Help! My chickens are eating my tofu! - Mothering Forums
Country Living / Off the Grid > Help! My chickens are eating my tofu!
dovey's Avatar dovey 09:43 PM 09-09-2011

Okay, they aren't literally.  But here's the issue:


We've been vegan for about 8 years now.  Everyone in the family is happy, healthy, etc.  But I've been talking to people about eating locally, in a more environmentally sound way, and everyone seemed to tell me that soy wasn't so great for the environment, mostly since it's not grown and processed where I live. 


So we decided to branch out and eat eggs again - local source of protein, right?  I cannot get on board with eating eggs from chickens who will be butchered at midlife when they can no longer lay.  So we decided to get our own pet chickens and eat thier eggs, but obviously not kill them.  We ordered some chicks - very sweet little creatures, lots of fun for the kids to watch and take care of.  But I look at the ingredients of their chick starter - a combo of soy and corn. 


I've heard of people feeding their chickens kitchen scraps, bugs from their wanderings and plants that they find, but from what I've read, neither egg laying chickens nor chickens that people eat for meat can completely subsist on such a diet, except under rare optimal conditions.  Most chickens pretty much subsist on soy and corn for the protein in their diet.  And of this protein, only a relatively small percentage is turned into egg protein.  So if I really wanted to eat more locally, chicken eggs don't do the trick.  I might as well just eat my tofu rather than giving it to my chickens


We live in Northern New Mexico where it is cold and pretty much bug-less for about half the year.  There are also hungry dogs, coyotes and hawks who roam around nearby.  Our "pasture" is 2.5 acres of cottonwood trees, russian olives with some scrawny alfalfa, sanfoin and other wildflowers/wild grasses underneath.  So there is a little bit they could eat while wandering, but definitely not enough to subsist on, and they will need significant protection from predators. 


Of course, now we have 8 little peepers who are living in the workshop until they are big enough to go outside.  So I'm happy to share the soy......But does anybody know about keeping chickens and feeding them a balanced diet which includes more table scraps and bugs?  I'm rather clueless in this department, and I don't want to give the chicks a nutritionally poor diet.


p.s. I don't know exactly where to post this thread, but I thought maybe people would have some good ideas here...  

onetrumpeter's Avatar onetrumpeter 12:10 PM 09-10-2011

all I can say is that I'm wondering the same thing.  We farm sat a few months ago and fed "layer crumbles" from Southern States (not sure how big of a chain that is but it's similar to Tractor Supply).  I read the ingredients and thought - I'm sure this is GMO corn and GMO soy and I wonder what the alternatives are?  Do chickens *need* to eat layer crumbles in order to lay eggs?  I've heard of raising mealworms but not sure that's a complete diet.


So sorry no answers but looking forward to hearing ideas :) 

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 06:58 PM 09-10-2011

Azure Standard sells a corn-and-soy-free layer scratch.  That's where I get mine, but you might be able to order from your local feed store.  The main ingredients are wheat and peas, barley, calcium, hmmmm.... fish and crab meal (definitely not vegan, eh?), seaweed meal etc. etc.  The brand is Magill Ranch Cascade Layer.  It is organic.  I've seen locally processed feed (again corn-and-soy-free) but in non-organic.


Chickens also loved cracked sunflower seeds (crazy lovin'!).  You can grind up your own feed easily in a food processor.  Soak the wheat and peas overnight and process.  Store in the fridge. (Of course it won't have calcium and vitamins.  Would a vegan give chickens oyster shells?  If they can free range they get calcium from insects, bones, and you can give them crushed egg shells.  Or milk or tofu processed with calcium.) They love eggs (leftover hardboiled in our house) and milk (whoops, not vegan again!) and for the omnivores reading this post, they really really love the leftover chicken and turkey skin and bits and bones and what's left of the carcass, fish bits and whatever.  I've finally gotten over my squeamishness about feeding chickens cooked chicken.  I've heard of some hens laying into other hens that drop dead in the coop.  I haven't had that happen, but it rid me of any guilt about turning them into little cannibals.  

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 07:52 PM 09-10-2011

Another issue relevant to the animal-rights oriented:  buying chicks usually means that the cockerel chicks are ground up.  Seriously!  One mail-order breeder I know of only sells "straight run" chicks: Sandhill (???) in Idaho.  I'm looking for my reference but I didn't find it.  There is *always* the issue of What To Do With The Roosters.  There will always be roosters.  One way or another, at one time or another, the roosters just have to go.  You just don't need more than one or two.  You probably wouldn't want more than one or two, three at the most.  Most folks don't want any.  



eggsandpancakes's Avatar eggsandpancakes 07:53 PM 09-10-2011

my chickens ate anything they could catch, including snakes. I'd throw out about a half a feed scoop of layer pellets in a huge arc when I let them out of the coop in the mornings, then at sundown about half that much inside the dog run the coop was inside. They'd run in, eat, then all huddle up into the coop and go to sleep. I watched them eat a garden snake, dig up all sorts of stuff, nuts out over grass hoppers. . . .  they were pretty self sufficent.

