Monday, 24 August 2015

what to feed a hen

Here in Costa Rica there are 3 types of chicken feed available in the stores: starter, layer and meat raiser. They all basically have the same ingredients, only the protein percentage varies, and the layer has more calcium. They range from 14% protein (layer) to 22.5% (starter).

There is no organic feed nor is there feed certified GMO free. People 'get around' the non organic issue by free ranging and feeding corn or cassava - but the corn you can buy in the stores is GMO.

Which is a problem if you don't want to eat GMO.

So I'm in the process of making my own feed. My flock doesn't free range (yet), making me 100% responsible for their food. And it's quite a lot of work.

I can buy organic local corn at the farmers market - sometimes. Corn has been called chicken crack and they do love it. It's low in protein (9%), high in carbs (82%), I think 3% fat. Sounds great, but I can't always get it. It turns out that jackfruit seeds are almost the same nutritionally, so I use those when we have them. The seeds have to be boiled, dried, ground and fermented to deal with the anti nutritive aspects, but that's okay as I ferment the food anyway and the boiling is the only extra step in the preservation process. I'm looking for more carb sources. The cassava sounds interesting, and we could grow it: it's just such an empty calorie that I'm resistant.

Protein I get from black soldier fly larvae, azolla and duckweed, sprouted lentils and gandul /pigeon peas. I'm working on growing guppies in the azolla / duckweed tank for an extra protein source.

Fats from black soldier fly larvae plus little bits here and there. BSFL are 35% fat.

Minerals and vitamins come from greens: spinach - Brazilian and Okinawa, katuk, tradescantia, gandul, nacedero.

Calcium from egg shells, snail shells, seashells and BSF.  I can't find oyster shell here: as the layer feed has 'sufficient' calcium, the feed stores don't sell it.

They also get whey and / or curds 2-3 times a week.

Dry feed is fermented. Very easily done - put dry feed in a bucket with a good lid, add water to cover, mix well, close lid. Next day open, stir, repeat 3 times or more. Next day repeat. Third day it should be sufficiently fermented to feed. After this initial ferment you can let the bucket get low enough to contain only one more serving and then add in dry ingredients and water, stir and let sit overnight. By morning the ferment should be good to go due to the 'starter' you already have in the bucket. Love this system. So simple, and so much better in terms of nutrition, waste and overall less mess (less smell, drier poop).

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Chicken news

Last Saturday I added 4 new chickens to the flock: 2 brahmas and 2 silkies. I had initially thought of having only brahmas as they are a dual purpose breed and beautiful birds, actually really it's because they are large, quiet, docile creatures who aren't flighty. But well, silkies are just fun. And they're bantams so really it's 2 birds for the space of 1. Poor reasoning I know, but there you have it. I don't have good pictures of them yet: they are always in motion. They are in a small pen inside the run by way of an introduction. Really they are still too small to be loose, but big enough to be outside. 

I'm happy with the coop and run. It's sits on a fairly steep slope - dropping about 25 centimeters each meter, so I've stepped it somewhat inside and roughly it's on 3 levels. I would prefer to use the deep litter method, but because of the slope I can't. However I'm building up the lowest level using deep litter materials / principles and it's gradually evening out with the middle level. 

The roof is covered, and as it follows the same inclination as the slope, rain run off is good: I have to reconsider what plants to have along this lower side as the rain is pretty impressive this time of year. It's been a very wet year and the vetiver I planted is having a hard time establishing. I like the idea of the vetiver as the root system will help deter predators digging in, plus the vegetation is attractive and it should provide - once established - an attractive micro-climate for bugs etc.,. Vetiver can stand to have damp feet, but it's really taking a while to get going. 

The coop has a tin roof with a gutter which feeds into my water tank / azolla tank. That is going really well! The tank is full of azolla / duckweed which the girls love. It is also home to many tadpoles and water snails and a couple of guppies. The guppies are pregnant which means more guppies in the next couple of weeks. Guppies are for mosquito larvea control, and also to provide extra protein for the chooks. 

It's been so horribly muddy that the area between the path and the coop/run was becoming a mud field, yesterday Evinor worked tirelessly to clear the area and make steps. So much better! And now I can landscape it. I've been wanting to add some herbs and flowering plants to the area and now have the space and the light to do so. We have several fruit trees growing in the immediate area: araza, sapote columbiano, cashew, jaboticaba, tangerine and cacao, which pretty much means shade, but there are a couple of open spots. Looking forward to adding the new plants!