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.”
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
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.