I would imagine they'd eat any sort of grain mix and do pretty good on it, so if you wanted to just get them some rolled oats, cracked corn, and sunflower seeds or birdseed mix or something they'll do just fine. they are going to need to get some sort or grit in their diet, and I'm pretty sure its all oyster shell, so. . ..

FarmerBeth's Avatar FarmerBeth 08:55 PM 09-11-2011

Regarding grit: If your chickens free range they'll find their own.  Agree with above poster about eating anything.  A couple of my chickens (well, mostly the rooster) have caught mice and frogs, they'll eat just about any bug.  I fed my first chicks crumbles, but none of my later hen-hatched chicks (all this year's) would touch them.  They only eat what Mama eats.  They had regular laying mash, lots of table scraps (our chickens' favorite leftover is pasta with tomato and chickpea sauce).  I sprout and sometimes I sprout the chickens some millet at the same time I make my own sprouts.  They also love fruits  (they are in my blackberry and raspberry patches constantly!), and greens, especially clover (clover is really high protein, although I guess you are too arid for that where you live, but clover sprouts are great, too) Egg shells are still fine calcium, and I do think you could make your own mix of grains with a little thought. 

FarmerBeth's Avatar FarmerBeth 09:03 PM 09-11-2011

Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post

Another issue relevant to the animal-rights oriented:  buying chicks usually means that the cockerel chicks are ground up.  Seriously!  One mail-order breeder I know of only sells "straight run" chicks: Sandhill (???) in Idaho.  I'm looking for my reference but I didn't find it.  There is *always* the issue of What To Do With The Roosters.  There will always be roosters.  One way or another, at one time or another, the roosters just have to go.  You just don't need more than one or two.  You probably wouldn't want more than one or two, three at the most.  Most folks don't want any.  



You can help prevent this by buying from a local, small scale farmer who has a broody hen to do the work.  We got our lovely, mixed heritage breed chickens this way.  Also, I actually have met lots of country folks who hobby farm and love roosters.  If you end up with extras, put up a sign or try Craig's List/Kijiji .  Some people have a "bachelor pad" if they have several roosters so that once they work out their own pecking order, they don't fight over the chicks.


Try subscribing to "Keeping Chickens" magazone on line (It's part of Self Sufficient Living) .This E-zine is mostly stuff written in by readers, but they are overwhelmingly the sorts that really think of the welfare of the animal and enjoy the chickens as animals and not just a source of eggs.  Lots of the readers have great, humane suggestions to frequent chicken problems.


dovey's Avatar dovey 09:29 PM 09-11-2011

Okay FarmerBeth...Thank you for that info.  (sigh of relief)  I've been wracked with guilt for the last few days after reading what SweetSilver said about the roosters.  I guess I knew that at some level about commercial chickens, but I didn't think about it with respect to the chicks I just bought.  Totally against my system of ethics - and then to top it off, the information that eggs from chickens at home do not really seem to be better for the environment than just eating tofu or beans or whatever.  I mean, feeding them fish and crab seems like it would be worse overall than soy.  I don't want to do that.....


Good idea about the meat scraps though, SweetSilver.  My parents live up the road and they definitely have meaty leftovers now and then which sometimes go to the dogs, sometimes to the trash.  Might as well give them to the hens.  Maybe I can figure out how to give them a balanced diet with mainly scraps and pasture in the summer.  In the winter though, it looks as if it's going to be soy and corn.   

SweetSilver's Avatar SweetSilver 09:46 AM 09-12-2011

Originally Posted by dovey View Post

 In the winter though, it looks as if it's going to be soy and corn.   

Or peas and wheat!  My girls looooove split peas (soaked and ground) and aren't very fond of soy.  Corn, of course, they adore.


BubblingBrooks's Avatar BubblingBrooks 07:49 PM 09-12-2011

We make our own feed. We buy Barley by the ton, Black Oil Sunflower Seeds (BOSS) by the 40 lbs and fish meal by the 50 pound sack.
The fish meal is a grade specifically for feeding animals, that is made from all the leftovers from the processors. Its the bones, guts and heads.

FarmerBeth's Avatar FarmerBeth 06:59 PM 09-13-2011

I have a couple of links for making your own chicken feed.  The second link is by Harvey Ussery  that writes for Mother Earth News, and any of his other advice a followed always worked well.  I'm giving it a shot, I've been thinking a lot about this since the original post.

dovey's Avatar dovey 07:52 PM 09-13-2011

Thanks, FarmerBeth for the links.

