The Chicks and Me, Gluten-Free

We have made it together– five weeks today on our adventure in raising chicks on a homemade gluten-free ration. I am happily feeding and touching everything without paranoia that I’m going to get smacked with a gluten-hit. (For the uninitiated, a gluten-hit is to a celiac like having unknowingly taken poison, resulting in anything and everything from stomach upset to days in bed.)

For the chick’s part, they appear to be thriving. Two have figured out how to fly out of the brooder cage when the lid is up. Princess Puny, our little special needs chick, is still alive and slowly growing, although the genetic defect has become even more evident when comparing her to the others. What inspiration and interest she provides!

I have noticed that the chicks might be pecking each other’s tail feathers. I’ve heard one woman say this is lack of protein, but read it can be anything from crowding to normal. I have done what I can, and not make myself crazy, to get protein into their feed. I have used as a basis information from poultry expert Harvey Ussery, and his article in Backyard Poultry Magazine, along with recipes found at the websites of Avian Aqua Miser, Greener Pastures Farm, and 3 Peas Bird Farm. A generous chicken owner on the Backyardchickens.com forum, who lives in a celiac household, shared her gluten-free mash recipe.

I have been amazed at the number of books on raising chickens that address the feeding issue with one sentence, amounting to the advice: “Buy a good chick-starter feed at the feed store.” I agree with Mr. Ussery, who states in his wonderful article that he found it odd that a reader who wrote to ask about homemade feeds, “…was so willing to experiment with her own diet, but is unwilling to do so with that of her chickens.”

How can we on one hand be convinced without a doubt that processed foods are not at all the best for us as humans, but that something that comes in a bag, who knows how long from the plant to our homes, is best for chickens? Does anyone recall the melamine poisoning in pet and animal feed that occurred back in 2007 from food additives made in China? The melamine was, of all places, in the added wheat gluten.

But I digress. I’m reporting here on my experiment, and I do have to remind myself all the time that this is an experiment. I have not been able to get some of the ingredients recommended, such as feed peas not being available in our area. Other ingredients were just too troublesome. I have begun making cornbread for the family weekly, and there’s plenty of left-over for the chicks; this is a way to get egg protein easily.

When I brought the brand new chicks home, I put together what I had on hand:
2 cups corn meal, 1 cup millet, 1/2 cup steel cut oats, 1/2 cup alfalfa pellets put through the blender (makes it too powdery) 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Mixed it all with 3 Tablespoons molasses, which has a lot of minerals, anti-mold properties, and I saw listed on several packages of commercial feed, so it seemed a good idea. The molasses seems to hold the dust down and tiny bits of feed together.

The chicks went at it in something of a gratifying frenzy. I noticed, however, that they were far too small to eat even the tiny millet seeds, and the rice was thrown aside, too. The next batch I made, I still used the millet seeds, but substituted Bob’s Red Mill uncooked brown rice cereal for the whole rice.

In addition to this feed, I began to make them a mash three times a day of mixed corn grits, uncooked brown rice cereal, steel cut oats and powdered milk with a bit of water. I learned my chicks do not like wet mash. I’ve tried several recipes from the web, and I have to make the mash far more like crumbles, or they won’t eat it.

Within five days, I obtained a grinder attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer and was able to grind cracked corn, split peas, alfalfa pellets, and rice, each to the consistency the chicks could eat, but not too fine.

My recipes have progressed. This is what I’m currently mixing:

Gluten-Free Chicken Mash, 2 – 3 times daily:
1 cup ground cracked corn
1 cup coarse ground split peas or lentils and brown rice
1/4 cup coarse ground rolled oats
1/4 cup (scant) rice bran
1 1/2 Tablespoon brewers yeast
1 Tablespoons molasses
3 Tablespoons powdered milk (Bob’s Red Mill hormone-free)
1+ cup hot water, added a little at a time, until the consistency is crumbly, but everything is wet.
All measurements are more or less. I’m not a rocket scientist. Keep refrigerated.

Gluten-Free Chick Feed Dry mix kept in feeder at all times:
2 cups ground corn
2 cups ground split peas or lentils
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup ground rolled oats
1/2 cup rice bran
2 Tablespoons flax seed
4 Tablespoons brewers yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons (approx.) molasses
Put it all in the electric mixer and mix on slow speed while drizzling in the molasses.

I sift the coarse oyster shell over it all to get some in for calcium, but I think I can just begin giving them the oyster shell as it is soon. I also put poultry vitamins and probiotics in their water daily, and several times a week I will add a bit of fresh crushed garlic to the water.

Let me confess that I do not intend to keep grinding grain and peas. Raising these chickens is not my life’s calling. I do intend to keep reading and experimenting to find what suits best both the chickens and I. Taking care of me is of primary importance, as I am the one who has to do the work of feeding them, in hopes that they will feed me.

What came first: the chicken or the human who feeds?

Post Script: Just discovered chickens adore Gluten-Free Bisquick Baking Mix biscuits!

