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, January 28, 2012

providing protein for layers without poor mineral balance

I've been very happy with the growth of my ancona x red layers and my meat hybrid x leghorns. When I bought the new commercial layers I was anything but happy with them. At nineteen weeks of age they were only a fraction larger than my twelve week old ancona x and meat hybrid x birds. I now suspect they were a little under the stated age, as their combs were also quite poorly developed for age.

To complicate things, shortly after this there came the setback with bad wheat, and all my birds suffered. While on the suspect wheat, the ancona and hybrid x birds stopped increasing in size at the rate they had, and their combs stopping growing larger. Meanwhile the commercial layers are only just starting to lay now (at 23 weeks). What a drama!

But with onset of lay comes a new problem: how to add protein without upsetting the mineral balance of layers.

My usual practice with chicks (milk based protein to offset a wheat-soy base) isn't practicable with adult layers. This is because they need a massively enriched calcium level. However while milk is high in calcium it's also fairly high in phosphorus. The problem with high phosphorus levels is that phosphorus competes with calcium for absorption; thus the wrong ratio quickly produces problems like soft shelled eggs. I probably don't need to spell out the problems that can come from soft shelled eggs, but egg yolk peritonitis is a common one and it's deadly.

Free ranging the birds is a great way to get them to find their own greens and protein, in which case the pressure on the diet to be complete is a lot lower. Not only will they find a lot of calcium via greens, but they'll also eat insects that will supply omega-3 fats and calcium from shells alongside high protein.

Thus I've been braving the goshawks and letting the adult birds out every day for several hours at a time. It's no surprise that a day after they started being let out, one and then another began to lay.

Once again, in view of milk's problems mineral-wise, I've been looking for other cheap animal protein sources. As in earlier posts I've been thinking through the gamut of choices: worms; pet mince (good but may have sulphites that need to be washed out, and is almost invariably too fatty); normal butcher mince (expensive); and of course high protein scraps.

As it happens I've found a pretty good butcher shop that sells whole lamb livers very cheaply ($1.50), so that's being given every 2-3 days in small quantities. But on other days I'm relying on either scraps or whatever the birds rummage up. They're also getting small amounts of kefir in their feed (but only a quarter of what the chicks get, per bird), and of course they have soy meal. Given that they're starting to lay after their bad wheat setback I'm pleased that this is all working. One whole lamb liver is lasting me two weeks, so it's not exactly an expensive addition, and the scraps and insect forage cost me nothing at all except a little bit of worry when it comes to goshawks.

As for goshawk deterrence, I simply haven't seen the old boy around in a while, so perhaps he's decided to range elsewhere. Or it may be that having two near-adult roosters out and about now is keeping the divebombers at bay. There's also a new trampoline giving the chickens somewhere to hide where they can still peer out at the sky. Lastly, the ancona x have inherited their father's flightiness, and are rapidly scurrying for cover at every blink. Which isn't a bad thing in this backyard!

So that's a bit of a roundup more than a proper discussion of protein, but I hope it's reasonably clear.


Self Sufficient Living said...

Egg yolk peritonitis is deadly and strikes very quickly, we lost one to it recently.
I have a cup of tea on a crate near the run each morning and give each chicken a good eyeballing, looking for any symptoms.

Erica Bandanna said...

Nothing like a coopside cuppa!
Sorry about your loss.

Practical Parsimony said...

Feed eggshells to the chickens. I save all shells and give them a roast in the oven before or after I bake something. This is my free way of furnishing protein. Mama always cooked eggshells before she fed them to the dog to provent the dog from being an egg eater.

This works with chickens too. Not once have they eaten an egg that I have not dropped. You might have to implore others to dry eggs and save them for you to bake a bit. When they are all laying well, then you feed their own egg shells. Mine have never had any calcium suppliments or or seashells.

I just crushed the shells first. I put them in a plastic bag and squeeze. It hurts/cuts into my hands. But, I will live. You can put them in a grinder, blender, then mix with food. Or, just throw it out on the ground.

Often, I go and pull weeds when I am not letting them out for any reason.

Practical Parsimony said...

I meant to say that you should not wash the shell. That slime is protein. Then, there is the shell for calcium.