We’re fussy about our food. Almost all the food that comes into the house is organic, and there are almost no processed foods. Other than being healthier, it just tastes better. We apply the same principle to the food we give to our chickens. After all, their food is our food chain.
We live in a fishing town, which gives us access to some excellent chicken feed. One of the fishmongers at the local fish market gives us the guts and offcuts from fish that they fillet for sale in their store. It doesn’t sound very appetising, but the chickens love it, and the nutrition is excellent. Fish heads, livers, other organ meats, and whole fish, are chopped up to go in the mix. The fish shop gets a share of our eggs in return, so everyone wins. We also add cheap fish that are sold by the box, particularly flat fish.
Recently we’ve started getting large boxes of bycatch (the small fish, crabs, sea stars, sea cucumbers, etc. that get caught but aren’t kept for sale). Bycatch is usually dumped back into the sea, but we arranged to get it instead, so now we get crates of 20-30kg of super-fresh, diverse seafood to feed the chickens. They’re delighted to eat it. Another advantage is that we avoid feeding chickens on fish that could have been for human consumption.
Our town is an important crab-catching port, and the crab shops at the fish market sell huge volumes of crab to tourists, who eat the crab on the spot. The shops take back the leftover shells, and later have to pay to get them hauled away and disposed of. Our chickens need abundant minerals to make eggshells day after day, so we asked the crab shops to give us the shells. The shops pay less for disposal, and get a share of the eggs, and we get to feed our chickens an excellent dietary mineral supplement, for free. The chickens are always happy to eat the chopped crab shells and meat. Chicken digestion is amazing – they can gulp down chunks of scratchy crab shell and fully digest them. We’ve experimented with also give them other supplements, like crushed oyster shell and egghsells, but crab shell always produces the best results.
Vegetables and plants
Raw carrot is the primary vegetable ingredient. It’s usually coarsely grated in a food processor. Other ingredients include satsuma-imo (Japanese sweet potato) and kabocha squash (Japanese squash), sansai (wild vegetables, sustainably wildcrafted in our area), kitchen leftover vegetables, beet, seaweed, peas, berries and kiwi fruit (in season , grown in our fields), watermelon skins, apple leftovers, cuttings and plant leftovers from fields and greenhouse, seasonal greens such as clover, dandelion, and sheep sorrel.
We mix cooked lentils of various types into their mix, and sometimes cooked beans.
We mix herbs into their mix, as vegetable content and for medicinal purposes. In season, they get fresh wild plants such as mint and yomogi (mugwort), sustainably wildcrafted from the neighbourhood. When that’s not available, we increase the content of dried organic herbs (mostly nettle, horsetail, basil, oregano, cilantro, sage, and rosemary).
We add various powdered spices, such as turmeric, powdered garlic, home-prepared citrus peel, and sometimes ginger, for medicinal purposes and to improve the quality of the eggs.
Soaked and fermented chia seeds make up a large part of the volume of the chickens’ meals. This is not bulk filler – chia seeds are high in protein, fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and Omega 3. The birds also get sunflower and buckwheat seeds, either dry or soaked and fermented sprouted. They enjoy dry seeds as a treat and snack in addition to their main meals.
This finely-ground coconut is good for the flavour of the mix, and adjusts its wetness. When there’s more moisture from fish guts or vegetables, coconut flour can thicken the mix so that it stays on the plate and is easy to eat with less waste.
The mix also contains homemade liquid coconut-kefir culture, which ferments everything, to diversify the nutrition still further and keep it fresh.
Their morning water contains a squirt of organic apple cider vinegar as a supplement.
Chickens in natural surroundings spend most of the day scratching and pecking at the ground and anything else they can reach, pecking up seeds, bugs, worms, plants, roots, stones, and anything else potentially useful. Even in the barn, they make the most of their opportunities, and when they live outdoors, they get a large proportion of their food from their own foraging. That’s partly why we keep moving them to new land every few days – fresh land is filled with fresh, natural food. The activity of foraging is part of being a chicken, and they get satisfaction as well as nutrition out of it.
Everything the chickens eat goes through the gizzard, a tough and muscular bag which should hold gravel-sized stones, so that the kneading action of the gizzard grinds the food for more effective digestion. We provide our birds with gravel in special feeders, because if they run out of gizzard stones, their digestion suffers.
Tal makes jars of mixed, wet feed in large preserving jars, usually mixing enough jars for a few days at a time. This lead time also allows the kefir culture in the mix to ferment the other ingredients. For each main meal – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – Tal mixes the jar feed together with raw, chopped fish and/or guts, cracked or cut crab shell, and vegetables, and dry ingredients such as herbs and spices. Coconut flour helps to adjust consistency. The resulting blend, created for every meal and tweaked for the chicken’s needs, is piled onto stainless-steel plates which we take to the flocks.
What’s not in it?
Grains: No wheat, barley, corn, etc. Other than not offering much nutritional benefit, eggs laid by chickens who ate grain can affect people who are allergic or sensitive to the same grains.
Soy: Soy can affect the birds’ hormones, and it can also affect people who are allergic or sensitive to it.
Chemicals: No chemical additives, just real food.
Hormones: We don’t add hormones to force our chickens to grow faster, lay more eggs, or anything else unnatural.
Non-organic foods. Everything we give them is not just food-grade for humans, it’s also organic and non-GMO.
Isn’t that really expensive?
No bulk filler? Everything organic? Food-grade ingredients? Herbs and spices? Doesn’t that make the feed madly expensive? In a word, “Yes”. Our birds eat the best feed we can devise, to produce madly high-end premium eggs, but that doesn’t come cheap. For extra credit, the processing is also highly labour-intensive.
We’ve often asked other suppliers of premium eggs what they feed their chickens. It’s a fair question, because it affects the quality of the eggs and the health of the people that eat them, as well as being an animal welfare issue. Unfortunately, the egg farmers usually refuse to tell us, saying it’s a trade secret. We think you deserve to know what’s in the food chain that leads to your eggs. If anyone else wants to “steal” our ideas, that’s excellent – it means we’re leading by example, and improving nutrition and living standards for chickens and humans alike.
The range of ingredients above does not go into every meal. We adjust the ingredients of each meal to suit the shifts we observe in the birds’ appetites and preferences, and in the conditions of the birds and their eggs. Anyone can copy our non-secret ingredient list, but to adjust every meal like we do, they’ll have to be ready to really watch their birds, and to truly care.