Sterling Center Farm
Poultry at Sterling Center are fed free choice whole grains, proteins and vitamins & minerals.
After much research, and frustration at the limited choices for feeding my flock of chickens, especially trying to find feed without soybeans, I have decided to go with the Whole Grain, free choice method.
No Soy products. I decided after much research that soy was not a natural product for chicken feed and feel myself that soy products are much over rated, even for human consumption. There are new studies that are suggesting that soy isn't as beneficial as they originally thought for human health.
Why whole grains? When grains are cracked or crushed, the nutrients immediately begin to deteriorate due to exposure to air. The longer they sit around the, the more they lose.
Feeding whole grains insures that the poultry are receiving the optimum benefit from their diet, unlike mashed grain which has already lost a good proportion of its nutrition, and pelleted feed which not only is crushed, but is also cooked losing even more nutrition, then vitamins & minerals have to be added to make up for that loss, and the cost is passed on to the consumer.
Exerpts from : Choice feeding of poultry: a review,
by S Pousga, H Boly and B Ogle
"Laying hens are normally fed a mash diet. The use of whole grain would not only save the energy cost of grinding and mixing but is also accompanied by increased efficiency of food utilisation .
McIntosh et al (1962) found that whole wheat yielded more metabolisable energy than ground or pelleted wheat in two out of three experiments, probably because the intake of whole grain is accompanied by increased efficiency of feed utilization
Karunajeewa (1978) fed laying hens complete mash diets, either barley or wheat based, or a choice between the whole grains and a concentrate mixture. Hens receiving wheat laid better than those fed barley, but the hens receiving a choice laid heavier eggs and consumed 11% less food than those given the complete diets.
Mongin and Sauveur (1974) reported that hens increased their calcium intake when ovulation was about to occur during the laying period. Hughes and Wood-Gush (1971) found that calcium appetite appeared to be a learned response and that the laying hen has the ability to selectively consume calcium to meet maintenance and production requirements.
Starting today, June 30th, 2007 I am beginning my whole grain feeding program.
I am gradually giving them less mash, while increasing the whole grain available to them.
I am starting by scattering the whole grains in a controlled manner so they dont overeat before their gizzard has time to strengthen in order to accommodate the grains. I am gradually increasing the amount of whole grains and decreasing the mash until they will no longer be getting mash.
Important: If your chickens do not get to go out & eat stones, you must have grit available so they can digest the grains.
Hopefully, after 2-3 weeks time, they will be completely on the whole grains, with free choice protein in the form of alfalfa meal & fish meal, and another container of poultry mineral & vitamins. I have a 3rd container with limestone, which I was questioning if they would eat it because it is a powder, but they are. My chickens are able to go out on pasture so I am not adding Kelp or grit until the ground is covered with snow.
I will post more information as it becomes available.
Im hoping I will have healthier hens, producing more eggs with improved fertility, and the roosters wont be forced to eat laying mash or pellets that are too high in calcium & protein for their urinary tract which can cause early death. I expect improved health and productivity with less waste & cost.
Each chicken will be able to select their own diet, resulting in a more efficient use of the feeds and improved health & egg production, while not wasting prepared feed on birds that don't need the same amount.
Update July 20, 2007. So far so good. I have all my adult birds completely on whole grains and I am seeing an increase in egg production already. I have some Penedesencas that stopped laying 3 weeks ago for no apparent reason, that have just started laying again.
My one worry about this method was that it would be more work at feeding time. But that hasn't been the case.
I premix the alfalfa meal & fish meal enough to last a week. I use containers large enough to hold a weeks worth.
I feed out the whole grains just like I did with the mash so there is no difference in time. And since I have the roosters separated from the hens at this time, only the hens have access to the limestone.
Other Whole Grain sites:
Results September 2008:
Its been a year since I tried the whole grain feeding program.
I really am happy with it.
It was interesting to see the differences in the amount of feed the birds ate. One thing in particular that I noticed was that the roosters when allowed to free feed the protein, didn't eat hardly as much as the hens. Also, different breeds ate different amounts. I even started my chicks on the whole grains at around 2-3 weeks and they grew very well.
At a Poultry show I attended after 6 months on this regimen, the judge remarked how healthy my birds were and complimented me on my "poultry husbandmanship". That was a great moment!
June 2009 update
I have changed my program slightly, the following is what I feed now:
Oats (or any grain except corn, or a mixture of grain that is the same size) Free choice. Oats have the best nutrients for chickens. I do give some corn during cold winter months, but not much, and usually as a treat!
I prefer to feed one grain only because they have preferences and pick out the one they like.
Note: I still start my chicks on wheat because its smaller & easier to eat than oats. Then at around 2 months old, I gradually switch to the oats.
Rough estimates depending on how much your breed needs for protein
Alfalfa meal -70%
Fish or bone meal-30% - I sometimes substitute high protein (31%) cat food for the fish meal, if I run out. If I give cat food, I only give it about 3 times a week or so, not free choice. Chickens like it too much and would eat it all at once. You can also buy hamburger, or any other meat & give as a substitute for a while.
Vitamin : I use Red Cell Horse liquid vitamins. About 1 Tbs.. per 5 gallon bucket. Red Cell has seleniun, which most powdered vitamins don't. My area is lacking in selenium, and I have noticed an improvement i break out at hatching, plus I haven't had splayed legs since starting it. Selenium is important for muscle development.
Calcium: I just toss a handful in once a week or so for the hens. That way when the rooster is in with the hens eats the protein he doesn't always get calcium he doesn't need. You can also keep a container of some type of calcium, the rooster won't eat it, just the hens.
You will see that the birds will self regulate their eating of certain feeds. Some breeds eat more of the protein than others when offered the same amounts. I like this because then I'm not going crazy trying to give one pen more and another less, etc. The birds do it for me. Sometimes by the end of the week, some pens still have their protein in, so I just by-pass that pen until the next week, simple!