Ethics of feeding chickens table scraps? - and other chicken questions added - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 21 Old 12-10-2007, 05:21 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm a city girl, so go easy on me. We've been tossing around the idea of having chickens for a little while now. Separately, I was reading earlier today a little bit about composting (another idea I've been tossing around but haven't done yet). I read that one alternative to composting is getting chickens and feeding them the table scraps.

It is my understanding that chickens are supposed to eat grass. Would it then be wrong to give them a diet that, well, isn't grass? We eat vegetarian (but not vegan) at home, so our scraps wouldn't include meat, but it includes a lot of stuff that chickens aren't supposed to eat. Fruit and vegetables I could see, but what about pasta? Lightly sweetened cereal? Pizza scraps? Not good for a chicken, right?

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#2 of 21 Old 12-10-2007, 05:54 PM
 
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chickens eat anything and everything. They eat mice, bugs, plants, snakes, sometimes eggs naturally. Go ahead feed them scraps it wont be unethical.

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#3 of 21 Old 12-10-2007, 06:18 PM
 
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I've been wondering about scraps for chickens too...

what, if anything, should you avoid giving them?
Do you need to chop it all up for them or can/will they break and tear things apart?

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#4 of 21 Old 12-10-2007, 10:25 PM
 
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We feed our chickens table scraps. I would prefer to give the scraps to the chickens than to compost them, truth be told.

It isn't true that chickens "naturally" eat grass and nothing else. Yes, they eat grass, weeds, insects, small animals, etc. Domestic chickens are pretty far removed from their "natural" habitat. Our modern day chickens are descendants of ancient jungle fowl. And yet they not only survive, but thrive in environments that are nothing like jungle. Most domesticated chicken species have been domesticated for THOUSANDS of years. And over those thousands of years, they have subsisted on pasture and table scraps. So they are very well adapted to eating leftovers of human food.

I do prefer my chickens to be on pasture. They prefer to eat weeds and insects over grass. But I also provide them with table scraps and commercial chicken feed. I don't view table scraps as being more unethical than commercial chicken feed. Environmentally speaking, I think that table scraps are more ecologically sound than commercial feed. Because, by their very nature, table scraps are something that would otherwise be thrown away, there is no added cost or energy input required to feed table scraps.

So yes, I feed my chickens table scraps. No, sugary cereals or pizza crusts aren't ideal chicken food, just like they aren't ideal people food. But they're better than nothing.

Quote:
I've been wondering about scraps for chickens too...

what, if anything, should you avoid giving them?
Do you need to chop it all up for them or can/will they break and tear things apart?
I avoid giving them chicken. I've read that feeding chickens food with garlic, onion or peppers can give an unpleasant tast to the eggs, although I've never had a problem with that.

I don't usually avoid giving them anything, although through experience I've learned that there are foods they won't eat. My chickens won't eat raw fruit or veggie peals. They won't eat meat unless it's chopped into smaller pieces. They won't eat things that are hard, so I usually soak leftovers in water (or discarded milk) for the night before offering the leftovers in the morning. They will eat just about anything we don't eat- cereal, pizza, cooked veggies, wilted greens, beans, grains, cheese, mashed potatoes, grease (from cooking hamburger or bacon), bread, sandwiches... And they prefer human leftovers to commercial chicken feed, hands down. They will mob me when I come in with leftovers.

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#5 of 21 Old 12-11-2007, 12:38 PM
 
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Chickens can only get about 30% of their food from grass, from what I've read in Joel Salatin's books. His pastured chickens' consumption of feed goes down about that much versus when they're solely fed feed mix.

The only thing that we don't feed to our chickens are raw potato peels and poultry (they do attempt to scavenge the area where butchering has taken place, though, so it's not like they have any aversion to eating their relatives!) They don't need stuff to be broken up, but it sometimes makes for less bickering over the food. Instead of one chicken grabbing a piece of bread and hightailing it with the rest of the flock in hot pursuit, they can each have a little piece. I've watched our hens kill and eat frogs, snakes, and mice, so those beaks are pretty sharp.

I think converting scraps to eggs is a better "energy return" than just composting them.
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#6 of 21 Old 12-11-2007, 09:47 PM
 
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The other day I gave my mini schnauzer a "chicken jerky" dog treat, and 15 minutes later I saw the chickens fighting over it! : So not only will chickens eat just about anything, including their own species (yuck), but they will even steal from dogs.

I don't feed my chickens coffee grounds, hard things like carrots unless they've been chopped/grated, or citrus and banana peels, and that's only because they won't eat them. I don't usually give them meat, either, but that's because I'm afraid if they don't eat it and it sits out over night, it will attract predators or rodents.

