Thursday, December 03, 2015

Plans for 2016. Growing for hen food. 12.3.15

Chicken food can be costly.  You don't always know what you are getting.  We have room on our 2 acres to experiement with additional crops.   I don't know the art and science of chicken feed.  I read there needs to be a balance of protein, and amino acid type.  Some feed plants contain anti-growth substances such as saponins that need to be cooked out.  Some plants are eaten by deer.  They ate all of our buckwheat this year.  This web page contains a list of various seed protein content.

Amaranth.   Long history as a crop, thousands of years.  High in protein but also saponins. Keep untreated under 20% of chicken diet, treated - cooked - under 40%.  Dried leaves can also be used.  Protein 14% to 18%.

Broom Corn or Sorghum.  Not good as a main component of feed, poor quality protein and contains anti-nutritive tannin.  Probably a little is OK, as a minor part of the feed, but not much.

Whole grain corn - It's possible to add some whole grain corn to supplement part of the hen diet.  Corn is the main grain used in poultry feeds in the USA.  Corn grain is 10% protein.    Corn has no intrinsic toxins.  Corn grain is 72% starch and high in lipids.  Some of the pigments may carry over into the egg yolks (xanthophylls).  From OSU extension, "corn grain is deficient in lysine, methionine, and tryptophan; all of which are essential amino acids. The major protein in corn is zein. Zein is a poor quality protein; both in terms of a poor amino acid profile and low solubility. As stated, the lipid content in corn is relatively high. The lipids in corn increase energy content and palatability. In addition, the lipids provide essential fatty acids. In terms of minerals, corn grain is very deficient in calcium and moderately high in phosphorus."  I was thinking about growing Indian corn, preferably a northern strain that would be harvestable here.  Deer and rabbits don't seem to eat our corn plants.  We would have to keep them separated from sweet corn, because of detrimental cross pollination.

Legumes.  There are concerns about soy, and about GMO soy.   Soy is shipped long distances.  Soy is a high quality protein and oil seed.  Other legumes are possible, but need processing.  I don't jave a good substitute in mind.  During summer, our free range hens forage all types of plants, weeds, and bugs, so get various protein sources.  Keeping deer out of legume plants would be challenging.  Deer love eating bean and pea plants.  Soy contains anti-nutritive saponins which apparently  can be inactivated by heat processing.

Sunflower seeds.  Apparently, can be partially substituted for soy.  Not clear, less than 15% or 30% of feed.  Protein content is about 26%.  The sunflower seed heads can be left in the chicken yard or chicken house for them to peck out the seeds.  They don't need any other processing.  This site states they can be no more than 30% of the hen feed, which is a lot.

This is an incomplete post, to be edited as I read more and learn more.

(All images via public domain,


  1. Broom corn is just so ornamental. I grew it this yr and saved some seeds for next yr. The mice left them alone unlike the sweet corns. They are very tall and just look fantastic. Chicken likes everything a person likes to eat, I would give them my left overs and fresh greens.

    1. I never grew it before. The seeds have arrived already. Can't wait for the start of gardening 2016! The chickens aready get a lot of kitchen scraps. They ate all of the left over squash seeds and cooked squash.

  2. pseudo-scientist10:35 PM

    I wanted to see if my chooks could survive and lay on whole foods, so this summer I fed them for a month on whole grains, seeds, and garden scraps. I had to smash the sunflower heads a bit, pull out some of the seeds and put a few cracked on top of the seed head, so they could make the connection. I fed them the smaller, ornamental sunflowers and they loved them. Next was pearl millet from the health food store bulk bin--they went crazy for that. Then some high-protein hard red winter wheat--just feed them whole seed heads with the junk still on it or buy some local stuff from the store. Lastly for the grains, dried sweet corn (old fashioned, OP stuff that I save for seed). No digestion or crop disorders with any of these, but individual results could vary. Also the missing amino acid for eggs will almost always be methionine - mostly comes from bugs, worms, dairy and meat (my girls killed a rat and all that was left was a pelt), but plant sources provide varying amounts according to my googling.

    They layed almost as much as on pricey organic scratch, but despite the lazy style of this comment I actually did a lot of research about what grains and whole foods are best--a lot of them have anti-nutritive properties or limited protein. Most useful research was from universities in developing countries.

    1. Thanks for the great information! We have been using commercial chicken feed, plus they have a very large free range area where they forage continuously. I'm really looking forward to growing more of our own chicken feed.