If you only have a couple of chickens or other poultry on your homestead, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with enough table scraps and outdoor plants and bugs to keep them well-fed.
However, if you have more than just a few, you will probably need to source some of their food from outside your homestead. This can get costly fast if you’re not careful.
The good news is, you can probably come up with quite a few tasty food sources for them with just a bit of creativity. Poultry, such as chickens, turkeys, or ducks, are particularly easy, as they will eat just about anything!
They particularly love greens and bugs, so here are a few easy ways to provide extra fodder for your homestead livestock without spending a pretty penny.
For poultry, sprouting and growing wheat or barley grass in water is a commonly used as a way to stretch your food supply because these systems are easy to set up. You just need a few containers with holes drilled for drainage, a way to collect run-off water, some kind of shelving system, and a warm, sunny location or grow light.
There are many free plans available on the internet to help you set up your own fodder system….
I’ve heard from others that a 50 pound bag of feed will become 200 pounds of nutrient rich fodder which means you cut your feed costs to 25 percent or less, depending on your seed costs.
Overall, I find growing watered fodder can reduce my feed bill by about 20-30%. It takes more work than bagged feed, e.g. cleaning dish pans, watering twice daily, rotating pans for sun exposure. But, the birds really like it and giving them fresh greens year round is important to me….
Depending on the protein content in your seeds, you may need to supplement fodder with other protein sources for complete nutrition.
Another option using water is to cultivate water hyacinth as animal feed. According to the FAO, it may contain between 12-20 percent protein which puts it in roughly in the same category as wheat and barley fodder.
…………………………………………In hot weather, three plants will multiply to fill the circumference of a large trash can in about a week. I harvest half of the new plants and leave the rest to repopulate.
This plant is not cold-hardy, so plan to store it in a warm location for winter if you live in planting zone 9 or below.
Friends with Benefits
…Our friends and family have given us spent beer grains, fish parts, surplus harvest, past-prime apples, left-overs, out of date foods, fridge dumps before vacations, and more. In return, we frequently invite them to join us for meals to enjoy the fruits, eggs, and meats from their contributions.
Some items, which may not be suitable as direct feed for our animals, might be perfect for your worms or as maggot habitat. I know – eeeww! Seriously, though, once you get over the gross factor, growing these juicy suckers is an easy way to augment the protein content of your feed supply.
If you have a flies, cultivating maggots is easy. Just leave a wet, gooey bucket of nasty food-stuff where you see lots of flies. When the contents are crawling with maggots, dump it out in your poultry yard. Your chickens will go nuts!
If you are not already vermicomposting, start yourself a worm bin or bed. This will be your worm production factory, so set-up it up in a permanent site….
Care is easy. Worms need a moist environment, so keep mulch on bottom on a light layer of straw on top then water as necessary to keep your bed moist. Feed the worms about once every two weeks with coffee grounds, tea leaves, banana peels, garden stuff that’s not fit for animal eating, edible mushroom stems, spent mushroom mycelium, goat poop, straw, and shredded paper.
Only feed half of the bed each time. Doing this will cause many of the worms to migrate to the new food source and get to work. Give them a couple days, then harvest the lazy worms who stayed put in the unfed half of the bed for your poultry. When you dig out the compost, you’ll find the more worked areas have less worms. So use that in your garden and save the really wormy stuff for your birds.
Utilize Strategic Gardening
I finally accepted that no matter how diligent I am, weeds will grow in my garden. Nature hates exposed soil and I hate fighting against nature. So, I made a decision to welcome the weeds. Not just any weeds, but the easy to harvest, good for my poultry kind like Lambs Quarters, Wood Sorrel, Dandelion, Harry Cat’s Tongue, Wild Roquette, Purslane, Chickweed and others.
Go ahead and let them get big, just don’t let them seed or overcrowd your intentional plants. Then weed into a big container and deliver to your birds. It may take them a few days to eat non-favorites, but they eventually will.
Also, if you are an organic gardener, you are probably doing daily insect inspections. So, take a bowl of plain water with you when you make your rounds and drop pests into the bowl.
Japanese beetles are particularly easy to collect in the early mornings, but cabbage worms, squash bugs and borers, harlequin beetles, tomato hornworms, etc. are all delicious and nutritious for poultry.
Think Outside the Bag for your Long-Term Fodder Needs
As you enrich your soil using your poultry manure, you will be able to increase your food production and provide more fodder for your poultry. As you do, don’t feel bound by traditional ideas of poultry feed, e.g. grain and corn. Grow more of what you like to eat and what you like to see growing in your garden. And don’t feel like you have to deliver your fodder to your birds in pellet-sized portions. Confined poultry are usually bored and are very happy to do the harvesting for you.
For example, you can serve entire sunflower seed or amaranth heads and let the birds pick them clean. You can give peas in pods still attached to the pea shoots. You can throw them half a head of cabbage and let them figure it out.
It may take a couple days for non-preferred edibles to be consumed, but a hungry bird will eventually figure out how to eat anything edible (that or the worms will).