Oakshire's Avatar Oakshire 03:03 PM 09-21-2011

Another great way of getting protein for the chickens is to grow maggots ( I know sound grosse!)  But anything that attracts flies will do.  Hang it somewhere, flies lay there eggs and as they hatch shake the maggots off for the chickens.  Chickens love them and they are very high in protein!  If you let some bred ferment that will attract the flies or I have heard of people using road kill.... anything that attracts the flies!  It is the cheapest and easiest way to get a protein rich supplement. 



janinemh's Avatar janinemh 05:20 PM 09-22-2011

you can also raise meal worms.  Its a little bit less gross than fly maggots in my opinion.



librarybooks's Avatar librarybooks 10:08 PM 10-14-2011

Depending on where you live, you might find a local feed producer. i feed my chickens scratch & peck feeds ( ) they have corn-free and soy-free varieties, and it's all grown and milled in my state. It's not totally vegan (fish meal, ugh) but neither is their diet when they free-range in my backyard. So, all in all I feel pretty good about it, although we definitely prefer for them to be free-ranging for more of their diet. 

harrietsmama's Avatar harrietsmama 02:59 PM 11-05-2011

Thank you so much for this thread!  I have been really wrestling with what to feed my girls since I don't want to use GMOs. 

FarmerBeth's Avatar FarmerBeth 07:03 AM 11-08-2011

I switched to half scratch and half mash since the start of this thread, and the egg production and shell quality is still great.  I'm slowly decreasing the store bought mash and experimenting to see if I can stick to scratch (barley, oats and some corn) with some crushed egg shell grit and lots of fresh greens and household leftovers (they love it when we have left over pasta with chickpeas) to supplement their free ranging.  I sprout for the farmer's market, so I might sprout them a little millet, too.  Anyway, if I get down to no mash with no ill effects, I'll let you know.  I suspect I can get away with this as long as it's not dead winter.  They can forage so much of their food.

gardenbelle's Avatar gardenbelle 10:35 PM 11-08-2011

This is such a great thread!  I never thought about this but it's such a valid concern.  We buy organic feed for our girls but next time I pick up a bag at the feed store, I am going to research where it's from.

We do a lot of table scraps too - our girls so crazy over pasta too! LOL

cameragirl's Avatar cameragirl 11:17 PM 11-08-2011
You know the worst part? The largest feed manufacturer, Purina, doesn't even list ingredients on their bags. That's part of why I got chickens - to KNOW what I was eating. We pay for organic feed for our layers instead. It has a good mix of grains, and uses fish meal for the protein. You'll also find that if you're eventually hatching their eggs, you'll get less defects and higher hatch numbers if the hens are fed good food with animal protein.

We compost both with a worm bin and outside for larger plant waste. The worm compost gets added to our outside beds, so the worms breed like crazy outside. Our chickens love to dig in the garden beds after we've cleared them for the season. I second the idea about meal worms, as well. They squick me out some, but they're a good supplement. You can also get dried meal worms on Ebay for a pretty good price. If you eat any meats, feel free to give them scraps as well. They also love yogurt and soured milk.
lobster's Avatar lobster 07:32 AM 11-23-2011

We raised our own chickens because we've been long-time animal rights people.  When we learned about hatcheries, we started incubating and hatching our own.  My husband slaughtered our roosters and we ate them (I was previously a lifelong vegetarian, since childhood, from an entirely vegetarian family), after they lived free-range and happy and organically-fed for months. 


We, too, have struggled with what to feed our birds.  The commercial feed available at the feed store is DISGUSTING crap that I wouldn't feed any living creature.  We order an organic feed, but it is still mostly corn and soy.  Luckily, with the birds being free-range and eating tons of bugs/plants/whatever all day, their need for layer feed is less.  We also give them plenty of kitchen scraps, anything out of the garden that isn't up to standard for the human table, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, quinoa, oats, and whatever else from our own pantry.  Much of this can be grown in a small "chicken garden" if you want to produce it yourself (something we plan to do next season).  You can read more about what we're doing with our birds on my blog -


It's tricky, trying to live ethically in a very unethical world.  We walk a very fine line every day.  Everything we do is weighed on a moral scale - what impact are we having on the planet? How are we affecting our animals? How are we contributing to the community?  Is what we are doing sustainable?  Etc. There are no easy answers!  We all just need to do our best and live in a way that feels most right to us.  Good luck!

cameragirl's Avatar cameragirl 09:57 PM 11-23-2011
Btw - your birds will think you're the BEST person ever if you bring them some hot oatmeal or other grains mixed with warm water, and maybe some black oil sunflower seeds. Our birds go crazy for it on a cold day. cold.gif
FarmerBeth's Avatar FarmerBeth 09:55 AM 11-24-2011

cameragirl, we do the same thing, too!  They do love it!  I have also made them cooked tomatoes.  I love our girls.


I was just going through the seed catalogue from the farmer's co-op - they have the sort of seeds grown for animals and forage.  I'm thinking of growing some oats and field peas, both in the garden and loose on their range.  I realize I'm lucky I can grow these sorts of things, here.  The arid conditions the OP lives in would require a very different skill set.