Last month I posted about the current legislation on feeding kitchen scraps to chickens, pointing out that it’s against the law unless your “food preparation area” is registered or vegan. A number of people contacted me wanting to know more about how folks fed their backyard flocks prior to this law.
Kitchen scraps were widely used by backyard keepers; less palatable food we would not eat ourselves (which today at best would be composted, at worst thrown away into a landfill site). This “waste” in turn would then be converted by the chicken into something far more appealing – eggs or meat – and of course manure. It’s a simple, frugal, sensible and rapid way of recycling.
As I’ve mentioned before, within the EU the feeding of kitchen scraps to livestock is regulated and strict guidance is provided on what can and cannot be fed to animals that sit within our food chain. However the backyard recycling of kitchen scraps is not the root cause of the need for such laws. Going back 100 years, it was commonplace to feed scraps to chickens, and in fact was publicly encouraged as an economical way to convert kitchen byproduct into eggs and meat.
Back then, common sense would be applied and no meat (other than fish), or any non-meat product that had come into to direct contact with meat would be fed to the chickens. Most raw vegetables would be minced first before being used and a few such as potato peelings would be cooked or steamed first in order to make them more palatable. Even the water from this cooking would be given to the flock (often mixed in with the feed to create a “mash”), as it contained valuable vitamins and minerals. All sound and sensible advice, and a bit of shame we didn’t remember it when we started to intensively factory farm chickens 50 years ago.
These days, if you want to avoid buying in commercial feeds or at least provide something to supplement the pellets, you can grow your own chicken feed. Legumes such as peas and broad, French and runner beans are particularly beneficial, being high in protein and popular with chickens. It is best to dry them and then mince or grind them before adding them to the feed. Other vegetables such as maize, brassicas (sprouts, cabbages and kale) all provide an excellent source of supplements, with more ornamental plants like sunflower and millet providing a good source of seeds.
During the winter, feeding sprouted seeds provides another excellent source of protein for your chickens. If you elect to grow your own chicken feed, make sure you weigh up the space taken to grow the plants against the value of the food you get in return from the chickens. That’s why in the past we made the best use of the waste from allotments and vegetable plots; it’s economical and sensible.
• This post is part of a series on poultry keeping from Andy Cawthray, a self confessed chickeneer who writes for a number of magazines, provides talks & courses on keeping poultry at home and shares his experiences on his personal blog TheChickenStreet.