Now that I am a chicken rancher, I get many emails about what I feed my chickens. This is a great question and one I have thought a lot about. The reason I have chickens isn't so I can spray off the chicken droppings three times a day just for fun....it is so I can have the best, most nutritious eggs sans the hormones and pesticides that are in store bought eggs. Therefor, if I fed them the exact things that are fed to commercial chickens, I would just be spraying off the patio in vain. I certainly don't know everything about chicken ranching yet, but with the help of my professional buddies I get to bombard with questions, I am learning as I go.
The question I get mostly relates to corn and soy. Yes, corn and soy is in EVERYTHING!!!! We must all have DNA that shows up now with little corn cobs linking our double helix and coated with a glaze of soy. If you ever read a label to almost anything processed, you will find these ingredients in there somewhere. The problem with this is that these are super GMO'd and super horrible for you. Chicken feed is usually heavy laden with these two ingredients. I thought it was because it was the cheap way to feed them. I learned a little from my BACKYARD FARMER friend, Galen who always schools me on whatever I email him.
Here is what he said to me when asked about corn and soy costs:
The biggest issue I run into is the impression that corn and soy are the cheapest grains and that is why they use them for feeds. Soy cost twice as much as corn and corn cost more than wheat, Milo, peas. oats etc.
The protein is higher and that is why they use them. you have to add protein like fishmeal or blood meal to other grains to get the protein % to the proper level for the type of feed being made and the fishmeal and other protein products are very expensive.
A 50# bag of corn around $15
A 50# bag of Fishmeal $65-85
Chickens need their protein. To be good layers, they need the right composition of calcium, protein, vitamins and greens. I am sure they could survive off of about any scraps around, just like humans do on a regular basis, but to get the best eggs and lots of them, their diet is important.
What do I feed my chickens? Mine get to roam the backyard and eat lots of grass and bugs first off. They had a field day in my mulch bin as I stirred it and the little roaches came crawling out. Yuck. They eat everything we have left over: oatmeal from breakfast, pancakes, stale bread, rice, noodles , odds and ends from every fruit and veggie I don't use, kefir, etc. When I step out the back door, they run up to me like I am their queen. The chicken mama, as my husband calls me. They know I usually have something good in my hand and they greet me with all the love their little chicken bodies can show. I don't feel so guilty about wasting when I know in the end, it will turn into an egg!
For their grains, I use three different feeds. I get them all from THE BACKYARD FARMER. I use a layer feed, a scratch and an egg enhancer.
The layer feed has extra ingredients for calcium like oyster shells and fish meal. His feed has corn in the ingredients but it is not the first thing on the list and contains fish meal and alfalfa as well. The Super scratch also has wheat and milo. The Ultra Egg enhancer is my very favorite as it turns the yolks a deep orange indicating the nutrients embedded in these fresh, backyard eggs. I give them a cup a day to munch on for all 5 birds. They go crazy when I sprinkle this down. The Backyard Farmer whips this up himself. He says he will be making a soy/corn free feed coming up but it will be more expensive. I am OK with giving a little corn, but I like that it isn't what my chickens live on. They get all sorts of grains and nutrients, all sorts of fresh produce and grass. They get vitamins and high grain feed. They look like healthy, happy chickens.
So, my fellow chicken mama's out there; I hope this answers some questions. Like with humans, the key is moderation. If you could do all corn/soy free, that is best but since that is hard to find unless you are making it yourself, do your best to moderate and feed them all sorts of things balancing their proteins. I will keep you posted when THE BACKYARD FARMER has his corn/soy free feed available. Till then, I will keep on using my current mixture that is the best I can find.
Remember, businesses will sell what is in demand. If we don't ask for it, we won't get it. Every time I go to Costco, I see more and more organic and healthy choices. I am so impressed and if we didn't buy it, they wouldn't stock it. They even had organic premade hamburger patties this last time. Love them! Support good food.