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chicken coop

Setting Up Your Outdoor Chick Brooder

We were recently in the market for a new outdoor chicken coop and outdoor chick brooder so, we decided to try out the Portable Backyard Chicken Coop from Lehman’s! We really enjoy this coop as our outdoor chick brooder. It also works amazingly well as a rabbit hutch and for just a couple of chickens as a breeding pen. This chicken coop can easily fit 2 backyard chickens, or 12+ chicks as a chick brooder. It could also fit a couple of rabbits if you were to choose to use it as a rabbit hutch. Here’s how we used the Lehman’s chicken coop to set up our outdoor chick brooder.

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How to Make Homemade Chicken Feed

Many chicken keepers might be interested to know that a natural and simple alternative to commercial layer feed is to make your very own non-gmo or organic chicken feed. Besides the fact that homemade chicken feed is pleasing to the eye with vibrant grains and veggies (versus compressed pellets), it’s also fairly easy to mix together, will last longer (since you’ll be using whole grains, not crushed), and is quite easy to increase and decrease supplements and minerals as you see fit. We started making our homemade chicken feed recently, and it really has made a complete and total difference in how we raise our chickens. 

Not only is the feed completely non-gmo and mostly organic, but I’m able to mix up a large batch all at one time. My favorite part? My feed actually sprouts when it gets wet, therefore, making sprouting and fermenting our feed all the better and easier to accomplish!

Is Homemade Chicken Feed Cheaper?

The quick answer to that is, well, no. In fact, depending on what you want to add to your chicken feed, it could be a lot more expensive. I can get a 50 lb. bag of non-gmo chicken feed from my farmer’s co-op for $16. I spend about $20 per 50 lbs to make my own homemade feed. If you can find an organic or non-gmo feed that you really love, and you’re concerned about the extra couple of bucks, then stick with it. But if you want to create your own feed with supplements and herbs, I’ll tell you, you won’t regret it.

Chicken Feed Vitamins, Minerals, and Protein

I learned how to make this feed from one of my favorite chicken keepers in the whole world—Harvey Ussery. He is one of the chicken kings here in Virginia (the other is Joel Salatin), and he even lives nearby! I’ve adapted it to our own needs and wants here, seeing as we free range most of the time. And I’ve also simplified it a bit more so that you have flexibility in your recipe as well.

While this recipe is super easy to throw together, there are a few things to consider when making your own feed, such as vitamins, minerals, and protein. Here are the things chickens need to have in their diet. They can get most of these things by simply free-ranging on pasture or from kitchen scraps, but for confined chooks, you’ll need to switch it up a bit and offer a pre-made mineral and vitamin supplement, like Nutri-Drench or Poultry Nutri Balancer.

Vitamins Your Chickens Need

Vitamins A, D, E, and K

Thiamine (B1)

Riboflavin (B2)

Vitamin B12

Folic Acid

Biotin

Pantothenic Acid

Choline

Niacin

 

Minerals Your Chickens Need

Calcium

Phosphorous

Magnesium

Manganese

Iron

Copper

Iodine

Zinc

Cobalt

 

Protein

15%-18% protein intake

 

A Note on Salt

Salt provides a great source of minerals and sodium chloride, and chickens do need salt in their diet, however, it should never exceed .5% of their diet.

Adding Herbs to Chicken Feed

Once you’ve chosen your options to put into your feed (and there are lots), you can start thinking about adding an herbal regime to your chicken’s daily ration. You can find an extensive list of chicken herbs and other things you can put into your chicken feed in my book that’s coming out in Spring 2019, or a few listed in my new book, The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion. But until then, it’s important to know how to administer herbs to your chickens.

Make sure you are using dried herbs if you are mixing them into feed, but more importantly, don’t mix herbs into large batches of feed. Also, it’s best not to use powdered herbs, as  you’ll lose them all during mixing.

Simply make an herbal mix, keep it in an air tight container, and then add a scoopful of herbs to the feed ration each day. Your herbs will stay fresher longer, and their efficacy much higher.

Here are some herbs and things to consider adding to your feed ration:

  • Calendula
  • Chamomile
  • Nasturtium
  • Mint (peppermint or spearmint)
  • Rosemary
  • Garlic
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Chia Seeds
  • Flax Seeds
  • Sunflower Seeds

Time To Make the Chicken Feed

It’s time to make your chicken feed! I’ll tell you, choosing what things to put into the feed goes way beyond this recipe. I hope that you’ll consider purchasing my book when it comes out in Spring 2019. The options are endless, and it’s so fun to create your own feed!

You should be able to source all of the ingredients for the feed from your local farmer’s co-op. You may also be able to find it online, or bulk order through other locations like New Country Organics.

