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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A few thoughts on 'heritage' poultry, and home rations for chickens

Just thought I'd post this. I originally wrote it as a reply to someone on a poultry forum, when he raised the topic of feeding birds using 'heritage' methods and old style grains.

However after I'd written it I realised it pretty well summarises my feelings about the industrial farming system and the need for new approaches now. I'd quite like to keep it on my blog as a record of what I've tried to do and why.


"[Dear Poster about heritage feeding]...I totally agree with what you're trying to do. Unfortunately though, if you can't free range 24/7, I can't help feeling you're going to have to go the whole hog with formulating a ration. It doesn't have to include synthetic additives such as are in nutrient balancers and in commercial feed, but I would think it needs to be pretty well designed. Even limited free ranging will help cover some omissions or errors, but not all... For instance in particular during winter you may see vitamin shortages, particularly the ones like A and K that are available in leafy fresh greens, and B vitamins in general might be a little low in your ration (I'm not a nutritionist, so don't take this as gospel at all; but those are my impressions from a quick read). From my reading yeast is a good additive for B vitamins (though not B12) and sprouting wheat and other greens like kale in a greenhouse may supply winter greens.

"If I were you I'd look at some of the 1930s and 1940s poultry keeping books, because they were written after some good studies on nutrition had been accomplished but before modern synthetic vitamins and other dodgy additives had become widespread in feeds. The University of Manitoba website has a really interesting review of a popular 1945 poultry feeding manual, and if you haven't seen it before but would like to check it out (forgive me if you've already done a whole heap of reading), it's here... http://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/livestock/poultry/bba01s23.html

"Just to explain where I'm coming from, I hope you don't mind if I set out a few of my thoughts on the whole heritage breed/feed thing... It's something I've thought about a fair bit, but excuse me if I'm going off on tangents or if you're way ahead of me... It's a great topic though, and highly pertinent now with the petrochemical industry starting to cough and splutter...

"It seems to me that back in heritage days (let's say 'pre-industrial' to be clearer) farms were much more varied in their livestock, cropping etc, so it's arguable that the range of vitamins available on-farm was higher. For instance some vitamins were obtained (for poultry I mean) by picking through the droppings of other animals and so forth. In a way you could say pre-industrial farms were run much more like an ecosystem, with everything in some way complementing everything else. At the same time, birds had been bred to suit this system. They weren't expected to lay massively well and if they were highly productive in one way (meat or eggs) it usually meant very low productivity in other ways, to keep an overall balance. Nobody paid any attention to 'formulating complete feeds' for poultry because there was an environmental balance based on how small-scale farms ran.

"Industrialisation and monoculture farming changed all that, and small farms became no longer viable. Productive-type birds were also bred for even greater productivity at the expense of being able to survive on forage alone, while to a large degree the keeping of dual purpose heritage breeds became a show-thing (with the exception of a few game type breeds and perhaps one or two others, depending on where you live... In Australia we lost most of our genuine utility birds). At the same time thriftiness, foraging ability and hardiness were often neglected.

"However the highly industrialised monoculture approach to things is now starting to meet the reality of diminishing oil. A more positive way of looking at the situation is to say that small integrated farms could become profitable again, if they're closer to markets, as they can beat transport costs. That's if industrial giants don't do everything they can to kill a return to small integrated farming. But most of us don't have fertile smallholdings and for most of us doing things off the grid will be a compromise at best. sad

"My compromise has been to try to learn everything I can about poultry nutrition (I'm not there yet, nowhere near), and put a lot of effort into a feed recipe based on natural ingredients (i.e. no petroleum industry derived vitamins), while also keeping heritage x commercial birds rather than straight heritage purebreds (for better feed conversion among other things). Perhaps you won't need to make any compromises at all, if you source the right birds and have the right setup for them. Great if you do!

"It's nice of you to start a conversation about these things, and I'm sure while there haven't been many responses so far it's not because it's an uninteresting topic. Some [forum members] have connections to industrial farming and are ever-ready to jump on those who want to try formulating diets themselves, but many more people will see the long term point to all this, and realise that Uncle Industry isn't necessarily going to be there for all of us in the next several decades. If they are there for us, well and good, and we can all relax; but meanwhile those of use pottering about on our own won't have done any harm, and we just might have done some social good for ourselves and others during hard times..."

No comments: