Why do we need another chicken blog or forum?

Many chicken forums are moderated to sell commercial feed, chemicals and ideology.
I prefer to find my own balance between nature, welfare and cost in raising happy chickens.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Update on chicks! And more about sprouts and protein.

UPDATE: Warning!

About a week into feeding small amounts of raw pet mince, I've decided to call a halt. I'm seeing a few odd signs that may (or may not) be related to preservatives. One pullet acted very strange immediately after gobbling slightly more than her share. She stood 'hung' as though in a trance and stayed that way for about five minutes, until I walked up to her and touched her. Also the egg count has suddenly halved, with one laying pullet (of course my favourite) going off lay, pale in the comb and holding her head slightly tucked in (which I've noticed seems to go with reproductive and/or intestinal pain). It may be something other than the mince, but I don't like the chances.

Oddly the chicks seem none the worse for the mince, which is surprising given that they're eating more of it per bodyweight. Perhaps whatever is in the mince affects an active reproductive system before it harms anything else. It could be that the material is high in phosphorus as well as sulphites (too much phosphorus I've noticed is very quick in affecting the egg laying system), which is odd given that it's supposedly meat and not bone. Whatever the case, I'm withdrawing it from the feed.

Unfortunately pet food laws don't at present require full labelling of dangerous sulphites. Apparently too they are strongly associated with thiamine deficiency in cats and dogs. Since all the raw minced beef or other meats check by an RSPCA analysis showed high levels of sulphite preservatives, it looks likely that the pet mince I bought is similarly high. www.catvet.com.au/articles/thiamine_deficiency_pdf.pdf

You have to wonder at labelling laws when a chemical additive can go on being used despite veterinary evidence that it consistently does harm.

Meanwhile, back to my usual problem: how to supply adequate protein with essential amino acids without upsetting mineral ratios. Meat meal is a problem product, no doubt about that. I want to limit its use to very low levels, even below 5% if I can, because of phosphorus. Yet for various reasons I still don't want to use artificial amino acids, so that means commercial feeds are pretty much all off the menu.

The DPI NSW website suggests the use of artificial premixes (vitamin and mineral supplements) on top of grains, meat meal and legumes for home feed makers. I appreciate that modern chickens are a long way different from their jungle ancestors, with higher requirements for both vitamins and minerals, but pre-1940s nobody used artificial methionine. Somehow, some way, when raising no more than a home supply of meat and eggs, it must be possible!

 Original material follows.
My twelve light sussex chicks are a weird mob. I've never seen such fluff and feather oddities!
For instance:

This chick is far from the worst affected. One chick has a bare patch covering its entire rear end, and also covering the crop area. I'm pretty well stumped!

All these chicks hatched with the bare spots, so I've been hedging toward the opinion that it's breeder diet related or genetic (or, more likely, both).

Of course, it could be that my non commercial chick feed isn't helping them overcome breeder diet shortages. For instance, too much phosphorus and calcium can limit a bird's ability to absorb manganese. Wiry down and feather abnormalities can occur due to lack of manganese. Meat meal is high in phosphorus and calcium, and I've already canvassed its unsuitability as a sole protein source for layers, so I'm certainly not averse to removing the majority of the meat meal from the chicks' ration.

Yesterday I began a slightly new approach to chick feeding. Once more, I want to stay away from medications if possible and also avoid artificial methionine (one of the building blocks of life that has been spread through our chicken feeding systems at all levels, and which to my reading may have health consequences both for chickens and people who eat them).

Soy meal is of course another possibility, but over 90% of US soy is genetically modified, and you don't have to be paranoid to feel a little uncomfortable about the lack of consumer choice with GM products. I've also read several well supported web articles that highlight second and third generation health issues to do with GM soy. We might not grow GM soy in Australia but we certainly import soy meal, and even if GM is safe there are also likely issues concerning contamination with hexane, the solvent used to extract the valuable soya bean oil.

This leaves few sources for healthy protein for growing birds, but I found my local pet shop stocking 5kg bags of beef mince for $2.80 per kg. The pet shop owner told me the supplier said the meat has no added preservatives, but I hope she'll excuse me if I don't fully believe her supplier's word. Yet perhaps the health benefits of using fresh protein can outweigh health problems created or exacerbated by any preservatives contained.

Thus at present the chicks' new diet is half the sprout diet (their morning feed) including a small amount of meat meal as well as lupins, sprouted wheat and corn, sunflower seeds, lucerne, molasses, seaweed meal, yeast etc, and half a mash containing pet grade beef mince, rolled oats, a little leftover household kefir (fermented milk low in lactose), sunflower seeds and millet. Both morning and evening feed are balanced at around 21% protein. As well as the above they have access 24/7 to fresh greens via tractored grass.

I suppose it sounds like a gigantic hassle, but it's not. The sprouts are made every fourth day and hung in a shadecloth bag which is lightly hosed once a day and let drain. (I might give the bag a punch in passing, to make sure it doesn't mat.) I simply grab an amount of sprouts each morning and afternoon to make up the mix.

Everything else that's dry matter is in handy bins with screw-lids. I simply set out two buckets and make one mix for chicks, one for adults. The longest time taken is to walk the two buckets around the various pens.

The kefir of course I'm already making for home use. There's always some that doesn't make it into smoothies and whatnot, and a handful of chicks don't need much. About a tablespoon of kefir makes it into their daily mash, and helps increase its protein level while adding vitamin B-12 and probiotics.

On days when I don't feel up to a whole lot of effort, I might make a dry mix instead, using mainly vegetable protein. If the general ration is balanced some variations are okay. And of course as the chicks grow they'll eat more of the larger grains and legumes, so there'll be less need to do an oat mash in the afternoons. For that matter, on days when I don't feel like too much effort, I may simply do a dry mix with meat meal for the youngsters, and let them pick at it through the day, maybe tossing in a handful of pet mince of an afternoon to complete the protein balance.

As usual my attempt to write a brief chick update has turned into something else. But then, everywhere you look, there's something new to learn, particularly when it comes to what gets into the human food chain via animals.

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