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Our Gluten-Free Chicken Adventure at One Year

We come to the first year anniversary of our adventure in raising chickens and feeding gluten-free. The line from Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie springs to mind: “We’re not dead yet.”

Could they really have been so tiny? Oh, how I worried, would even get up in the night to check on them.

Could they really have been so tiny? Oh, how I worried, would even get up in the night to check on them.

Last year at this time we were preparing for our first ever chicks, and discovered with sizable dismay and discouragement that all commercial chicken feed contains wheat. I have celiac disease, an auto-immune condition that makes me sick if I get even micro amounts of gluten protein from wheat, barley, rye grains. I almost died of it. Those were hard years. Only by maintaining a strict gluten-free environment have I reached my current good health, which I do not take for granted. My husband and I looked at each other. Dark clouds grew over our heads, filled with pictures of wheat gluten on hands, beneath fingernails, tracked on shoes, billowing all over our yard and house. Ingesting even a speck of the feed could put me under. No, we could risk it. An alternative would have to be found.

All the so-called experts say, “get a good commercial feed,” and with the attitude that should you do anything else, you are asking for trouble, that your chickens will die, or be inferior, which to them is the same thing.

Thankfully there are people with years of experience at raising backyard and small farm flocks the old-fashioned way on grains and seeds, and who are generous enough to share their knowledge. I scoured the web and books and thought back to my great-Uncle Willy, a farmer who was, shall we say, thrifty, and raising chickens in the early part of the 1900s; I seriously doubted he used commercial feed, a fairly modern phenomenon that came on like gang-busters in the affluent and industrial time after WWII.  My uncle raised mainly corn and milo; I eat some corn and a whole lot of milo, in the form of sorghum flour. Works for me. I devised my own feed– you can find recipes and links here. [Edited: you can find gluten-free chick starter mash recipes here.]

 I have been making all my own feeds going on 10 years, with results more than satisfactory to me, but cannot pretend to be an expert in the field of poultry nutrition, and indeed consider every one of my formulations a snapshot of a moving target-that is, an ongoing experiment. ~Harvey Ussery

Our Elvira turned up unable to walk at 8 months. I considered killing her, didn't, soaked her feet, coddled her for weeks, in which she never stopped laying eggs, and today she walks stiffly but still rules the other girls, and lays daily.

Our Elvira turned up unable to walk at 8 months. I considered killing her, didn’t, soaked her feet, coddled her for weeks, in which she never stopped laying eggs, and today she walks stiffly but still rules the other girls, and lays daily.

Do I get as many eggs as those fed on commercial egg-laying ration? I have no way to tell. I just this week began to record the number of eggs I’m getting and from which girls. Thus far, from eight hens–2 each Ameraucana, Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red– I will get 4-7 eggs a day. My girls have a fair sized yard they roam, and each evening they are let out into our pecan orchard to forage beneath trees and in leaf piles for an hour. The shells on the girls’ eggs are so hard you have to really hit them to crack them. We have had no breaking of eggs, even when they are kicked from the nest, no pecking out each other’s feathers or any other annoying behaviors. I have not wormed them, either. I guess I’m firmly in the natural path of pumpkin and other squash seeds and garlic as natural wormers. So far all are fat and sassy.

As Mr. Ussery says above, I cannot pretend to be an expert, but my results are thus far satisfactory to me. I’m still learning, still experimenting, but the chicks and I are not dead yet, and in fact, we are walking in tall cotton, as they say down here in the South. Proud girls with tail feathers high.

18 Comments
  1. Ahhhh chickens! I started raising chickens just over a year ago, as pets at first and then for eggs. I wanted to certify the eggs as organic so had to go through the proper channels (which I might add was a nightmare!) The land the chickens were raised on was held in question as it is downhill from a mine that is no longer in operation. After months of ground and well testing we finally passed muster.

    Then the question was, what to feed them to ensure the best possible quality eggs and not screw up the organic certification? The answer so far, has been hydroponically grown barley and grass mixture. The chickens love it, the production is more than expected and other than a visit from the police because they were curios about the grow-lights in the dead of winter, all has been good thus far;)

    February 18, 2013
    • Oh, Ionia, my hat is off to you! I doubt I would have had the strength to persevere, especially with the hydroponics. I do want to get going on a worm farm. And you know, if I grew the barley grasses, even the wheat grasses, that would be safe for me. Cut it before the seed heads, as that is what will prove hazardous to me as a gluten-intolerant person. I’m going to have to think more on that! Want to grow some Amaranth.

      February 18, 2013
  2. My Dear Friend
    I have so enjoyed your educational posts. You make me realize how much we do (and eat) out of habit, and not realizing what it is doing to our bodies. Fo one, I know I cannot drink soy milk, but have never put it all together that the eggs, meats, and other products could very well have these same products in them. Iam slowly trying to cut back on the gluten products as well. I have never been much of a label reader, but I think it is time for me to get serious about what I am doing to myself here….in more ways than one! You are such an inspiration with your down home, back to basics thinking. I think the whole world would be a much better place if we all did just a little bit more of it. You encourage me to think about my own “POSSIBILITIES!” Question….. Do the eggs from the different breeds of hens, taste different, and how did you choose which breeds to get? Have a very Blessed day!! Carolyn

    February 1, 2013
    • Carolyn– I was flabbergasted last year to learn that eggs– current commercial eggs– have a great amount of soy in them. I had been given to understand that eggs do not have gluten, certainly did not think of soy, that what was fed to the chicken did not transfer to the eggs. Well, low and behold a reader sent me info on research proving that eggs have soy, when the chickens are fed huge amounts of soy, which they are now, to increase their protein. Even home raisers are feeding their chickens large amounts of soy, in products like Calf Manna. I also read that some people were realizing a problem with this, and producers of soy-free eggs were springing up.

