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, November 12, 2011

old-time chicken feed recipes

It's interesting to reread an old book now that I've been toying with making my own feeds for a few years. My favourite is Modern Poultry Husbandry by Leonard Robinson, published in 1948 in London by Crosby, Lockwood and Son.

Robinson includes many recipes for confined and ranged birds, and unlike some earlier books these recipes were actually tested during feed trials. What makes these recipes so useful now is that they were formulated after nutrition science had started to take off, but before the feed industry had perfected using cheap byproduct meals 'fixed up' with the addition of synthetic vitamins and medications.

Besides, for anyone interested in survival in the age of diminishing oil and increasing global strife (which, being Western, we're fully a part of), it's useful to learn how chickens were kept alive during the war.

I've copied out a few of the recipes below, and commented on each. I haven't tried them, but I can see where my diet basically carries the same amounts of each ingredient in terms of function in the diet (vitamin content, protein, etc). It's also heartening to read his comments about milk as an ingredient, particularly the statements, 'Where skimmed milk is readily obtainable it should be given to the chicks to drink ad lib. In that event no other protein concentrate is necessary.' (My emphasis, pages 308-309.) Modern claims that 'chickens are lactose intolerant' may only have some truth where pasteurised, homogenised milks are concerned. Even so, Robinson happily advocates using dried skim milk in many of his rations. It's debatable whether this is a good step, but I can accept that the feeding trials he was aware of probably showed good results, and I'd only add that it seems to me that souring is best (and it also negates the need to add yeast). More on that later.

The first recipe is Robinson's chick mash (page 318). He's written it all in pounds (lbs) and pints, but it should be fairly easy to turn these into percentages.

20 lb Bran
30 lb fine middlings (wheat milling byproducts: whatever's scraped up after milling)
24 lb maize (corn) meal
10 lb ground oats
6 lb skim or buttermilk (presumably dried)
5 lb meat or fish meal
5 lb yeast
half lb salt
2 lb limestone flour
1 pint cod liver oil.

Now some comments: the first being that if you make up the skim milk then sour it, you can omit (in my view) the yeast.

Secondly, as Robinson notes, if the birds have access to grass and sunlight, you can omit the cod liver oil. Most types of leafy greens will be just as useful as grass here.

You can also replace 5% of the bran with alfalfa (lucerne) meal; indeed I would do this in preference to using just bran.

I would also add some ground sunflower seed (say 4%) in replacement of some of the mix, but that's just my own preference. Robinson is quite clear that the above recipe will work.

Now his layer mash (page 320). This is one of several recipes he sets out for layers. They seem like quite simple recipes to me, and as with the chick recipe above I would sour the milk as kefir so I could delete yeast (which is very expensive), and add ground or whole sunflower seeds. Robinson makes it clear that the recipe below presumes access to fresh grass and sunlight, and ad lib shell grit.

20 lb bran
40 lb middlings
20 lb maize (corn) meal
10 lb ground oats
10 lb meat-and-bone or fish meal
half lb salt

Easy, huh? Middlings by the way are perhaps hard to find unless you live near a mill. Far better than either middlings or bran would be to freshly grind whole wheat and include it in the mix at the same percentage of both combined. Or you could do as I do, and always sprout wheat to feed to the layers (as part of the mix). That's really the best way to retain (and indeed enhance) wheat's vitamins.

If there is no access to grass, then you'll need to add leafy greens in some form, and if sunlight is hiding for half the year you'll have to add cod liver oil. But as I see it, these are fairly simple recipes.

One last recipe from the book (page 323): the war diet for chicks. It's simple as hell, though it's advised to peel potatoes first.

80 lb potatoes (cooked, obviously)
20 lb middlings
3 lb white fish meal (presumably any fish meal would do)
2 lb dried yeast
0.4 lb cod liver oil
half lb chalk.

Again, I would think you could replace the dried yeast with an equivalent amount of dried skim milk, then just before mixing you would sour the milk (for B vitamins) and use it as the only liquid in the mash.

I would also suggest adding seaweed meal to all these mixes. The high mineral content of seaweed, while in some ways unbalanced (e.g. massive amounts of iodine in some seaweeds) should help offset some of the soil mineral depletion that's gone on since these feeding trials were done. Basically this follows the philosophy that if it's not there in the soil (mineral-wise) it can't be there in the grain.

There are many other recipes in the book, and I'll be happy to include more when I get time. In the meanwhile, enjoy!

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