodstove in the winter, and/or a low temp solar oven near the garden in the warmer seasons. I can try them in a better spot and see how they do.

Interesting approach putting the black soldier fly larva under the rabbit cages. I have seen designs for "self-feeding" soldier fly larvae stations near poultry. I have not seen much in the way of them in and around our compost pile. May be worth setting up a trial run later this spring/early summer... see what shows up.

Thanks again!
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Old 03-21-2019, 12:41 PM
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Use pheromones to attract bugs they like to eat?

Grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas, etc?

One of my favorite youtube videos.

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Old 03-21-2019, 02:58 PM
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A pond would be a great source of food for your ducks.

I have five large ponds here and we get 10 to 12 mated sets of wild Canadian geese here each spring raising their offspring on our ponds. They eat a lot of grass and dandelion and eat a lot of the pond weed that we have growing.

We have admittedly some pretty dang big ponds the one beside our house is mid sized compared to the others and it is about 90 ft in diameter and 14 feet deep. We have something called knotweed growing in it in all the areas 6 feet deep or less. The geese and wild ducks and our domestic ducks love that stuff.

In the late summer the knotweed reaches the surface of the water as the water level drops with evaporation and it flowers and releases a massive amount of floating seed. It literally looks like I walked around the pond throwing out a 50 pound bag of seed on the shorelines.

A pond maybe 4 to 5 feet deep all the way across with some good aquatic plant growth would feed the heck out of your ducks. I also have a new start in my ponds that has been showing up for about two years now in small quantities and from what I can tell it is called duckweed, it can be pretty invasive I guess so I am mildly concerned about it. From what I gather though if you aren't worried about fish, where I am due to all my ponds being full of catfish and large mouth bass that duckweed will create "massive" amounts of feed for your ducks.
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Old 03-21-2019, 03:08 PM
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That also just reminded me of an idea that a friend of mine who just bought 40 acres down the road from me mentioned years ago.

When he was working in Alaska for the government they were based out in the middle of nowhere and to feed the chickens they had they would take wild game and put it in lidded barrels. They were taking samples from deer and other animals for the federal government so they had plenty of dead game. The barrels had like a one inch hole in the lid and the flies and whatnot would invade the barrels and eat up the rotting carcass. After a few weeks they would tip a barrel over and dump the contents and the chickens would go nuts on the bugs, maggots and rotted flesh of the carcass.

This would only work if you had enough carcass material which most don't but it is apparently a pretty effective method of feeding chickens without a supply of grain.
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Old 03-21-2019, 03:43 PM
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I'm following this thread with interest since we are only just starting our second year with chickens (Love them...and the eggs!). Obviously, I've been pondering how to keep them well fed after an event.

Not really related but this morning we we out of all the chicken feed (pellets, scratch and layer crumbles) so I had to improvise as I've had to do a couple times before.
I scrambled a few eggs, crumbled a few puffed rice cakes, added some black walnut pieces and stirred some cottage cheese into the whole shebang.
Those chickens went nuts for it! They acted like they were having champagne brunch at the Ritz after a long fast.
We do give them a lot of kitchen scraps which they like better than the boring old chicken feed. They'll be happy when the spring bugs arrive.

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Old 03-21-2019, 04:02 PM
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A couple of the things I have done to supplement chicken feed. When I've shot pests such as groundhogs, hang them to a pole and when the fly eggs hatch into maggots they drop off and the chickens love them.

The most efficient thing I've done is grow a large garden full of sunflowers. They are easy to harvest, just cutting off the heads. I hang them in a shed to dry and store and then just throw in a complete head to the chickens and they eat the seeds. About once a week pick up the heads and throw them on the compost pile.

Same thing with wheat and corn. Throw the whole cob into the chickens, they will pick the corn from the cobs and seem to have no trouble with the whole kernels. In the future I might crack the corn but so far it seems like just an unnecessary step. Wheat, just cut the grain heads off and throw them to the chicken. These things and garden and table scraps make buying feed practically non-existent.

You said 'critters' so I'd add rabbits. They do best on good quality hay. You can cut and dry enough by hand to feed enough rabbits to eat for a year.
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Old 03-21-2019, 04:24 PM
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I have been frustrated with bob cat and she domestic cats tearing their way in and killing just for sport .
That aside I wouldn't mind doing free range .as it is I have duck weed growing in another garden I supplement to the chickens , they love it.
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Old 03-21-2019, 06:01 PM
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We have a weed down here called 'Spanish needle'. The chickens love eating it green.

Got some sorghum to grow last year. Only a couple feet high or so. The wild birds let me know when it was ripe and attacking the seed heads -- which knocked them down to where the chickens to get it.

The chickens like sprouted lentils -- haven't got lentils to pod to seed yet. Good source of protein.
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Old 03-21-2019, 06:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mtnairkin View Post
A couple of the things I have done to supplement chicken feed. When I've shot pests such as groundhogs, hang them to a pole and when the fly eggs hatch into maggots they drop off and the chickens love them.

The most efficient thing I've done is grow a large garden full of sunflowers. They are easy to harvest, just cutting off the heads. I hang them in a shed to dry and store and then just throw in a complete head to the chickens and they eat the seeds. About once a week pick up the heads and throw them on the compost pile.

Same thing with wheat and corn. Throw the whole cob into the chickens, they will pick the corn from the cobs and seem to have no trouble with the whole kernels. In the future I might crack the corn but so far it seems like just an unnecessary step. Wheat, just cut the grain heads off and throw them to the chicken. These things and garden and table scraps make buying feed practically non-existent.

You said 'critters' so I'd add rabbits. They do best on good quality hay. You can cut and dry enough by hand to feed enough rabbits to eat for a year.
I have bought 25 to 50 pound sacks of black oil sunflower and then just roughed up ground in large patches and raked the seed in early in the spring for small fields of sunflowers. I was originally using it to distract my goats and the deer from my garden, but now honestly I like it just because of all the mass amounts of pretty yellow flowers.
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Old 03-21-2019, 09:08 PM
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As I remember from many years ago, FFA, Wildlife Biology, Agra Business, Animal Husbandry, and a lot of other classes the term "nutrient transfer" came up many times.

Here in our part of the bush we have evolved the term to mean anything we can grow or harvest from the bush to supplement the diet of our small livestock is money in the bank that doesn't have to be spent for commercial feed. We also put up as is field hay. Not as good a product as many would want for horses, dairy animals, or other high quality requirements. But more than good enough for our purposes.

We harvest small bunches of alfalfa, clover, and other fresh hay grasses for our meat rabbits, chickens, geese, and donkey. All this along with wild bush trees and shrubs that try to invade and re take our open pastures and hay fields.

For our chickens in the far north winter, my Sweetie learned a small thing to do to help keep the girls in good health and productive. The trick from Sweeties great grandmother from Nova Scotia was to take a couple cups of chicken scratch grain, put it in water and keep warm overnight on the kitchen wood stove. The girls really look forward and go for this warm treat.

We have a significant amount of short season apples in the area. We get them free for the picking to not be a mess in yards and peoples property and to keep bears out of yards and trees. None of this fruit would be table quality, but good livestock quality fruit. We dry about a ton of apple slices for the rabbits for winter.
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