Our Gluten-Free Chicken Adventure at One Year

We come to the first year anniversary of our adventure in raising chickens and feeding gluten-free. The line from Monty Python’s Holy Grail movie springs to mind: “We’re not dead yet.”

Could they really have been so tiny? Oh, how I worried, would even get up in the night to check on them.

Could they really have been so tiny? Oh, how I worried, would even get up in the night to check on them.

Last year at this time we were preparing for our first ever chicks, and discovered with sizable dismay and discouragement that all commercial chicken feed contains wheat. I have celiac disease, an auto-immune condition that makes me sick if I get even micro amounts of gluten protein from wheat, barley, rye grains. I almost died of it. Those were hard years. Only by maintaining a strict gluten-free environment have I reached my current good health, which I do not take for granted. My husband and I looked at each other. Dark clouds grew over our heads, filled with pictures of wheat gluten on hands, beneath fingernails, tracked on shoes, billowing all over our yard and house. Ingesting even a speck of the feed could put me under. No, we could risk it. An alternative would have to be found.

All the so-called experts say, “get a good commercial feed,” and with the attitude that should you do anything else, you are asking for trouble, that your chickens will die, or be inferior, which to them is the same thing.

Thankfully there are people with years of experience at raising backyard and small farm flocks the old-fashioned way on grains and seeds, and who are generous enough to share their knowledge. I scoured the web and books and thought back to my great-Uncle Willy, a farmer who was, shall we say, thrifty, and raising chickens in the early part of the 1900s; I seriously doubted he used commercial feed, a fairly modern phenomenon that came on like gang-busters in the affluent and industrial time after WWII.  My uncle raised mainly corn and milo; I eat some corn and a whole lot of milo, in the form of sorghum flour. Works for me. I devised my own feed– you can find recipes and links here. [Edited: you can find gluten-free chick starter mash recipes here.]

 I have been making all my own feeds going on 10 years, with results more than satisfactory to me, but cannot pretend to be an expert in the field of poultry nutrition, and indeed consider every one of my formulations a snapshot of a moving target-that is, an ongoing experiment. ~Harvey Ussery

Our Elvira turned up unable to walk at 8 months. I considered killing her, didn't, soaked her feet, coddled her for weeks, in which she never stopped laying eggs, and today she walks stiffly but still rules the other girls, and lays daily.

Our Elvira turned up unable to walk at 8 months. I considered killing her, didn’t, soaked her feet, coddled her for weeks, in which she never stopped laying eggs, and today she walks stiffly but still rules the other girls, and lays daily.

Do I get as many eggs as those fed on commercial egg-laying ration? I have no way to tell. I just this week began to record the number of eggs I’m getting and from which girls. Thus far, from eight hens–2 each Ameraucana, Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red– I will get 4-7 eggs a day. My girls have a fair sized yard they roam, and each evening they are let out into our pecan orchard to forage beneath trees and in leaf piles for an hour. The shells on the girls’ eggs are so hard you have to really hit them to crack them. We have had no breaking of eggs, even when they are kicked from the nest, no pecking out each other’s feathers or any other annoying behaviors. I have not wormed them, either. I guess I’m firmly in the natural path of pumpkin and other squash seeds and garlic as natural wormers. So far all are fat and sassy.

As Mr. Ussery says above, I cannot pretend to be an expert, but my results are thus far satisfactory to me. I’m still learning, still experimenting, but the chicks and I are not dead yet, and in fact, we are walking in tall cotton, as they say down here in the South. Proud girls with tail feathers high.

Clipped Wings

My dear husband made a lovely fenced corral for the girls.

Our aim was to give our hens an ‘outdoor living’ space for the daytime. They are still securely penned up at night.

 Of course you know what happened. One of the red girls– I call her Lucy, after the famous red-head–quickly flew over the fence. In short order, one of the Golden Girls learned that she enjoyed joining her. It really wasn’t a big deal; neither hen went far, but the point being when we do get a garden going, we want to be able to control the hens. So it was wing clipping time.

We learned to clip their wings from the following excellent YouTube video.  I was as nervous as I had been to give my horses shots, but just as we did then, dear husband held the chicken while I did the deed.

