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Intelligent Small Scale Chicken Raising
Since I just got a bunch of little Bantam chicks by 'accident' and suddenly had to come up with a feeding plan I thought huh...might as well write about! In Zones 10 and above (sub-tropical to full tropical with various amounts of rain) it is (with the presence of water) really easy to plant a self-forage for chickens even if you have to pen them. Since most of us do not live in these zones, I'll stick to Temperate forages.
The first step to keeping chickens on a small scale is to combine the coop with a greenhouse. You might as well, they will help, (even if slightly) provide CO2 and heat for the plants you keep in the greenhouse. For my purpose here I'm going to say that I am going to grow 4 rocoto tree peppers in the greenhouse. All I need to do is to keep them from fully freezing. They will be in tubs with a shared heating cable to heat the soil rather than the air.
The chickens will aid in the growth (slower in the cold) of the peppers and I can even use their manure in aiding my peppers when I need to. Also in the greenhouse I will set up a small wormfarm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermicompost to help feed the chickens over the winter (and in the summer some to). Chicken feed can add up over time.
I don't really want bantams by the way, I'm awaiting a cross of meat and layer birds but hey...enough of the wee things will make some sort of dinner. Anyhow, for the chicken run!
Even in small spaces you can plant things in your chicken run that will make them very happy. If you have the space, make several chambers in your run that they can not get through. In each chamber plant a different mix of plants. My run will take up an area of about 4'x50' (5'9" tall). Along the western wall of my greenhouse. I will chop this into 5 chambers of 10'.
In chamber 1 goes:
comfrey (they love it and it really draws worms)
A self-fertile kiwi to climb up and over (and probably run the length of the whole thing)
Since this is the only part they might use all winter, I won't add much more except maybe dandelions in the spring.
A fall rye that will go to seed (any remaining standing that is)
3 dwarf fruit trees (they keep the bugs off, and I'll gift them a few for it!)
amaranth (high enough protein for them to pretty much live on and the greens rock)
a white or red clover
Far enough way to keep them out long enough, I can fully plant this in quinoa in early spring and let them in when it's over 2' high.
3 dwarf fruit trees (comfrey underneath)
clover if I feel like it!
ETC...See, I wasn't ready for the chicks!
Anyhow, a mulberry tree, "Illinois Everbearing" if you can find it. They fruit over a long period of time. This I'll plant at the North end of the greenhouse so it doesn't block light, and I don't want the chickens to get ALL of those!
As I progress, I'll add to and play with the list of easy-to-grow chicken feeds right in their run(s). Plus I'll toy with growing several things in odd spots in the garden specifically for them. Like sunflowers, fun for kids to eat now and then, but easier to buy at the store for that purpose. If the birds were bigger I'd even put in a 'mosquito pond' (ie a small pond with standing, shaded water with mesh) so the chickens can spend some time hunting and pecking the little varmints. And get used to doing so.
The more perennials you can add to the system the better.
Chickens will eat a lot of things. Here is a decent article just forget the 'climate change and peak oil' nonsense!
Various foods are rich in calcium and can also be included in your chickens’ diet. These include many green leafy vegetables (e.g. collards or mustard greens), brewer’s yeast, oats, milk, kelp, cooked beans and peas, sunflower and sesame seeds.
Herbs and vegetables you can grow for your girls which are known to be high in calcium include: dandelion, chickweed, mustard greens, kale, cabbage, dandelion, watercress, parsley, comfrey, plantain, nettles, raspberry (leaves), alfalfa, red clover, horsetail and chamomile.
Many of these can be served fresh, dried or sprinkled over fresh food.
Fresh watercress (Nasturtium officinale) in particular is highly nutritious, providing 4% calcium, 3% protein, just over 1% phosphorus, and a very good source of other important vitamins and minerals.