Some of my chickens' favorite foods are leftover cereal or oatmeal in milk (DS never finishes it), leftover couscous/bulgur/barley cooked in chicken stock, and sandwich/toast crusts.
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#7 of 21 Old 12-11-2007, 09:56 PM
 
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Chickens are omnivores- they cannot subsist on grass alone. I feed mine cracked corn and scratch feed (mixed grains) as a base diet along with kelp and oyster shells. They free range, so pick through the cow patties for bugs and grain, hunt bugs in the grass, kill mice and toads, etc. and get all our kitchen scraps. They need a meat/protein source. I know some people who get custom mixed feed rations and put in meat or fish or bone meal.
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#8 of 21 Old 12-12-2007, 12:25 AM
 
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My chickens polished off the remains of my breakfast porridge with great delight. I mostly feed them poultry pellets and grain, as well as letting them scratch round the garden--that way I know they're getting all the nutrients chickens are supposed to get. But table scraps every so often for a treat, sure. I found some old, freezer-burnt muffins the other day which they ended up eating for me; they were very happy.

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#9 of 21 Old 12-12-2007, 11:56 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Awesome.

Next question.

I have cats - well, only one cat who goes outdoors, but there are other neighborhood cats.

How well do chickens hold their own against cats?

And, while I'm asking it, will my cat be safe against the chickens?

They would be fenced, but a cat could get over this fence.

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#10 of 21 Old 12-13-2007, 12:49 AM
 
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Unless the cat is huge, aggressive, and hungry (um, like a rabid cougar?), your chickens will be fine. Our chickens frighten away the neighborhood/feral cats without any issue. My dogs are also afraid of the chickens, but I do hear many people have problems with dogs killing their chickens.
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#11 of 21 Old 12-13-2007, 03:49 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by laohaire View Post
Awesome.

Next question.

I have cats - well, only one cat who goes outdoors, but there are other neighborhood cats.

How well do chickens hold their own against cats?

And, while I'm asking it, will my cat be safe against the chickens?

They would be fenced, but a cat could get over this fence.
I am cafeful with our indoor/outdoor cat when we have chicks. Although we've never had problems, I do keep an eye out. Once the chickens are a couple months old, they can hold their own against cats, IME. Our cat (and the neighborhood cats, some of which are feral) know to stay away from the chickens.

Unfortunately, we have lost chickens to neighborhood dogs, though.

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#12 of 21 Old 12-13-2007, 03:01 PM - Thread Starter
 
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This is great, I'm really excited about maybe actually doing this in spring.

More questions, if you'll humor me:

1) Do I need a rooster for eggs? I think I heard I don't.

2) Do I need more than, say, two hens? Two so one doesn't get lonely of course, and keep warm. I don't need a ton of eggs, just a few will do us fine.

3) I know I'll have to check locally, but as far as you've experienced yourself, is it likely I'll need a permit for chickens? Sort of hard to describe, but I'm in a rural city. It's an incorporated city, but people here do have farms, and if you drive 10 minutes in any of 3 directions you will be looking at pastures. I live in a city lot with 1/3 acre land.

4) Should I start with chicks or hens? I have a 2 year old DD who would probably enjoy seeing chicks develop. I'm afraid I'll get too attached though. But we're vegetarians and won't be eating them anyway. But do I need to worry about attachment even so? Do they die easily?

5) Where can I get chicks or hens? And how much are they?

6) Do chicks need special care? Obviously they aren't mammals, but how do you raise them appropriately while they are still babies and give them what they need?

7) Will they be ok in the winter? Obviously we'd have a coop for them but it wouldn't need to be heated, would it?

8) How much work are they? Do we have to clean up chicken poop every day?

9) If we go away for a few days is it easy to, say, pay a neighbor girl to throw some feed and refill water?

10) How many eggs does a hen lay (i.e. one a day or what)? And how long do they lay? And how long do they live?

Good lord I have a lot of questions. I have to remind myself that anyone answering the questions, wants to! But thanks in advance anyway!

Homeschooling mama to 6 year old DD.

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#13 of 21 Old 12-13-2007, 10:31 PM
 
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1) Only if you want more chickens. They'll lay without a roo.
2) Two or three would be fine, if that's all the eggs you need. You'll probably have to get them from a feed store, though, as most places have minimum orders (usually 15-25 chicks). I think mypetchicken.com has a very low minimum (maybe 5?) so you could also try there.
3) We didn't need anything, but we're in the country.
4) Chicks are pretty easy, and you know their history. Adult birds might be iffy if you don't know the person who owns them (disease and age).
5) There's lots of hatcheries on the web, but a feed store might be your best bet.
6) Chicks need heat and a draft free place to live. Storey's Guide to Chickens is a good book to give you information.
7) I think they'd be okay, as long as the coop wasn't huge and they could huddle up together.
8) I spend maybe 15 minutes a day on feeding, watering, cleaning and collecting eggs. We have 10 hens, but the work doesn't really change much from a couple of birds to a dozen.
9) Yep, we pay a neighbor a couple of bucks to take care of our dogs, so the hens are an add-on!
10) They usually lay a clutch over a number of days. Figure 2 eggs per 3 birds a day.