So far we’ve only had to do the wings of those two wild girls. Now we’re all a lot happier. At least I am. I’m enjoying plenty of room to linger and watch the girls in the golden dawn. I find it good for my soul.

Blessings,<br>CurtissAnn

The Stick, the Chick, and Me…

Here’s how it turned out since my previous post:

The gardenia stick is dead as it’ll ever be.

I believe I killed it by procrastination. I would have done better to plant it in a little pot the instant I saw the roots. I kept saying, “I’ll do that tomorrow.” I am still saying that, because the stick is still in its cup beside my sink. You win some, you lose some, but at least you tried, and in every case you gain more knowledge.

I appear to have won out better with Elvira.

She can now walk well and for longer periods. She continues to often hold her right foot in an arched position. She can grip with the foot, however.

I am now the reluctant owner of a somewhat lame truly backyard chicken. Our Elvira spent much of the past three weeks in our backyard, with overnights in private accommodations in the garden room. After much picking up and carrying, much confinement so she wouldn’t overuse the leg, soaking her feet and legs in Epsom salts and coating with antibiotic cream (she had red spots of inflammation on her feet), she now follows me, comes at the sound of my voice. I’m not altogether happy about a pet chicken, but there you are. She is giving eggs again. As of yesterday, I eased her fully back in with the flock. She was as reluctant to do that as I was to have a pet chicken.

I look forward, and press on, with making this book available in the coming month.

On the Me front, I’m writing again, purposefully, enthusiastically. I have, in these weeks that I’ve been tending a chicken and silent on this blog, finished revising and expanding a novella I originally wrote and published with Silhouette Books twenty years ago. Oh, the delight the moment I realized I had finished the final edit–and that I was happy with it!

I am in the midst of learning how to e-publish. I’ll be writing more on all of this in the coming weeks.

In the words of Rainey Valentine, my heroine in Lost Highways:

I don’t know where I’m goin’, but I’ll know when I get there. ~Rainey Valentine, Lost Highways

I’ll Let You Know How It All Turns Out

So…my cutting from Aunt Winnie’s gardenia bush, of which I proudly blogged here, is now this discouraging stick.

And this morning we found our dear Elvira flopping down with an injured right leg. She seems to be in the same condition as happened to our precious Princess Puny when Puny was only a week old.

Here is what I have done:

Right beside my little stick of Aunt Winnie’s gardenia, I have placed this pot of a successfully rooted cutting from one of my own gardenia bushes. I thought it might encourage the stick. It does encourage me. Plan B will be to send for another cutting in the spring and try again.

Those of you who follow this blog may remembering our little Princess Puny, who at just over a week had an injured leg, hip, something that had her flopped over. This little photo is of when she could stand but not walk.

I went out and took a photo of Princes Puny now to remind me of miraculous recovery. 

I am deliberately expecting the best on both counts. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it. ~ W. Somerset Maugham

Gluten Free Chicken Feed II

 

My Elvira, my first layer. Maybe extra love helped her produce.

Yes, you can easily raise your chickens on your own homemade gluten-free chicken feed, have healthy hens, and get very good eggs. I am so happy to write that. Especially that easily part.

Those of you who joined me at the start of this adventure back in February may remember my fears the chickens would all die under my inexperienced hand and choice to make homemade gluten-free feed. But here we are, I’m still healthy, and the girls are not only still alive, but thriving in a beautiful manner! They have at last begun laying fine-formed eggs with good hard shells. We believe we may have even gotten an egg from our little Princess Puny.

Thank you to all who wrote to encourage me, to all the people online who shared their knowledge– you can see the links in the previous posts on our chicken adventure.

They are still wet from rinsing. Our first day to get 4!

Now, there might be some question as to whether or not gluten goes through the feed to the egg, but, astonishingly, (my people might say, “Well, shut my mouth!”) it has been shown that soy is present in sizable amount in the yolk of eggs from hens fed heavily on soy. I saw the research paper online, but have lost the link — Google it for yourself, I don’t have time right now. Suffice to say, there are now producers of organic soy-free eggs, and I did save that url– Soy-free eggs here. As I find I’m sensitive to soy, I’m grateful I decided not to bother with adding soy to my recipes.

