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Enliven Your Chickens’ Winter Diet With Food Scraps

| 3/21/2019 9:54:00 AM

Girl feeding chickens

Living in a northern climate means we cannot have our chickens foraging outside year round. Come the blustery winter weather, the birds don’t even want to venture beyond the door of their enclosed outdoor run. At this time of year the majority of their diet is purchased feed. They also receive all of our kitchen scraps and some sunflower seeds and scratch. On rare occasions they get a handful of dried mealworms or some canned cat food when the weather is extra cold. But all that feed and the special extras are expensive and difficult to justify when the hens are in winter mode and laying fewer eggs. So what to do? Go collect food scraps to provide some variety to their diet and reduce your feed bills!

We devised a simple system of collecting food scraps from willing acquaintances. We gave each household a 3 gallon bucket with a lid and asked them to toss in any scraps they generated from their meal prep. Our aim was to collect compostable, “natural” food for our birds rather than the leftovers of highly processed food-like substances. Now, once a week we collect the filled buckets and exchange them with clean ones.

What started as a solution for lack of fresh food in the winter became a year-round supply of food, cutting our feed costs and diverting valuable food waste from the landfill. When our birds are on pasture, the majority of their food is obtained by foraging, with commercial feed and food scraps taking on a supplemental role rather than being the main source of their nourishment. In winter, however, when commercial feed is their main source of food, the food scraps provide a welcome relief from the monotony of feed pellets.

In the cooler weather we store the full buckets in our barn until we are ready to feed them to the flock, but come the warmth of spring and the heat of summer, that doesn’t work anymore. Fortunately, we have an external temperature controller attached to a chest freezer that allows us to set it at fridge temperature and keep the buckets cool until we are ready to feed them to the chickens. Speaking of which, our laying flock of 100 hens makes quick work of their daily ration of food scraps. We actually keep the hens in two separate flocks, so it’s about a bucket per flock each day.

We do our best to spread out the food scraps to ensure each bird has access to the tasty morsels. In winter, we pour the food scraps into rubber feed bowls placed in the outdoor run. The next day, we tip over the buckets and whatever the hens chose not to eat is dumped into the bedding carpeting their outdoor run and, over time, gets churned into compost with the rest of the bedding and manure. We aren’t too picky about not giving specific food scraps to our birds; in our experience, they have enough sense to pass over what could be detrimental to them. Given a choice, they’ll select the best and leave the mediocre and potentially harmful. When the weather warms up, and the hens are out in mobile coops on pasture, we still pour the contents into the feed bowls. Whatever they leave behind we rake up and toss onto a compost pile.

4/6/2019 11:16:42 AM

That is the neatest idea I have heard in a while. I cannot wait to aproach my neighbors to see if they ae willing. I hate waste and we allknow that here in the US, we waste tons of food. Many years ago, we could go beind the grocery store and collect bread , fruit and vegs, to feed our pigs and chickens, no more.

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