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#14 of 21 Old 12-14-2007, 05:41 AM
 
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dh thought we needed a rooster for eggs which was how I managed to get one.

If you want your chooks to lay well, you do need to feed them well so I doubt they could just manage on table scraps unless they were ranging & getting lots of bugs. We're omni but my chooks eat the meat first, then the fat & then the grains from our scraps. I have found the more old breeds are also partial to the mice the cat catches which he doesn't eat. I also feed my chooks organic laying pellets. Clean water is real important too.

I treat my chook run like a compost heaps & literally throw all our food scraps, all the garden weeds & as much carbonaceaous( sorry I can't spell that) material in the chook run as possible. By carbonaceaous, I mean stalks of plants, wood chips, little twigs etc. to keep the carbon content in my soil up. I give the chooks any dead rodents that have been chewed but any suspicously dead without any marks on I bury under the dirt in the run as I have neighbours who have been known to poison rats. I bury dead birds under the dirt too. Once you've been going for a while, the soil bacteria in the run builds up & things just completely rot down & disappear in a matter of weeks. If it gets wet & smelly if it is raining heaps, I over mulch the run with weeds or wood chips or sawdust. I dig out the run for my vege beds whenever I need compost & it is always rich & dark & crumbly & full of earth worms.

If you have a young dd, it may be a plan to get a nice docile breed. The older breeds lay longer than the hyrid commercial breeds too.
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#15 of 21 Old 12-14-2007, 05:02 PM - Thread Starter
 
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This is all very helpful.

Yes, I'm interested in treating any chickens we have well, so I want to make sure their diet is good. Treating them well is approximately 1/3 the reason we want chickens in the first place. Just our tiny little way of making the world a teeny, itsy bit better.

Thanks to everyone who responded! My confidence is up, and I think we'll be planning to be urban chicken folks in the spring!

Homeschooling mama to 6 year old DD.

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#16 of 21 Old 12-14-2007, 09:40 PM
 
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I would check with your local government before you get your chickens. In PA it is a township decision unless you live within city limits.

We live in a rural setting with over an acre of ground, but were disappointed to learn that you could not keep any type of livestock (including chickens) unless you had 3 acres or more of ground. They will not waive this for anything... not even two chickens. I tried.

There are those folks who ignore the law but risk losing their chickens and getting a hefty fine if someone turns them in. We live on a main road so there is no way we could hide 'em.

I know many urban areas allow chickens which makes me extra disappointed that we can't have them here in the country.

My suggestion is just to call to find out.
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#17 of 21 Old 12-16-2007, 04:21 AM
 
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I agree with the above poster. Before you get too excited about this, call city hall and find out if it's legal where you live. In Oregon, most of the cities allow 3 hens per household, but for some crazy reason the little hick town I live in doesn't allow chickens! (I have them anyway. My neighbors are fine with it, and the city doesn't have anyone on staff to enforce the law. )

You might want to check out the book Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces by Barbara Kilarski. It will answer all your questions and then some you hadn't thought of. The Storey books are great, but I find they have a lot of information I don't really need, as they are geared more towards production/farming on a larger scale.
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#18 of 21 Old 12-16-2007, 01:07 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Wow, what a great resource!

I think I'll get that - even before calling town hall - just because I want to learn anyway even if it doesn't pan out.

Cool!

Homeschooling mama to 6 year old DD.

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#19 of 21 Old 12-17-2007, 05:15 AM
 
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Going back to the leftovers for chickens topic, we'd often cook up the various leftovers that were too hard for them to eat on their own.

Also, we'd go to grocery stores to get the freebie day old produce (we used to dumpster dive it when I was little, but then they locked the dumpsters, so we'd call and ask for the scraps). Some of the food could be fed as is, other stuff needed cooking (carrots, potatoes, broccoli, etc).

The animal shelter near us gets chickens and ducks on a semi-regular basis. Usually 1 month after Easter they have a selection of young birds, so you could always look into adoption
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#20 of 21 Old 12-17-2007, 12:46 PM
 
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Great thread! Just adding-- Chickens are fun! They are also very relaxing to watch poke and scratch around the yard. A cup of coffee in my hands, the warm sun on face, and my girls pecking at my feet...a very nice and calm way to spend a few minutes in the morning. It's not as cozy in winter, but I have my little chair in the barn for when it's cold
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#21 of 21 Old 12-17-2007, 09:17 PM
 
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Originally Posted by UUMom View Post
Great thread! Just adding-- Chickens are fun! They are also very relaxing to watch poke and scratch around the yard. A cup of coffee in my hands, the warm sun on face, and my girls pecking at my feet...a very nice and calm way to spend a few minutes in the morning. It's not as cozy in winter, but I have my little chair in the barn for when it's cold
Yes, I agree with this 100%!! Chickens are the best pet we've ever had. I will probably never get another cat or dog again once ours expire, but I will never be without chickens!
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