15 thoughts on “The Chicks and Me, Gluten-Free

  1. Did you by any chance catch Paul Deen last Saturday morning? She has chickens. Liza Minelli was her guest and she showed Liza her chickens. They fed the chickens some of Paula’s German chocolate cake! Paula says the chickens love it. Liza held a chicken and sang to it.

    Paula Deen’s chickens have a beautiful chicken coop and outdoor yard under a tree.

    Chicks sound like a whole lot more work than human babies even.

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    • Denise– my natural tendency is to complicate things. I do all this research, and before I know it, I’m convinced that my chicks have every disease and problem. I stopped that, and things are going along more easily. 🙂 I’m sure, though, that Paula Deen has someone to build everything her chickens need and take care of them. Starting from scratch is hard, but it is definitely interesting!

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      • >I’m sure, though, that Paula Deen has someone to build everything her chickens need and take care of them.

        Oh, I’m sure she does. We have friends with chickens, ducks, geese. I thought about having chickens, but want the freedom to travel w/o having to find caretakers for animals of any kind. Been there, done that.

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  2. For anyone who is interested check out pallensmith.com — his latest newsletter talks about baby chicks. Another thing I remember my mother and grandmother feeding our chicks was clabbered milk.
    A friend of ours in the neighborhood (country) raised chickens and sold eggs and fed his chickens scrap veggies from his large garden. One problem he talked about was chicken snakes — I know, I know, not something we want to hear about. I cannot abide snakes so that would be a real problem for me. Something I heard (don’t know if it’s a myth or true), but snakes don’t like the coolness of mint, so was wondering if planting mint around the chicken house would deter them any? Anybody have any info/thoughts on this subject?

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    • Yes, people feed their chickens scrap veggies, but that is not enough. To grow correctly and lay eggs, they have to have enough protein, as well as calcium. I’ve heard people feed clabbered milk, but we don’t drink milk. Therefore, I give the powdered milk in the feed, hoping to increase protein. Snakes are not a problem with our cats around. Hubby even said I can get another cat! I’ve planted mint beside the coop already, going to buy more, will use it to keep mites and fleas down. Hopefully!

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  3. Thanks so much for reporting out on how the chicks are doing and giving details. My chicken dream will most likely have to wait for next year, but just following you gives me hope that it can be done – and keep us safely gluten free.

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  4. You are a good, beyond-good, chick mama! Anyway, I would add sunflower seed! It is loaded with protein and they’ll love it! Try it broken(that is, in the shell and not necessarily ground fine, just in bits.) I give my poultry sunflower pellets because there is a local sunflower farm. They never like to eat them the first day(I scatter them) because I imagine they’re too big and hard. They like them the next day when they’ve softened. They LOVE them the next day. And they’re chock-full of protein! Yet another thing to add to your list!

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    • Oh, Tammy, you darling you for telling me this! I bought hulled sunflower seeds when I got the chicks, but the seeds seemed so big, I was holding off giving them. Okay, so they get them today! Next time I buy, I’ll check out the broken shells.

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  5. Your chicks appear to be thriving on the feed regime you have them on. Congratulations for your persistence! I’ve got friends who are gluten intolerant and I’ve seen a ‘gluten-hit’ first hand.

    You’re to be commended for taking the time and effort to produce your own certified gluten free eggs and chicken meat.

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    • I should have explained more clearly. The gluten-free feed is for me. Gluten does not go through to the eggs, nor in the meat of any animal. Celiacs and gluten-intolerant people can eat any eggs or meat. I’m just wanting to keep myself healthy! I do very much hope the chicks thrive on what I feed, though. I have this horrible, and probably irrational fear, each morning that they are going to drop dead. I had to quit reading on chicken forums because I read of so many diseases, and one person reported her chickens dropping dead at 7 weeks and she had no idea why! I just keep praying. 🙂

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  6. Well, of course, our grandparents made their own chicken feed. I can see how they did. We didn’t have packaged feeds then. Have you thought about bedding straw for later? Most of the straw here is wheat, and I’ve switched to alfalfa. A bit more expensive, but safer for me.~~Dee

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    • Well, I have not gotten that far yet, but I figured just bermuda grass hay for the laying boxes, deep layer wood shavings for the hen house. I think each area of the country has it’s leanings, and since so much wheat is grown in OK, wheat straw is available. Grass hay is around us. We just put sand in the bottom of the run, and the chicks had their first visit to the run! They were so cute. Jim said it was their trip to Disney World. 🙂 Love you, Demeter.

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      • I use coconut fibre (coir) in our lying boxes and sugar cane mulch for floor litter. Occasionally I buy a bale of lucern hay (3rd grade) for the hens to kick through in winter time when they don’t get as many bugs from foraging.

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        • Maggie– I looked up lucerne, and if I understand correctly, it is what we call alfalfa. I can get that here easily. I bought pure alfalfa pellets to grind to put in the girls’ feed; they love it. Next winter I will just get a few bales of hay. I used to buy good alfalfa for my horses, love the smell. Thanks for sharing what you use in your hen house– so cool to see what’s available around the world.

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          • It’s always interesting to learn what things are called in different countries. One other thing I know about is what you call a squash in the USA is called a Butternut Pumpkin in Australia. Fascinating how language evolves in various places!

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