Basic Natural Chicken Feed Recipe

Based on 100 lbs of feed

Wheat (20 to 25 lbs)

Cracked Corn (20 to 25 lbs)

Peas, split or whole) (20 to 25 lbs)

Oats, optional (do not feed in excess of 15% as they can cause runny droppings)

Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (5 lbs)

Flax Seed (1 lb, do not exceed 10%)

Mineral premix, optional (.5 to 2 lbs, depending on pasture availability)

 

Free Choice:

Sea Kelp

Grit

Cultured Dry Yeast

Fish Meal (optional, not to exceed 5%)

Calcium Source (eggs shells, aragonite, or oyster shell)

 

*Slight flexibility has been given in the base portion of this recipe so that you can adjust according to your needs if you pasture range. Birds that are on pasture generally get more vitamins and nutrients than those in confinement.

 

Don’t forget, grit is especially necessary for chickens that aren’t on pasture or free-ranging. It helps the gizzard break up grains and feed! You can purchase grit, or even just grab a handful of sand near a creek bed to throw in with your chickens. Grit consists of small pebbles, sand, and other natural gritty substances from the earth.

For an added bonus with your feed, soak your feed for 24 hours before offering it to your flock. You’ll use less feed and your chickens will digest it so much more efficiently!

And that’s it!

 

Cardboard Bedding — A Better Coop Option

Earlier this week I posted a photo on our facebook page of our cardboard bedding, and it created quite the conversation!
We hear of so many methods for our chicken coop floors. From straw, deep litter and wood shavings, to construction grade sand and just plain dirt. We all find different methods that suit our preferences. However, when I met a new homesteading friend not that long ago, and she introduced me to the wonderful world of cardboard bedding, I was sold.

It was a “mind blown” experience for me. I had never in my life heard of cardboard bedding. Out of all of the chicken professionals I’ve followed on facebook and through blogs, and farmers I’ve known through out life, never cardboard bedding. Maybe I just wasn’t paying any attention, which is totally possible.

 

Cardboard bedding (also referred to as horse stall bedding in many places) are thick pieces of cardboard that have been shredded into chips. They come in extra large bags (larger than a wood shaving bag), and 2 large bags will cover my 8x8ft chicken coop. Many farm stores and co-ops carry the bedding, but you must ask for it, as they normally don’t have it sitting out.
If done properly, cardboard bedding should only need to be changed every 4-6 months. It also depends on how many chickens you have in your coop. One summer we had over 50 chickens (never again!), and I ended up having to change the bedding every 2 months instead of the longer time frame.
So, here’s the scoop…..
How to use cardboard bedding in your coop:
  • Make sure you clean your coop out thoroughly before laying down your cardboard bedding. I always put a layer of Diatomaceous Earth down first to get rid of any lingering bugs and parasites. Allow the coop to air dry out (if there were any wet spots from feces or bedding) for an hour or so before putting your bedding down.
  • Put your bedding down in a thick layer on your coop floor. You want to make sure it’s a few inches deep so that the chickens feces never actually touch your coop floor when it falls to the ground from the roost. You also need room to “stir” the cardboard bedding, so you’ll need lots of bedding.
  • Every morning or once a day before roosting time, take a rake and stir your cardboard bedding all around. This makes the feces that lay on top of the bedding dry out quicker and detracts flies and other unwanted bugs. You are basically composting inside of your chicken coop.
  • On extra hot summer days, it  might need a boost of Sweet PDZ. However, if you’re doing it properly, your coop will most likely never “stink”. If you do need to add sweet PDZ, just sprinkle a thin layer over the entire surface of the cardboard bedding. Sweet PDZ is a natural deodorizer and can actually help in the breaking down process.
  • Your bedding should NEVER be wet or heavy. If maintained properly, it should remain light and dry the entire time. If it becomes wet for whatever reason, change it immediately.
  • This bedding should last 4-6 months with a small to medium sized flock of chickens. For a flock of 25+ chickens, you may find that you change it more often, depending on your location and preferences. When it comes time to put down new bedding, simply rake out the old bedding (it should NEVER be wet or heavy enough for a shovel) and use it in your compost or worm bins.
Cardboard bedding is a completely natural option for your coop floor, and honestly, it’s even much cleaner and easier to tend to than the deep litter and sand methods. Chickens cannot ingest the large pieces of cardboard. They will try to peck at it but lose interest after the first hour. Since the bedding is so light, many times the chickens will stir the bedding for you through out the day, which is a nice bonus.

However, my biggest love about this bedding is that my chickens love it. We saw quite the health improvement versus straw and other dusty beddings. Whenever we put down new straw or wood shavings, the chickens often have irritated sinuses. But not with cardboard bedding.There is no dust or pollen in the cardboard bedding, which is also a wonderful option for me since it allows me to put down bedding without wearing a mask and while also taking unnecessary allergy medicines.

Overall, it is the healthiest option for our chickens, and we will now be using it all year long rather than just the summer months.

I wanted to share this option with you, as it is not widely spoken about. I certainly am so thrilled that someone introduced me to cardboard bedding — because I’ll never go back to the other!

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