Turn Food Scraps Into Poultry Feed

Give your chickens additional nutrition by balancing their rations with food and garden waste.

| April/May 2017

Because they’re omnivores, chickens are perhaps the most salvage-savvy critter on the farmstead. Historically, their cleaner-upper role predated compost piles for getting rid of food and garden waste and for generally ridding a farmscape of ticks and beetles.

The chicken’s compatriot, of course, was the pig, especially on dairies and cheese-making outfits. A pig can scarf down copious amounts of whey and spoiled milk. Chickens like these liquids too, but it takes a lot of chickens to go through 5 gallons of whey. Amazingly, in the days prior to chemical fertilizer and mechanization, skim milk offered a more reliable and cheaper protein feedstock than soybeans did. My, how times change.

Pat Foreman, chicken whisperer and guru of keeping urban flocks, says we have enough food scraps in America to feed every egg layer we need to provide all the eggs we currently use. Can you imagine a country without a single commercial egg outfit, not because the population ate no eggs, but because the food system was so tightly integrated in a closed-loop model that chickens intercepted the waste stream? Now wouldn’t that be a place to live?

Laying hens, like humans, need both protein and carbohydrates. While I’m a huge fan of feeding food scraps to chickens and have done so all my life, it’s often not a totally balanced diet. Because a bird’s metabolism is high, it’s less forgiving of nutritional shortfalls than the metabolism of other animals. Relative to muscle tissue, a bird packs on less fat than herbivores and pigs do.

Probably some of that lower stored-energy physiology is just to keep her from being too heavy to fly. After all, a chicken is a bird. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that. Birds have high metabolisms. They need to eat frequently and they can’t gorge themselves today and sleep it off over the next two days.

If you think you’re going to feed your chickens on kitchen scraps alone, you need to supply a constant, steady plate. Often, that’s not the way kitchen scraps develop. One day you have a bucket full and the next nothing — especially if you eat out for a couple of meals that week.

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