      I, too, cannot drink soymilk. I get sores in my mouth and just feel terrible with it, also with anything with a large amount of soy lecithin. Soy protein is close on the linkage to gluten of wheat, barley, rye. I chose not to feed my chickens soy, as well as no wheat. If soy goes through to the egg, why not wheat? Just wondering, anyway, I can tell a profound difference in my energy level since I am eating my own eggs. Coincidence? Just that I’ve healed this much? Maybe, but I see no reason to use either grain in my chicks’ feed.

      You might try Silk Almond milk, no soy! And it is delicious, the vanilla flavor. Only I have to be careful, because it sure has sugar. Ha, ha. Each of us has different sensitivities that we can only learn by listening to our bodies and hearts. It really becomes quite simple.

      Hugs, CurtissAnn

      February 1, 2013
  3. Congrats on being persistent and finding the answer that worked for you. .

    February 1, 2013
    • I had so much help to do this. I’m grateful for the wonderful people who share and go an extra mile.

      February 1, 2013
  4. deniseclaire1 #

    Oh, if only I could send you my son’s collie! She would love to have some animals to protect! She is a wonderful dog, but I am so tired of all the fur in the house and her following me everywhere I go in the house. I can’t leave her in the backyard because of our location. She has been my responsibility for the four years he has been in college and unfortunately he is going to have to do a 5th year.

    Congratualations on your success as a chicken farmer. Maybe you should start making your wishes known if you want organic feed. Supply and demand as they say.

    That’s a lot of eggs/day. Are you selling them…giving them away?

    February 1, 2013
    • Hello, dear friend. Your sentiments about the collie help me remember the responsibility of a dog. Saw an ad today for a German Shepherd, and I was tempted, but no more! Sounds like a lot of eggs, and they are wonderful, but we use them every day. I think I’m feeling better, too, not having soy or gluten that could be in the eggs.

      February 1, 2013
  5. Brenda M in Oklahoma #

    Congratulations on the year anniversary of your project and wishing you success in your new project of growing “red wigglers”. I used to find “Worm Poop” at Home Depot for tomatoes and veggies, etc. sold by Terracycle in recycled soft drink bottles. I just googled and saw that there is a kit available for under $50. Also, wanted to comment on adding flaxseed to your chicken’s feed — just be careful of storage time, container and temperature, because it can become rancid in a short amount of time.

    February 1, 2013
    • Thank you, Brenda. Yes, I know about flaxseed’s short shelf life. I only buy one Bob’s Red Mill ground flaxseed at a time, and keep it refrigerated. I’m also using it for humans, so it goes in a good amount of time.

      February 1, 2013
  6. Congratulations! What an accomplishment! This was no ordinary challenge. Conventional thinking would have meant giving up for sure. How often do we fail to be creative because we allow beliefs to dictate our choices. One must think out of the box… or is it out of the coop in this case? ha! ha! Glad to hear everyone, with and without feathers, is doing well.

    January 31, 2013
    • Thanks so much for the congratulations, Granny. So true about allowing the accepted beliefs dictate our choices. I do it without thinking so often. And I quake when I go against convention, but perhaps age is helping me there. :)

      January 31, 2013
  7. Dee #

    I love your approach to chicken raising. I should just buy some corn and millet. Unfortunately, I can’t let my girls roam. The dogs find them delicious. Hugs to you my southern girl.

    January 31, 2013
    • I have a number of times wanted a border collie to herd my girls back to their yard. :) Jim has a hissy fit about the girls getting to the front yard and into his mulch around his crepe myrtle and liriope. I do mean, it drives him crazy, so finally I had to put my husband above my girls and now they are not out any more than about an hour, all I can spare to keep an eye on them, and very often it is Jim keeping an eye on them, because he does not appreciate my lackadaisical eyeing. :) I want to do a worm farm in a container.

      January 31, 2013
  8. Tammy #

    You are a hard working woman – way to go! Healthy everyone, good living! We have a place nearby that makes their own mix for various livestock and poultry. It’s so much fresher and tastier than the extruded, pelletized who-knows-what! Lovely one-year report, Curtiss Ann!

    January 31, 2013
    • Thank you, Miss Tammy! It is not so hard for a tiny flock. I did realize a mistake in cooking the rice and moistening my mix until it is softened. The chickens prefer it that way, but hey, girls, let’s get used to dry. :) We do not have any organic feed producers in the entire state of Alabama, so organic is out for me. This year I’m going to make an effort to find a feed pea supplier. And I’m adding a bit of ground flaxseed to their feed. I am so grateful to have followed my inner voice and embark on this path!

      January 31, 2013
      • Tammy #

        must love life’s challenges! Blessings in disguise, all of them!

        January 31, 2013

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