Here are my current recipes:

Basic Gluten-Free, Soy-Free Grain and Seed Mix
16 cups cracked corn
16 cups milo
6 cups rolled oats
13 cups hulled sunflower seeds

The above recipe makes approximately 30 pounds. I put a few cups in their feeders about twice a day, and they throw it all around (I think they holler whoopee!) in order to peck it off the ground.

Morning Mash
8 cups of the Basic Mix
1 heaping cup white rice, cooked (makes about 2-3 cups)
1 cup green split peas, thrown on top of the rice to soften while it steams.
1/2 cup brewer’s yeast
1/2 cup powdered milk
3 Tablespoons unsulphured molasses stirred into a cup of warm water, then added to the mix.
I make this in a Kitchenaid mixer about every 5 days. The stainless mixing bowl holds the amount comfortably. I make it up, put it in a large plastic zippy bag and store it in the refrigerator. I then feed approximately 3 cups each day to 8 chickens.

Notes:
I theorize the Morning Mash provides extra protein and nutrients. I cook the rice because, well, the chickens seem to like it, and I’ve read some stuff that indicates maybe cooking makes the nutrients more available in digesting. I use white rice bought in a 50 pound bag from Sam’s. I’ve been using hormone-free, fat-free, powdered milk but want to find whole- fat powdered milk. Molasses is listed in a number of commercial starter feeds. I discovered it excellent to bind the milk powder and the yeast to the grains, and it contains good amounts of iron and calcium and other nutrients. I long for feed peas for my basic mix like another woman might long for diamonds. Peas are far superior to soybeans, but not easily available in my area. I make due with the green split peas, bought from Walmart, and put it only in their Morning Mash. Peas with the other grains make a whole protein. The girls like the green, I think.

If you can get organic in all of these ingredients, do so! I cannot, and we see that we’re all still here.

In addition to this feed, the hens receive vegetable and fruit kitchen scraps. For a time, I had raw fish for them. Me and Sweetie-Pie love watermelon, and so do our girls. Often I have raw goat milk, or goat yogurt– they love it! The girls also free range each evening for a couple of hours. Once they form the firm habit of laying eggs in the hen house, I’ll be letting them free range often throughout the day. They adore the compost pile–worms and bugs, yumm!

Big Sister, our Ameraucana, who lays the blue-green eggs.

Today we have retrieved three eggs from the hen house. The excitement remains. It is like getting little jewels. The incredible, edible egg…out of a chicken’s butt. Amazing.

 

The Radio, The Egg, and Writing

Discouraged, I had been wailing to Bigstreetrod: “Why aren’t we getting any eggs? Everyone is getting eggs. Why aren’t our chickens laying? What is wrong? Could it be their feed?” I tend to think everything is because I’m doing my own feed.

We researched and found conflicting advice. People said eggs would come in 19 weeks; people said it would take 5 to 8 months. Our chickens were nearing six months old, and nothing yet. I kept looking and looking in the laying boxes and under bushes, and returning to the house with the slumped shoulders of disappointment.

Then I remembered what I had been told about a radio in the coop. I had been assured by several sources with farm experience: “Keep a radio going in the coop and chickens will produce abundantly.”

Did you know you can no longer buy a small portable radio? I’m talking about one of those boxy kind with a handle so you can hang it up. It’s all iPods and such now. I was then wailing at how I could not find a simple radio. Bigstreetrod, likely wanting to shut me up, brought home a small clock radio. It fit perfectly on a board high up in the coop. I turned it face-out so that the chickens could not see the glowing red digital numbers. I was afraid it would drive them crazy trying to fly up and peck at it. I tuned it to a today’s Best country out of Mississippi, figuring chickens would prefer that type of music. The sound from that teeny-tiny speaker was an amazement.

That evening, when I let them out to roam the yard, I discovered that sometime in the hours after the radio installation, one of the dear girls had thrown the blue plastic egg from a laying box and deposited this small but beautiful jewel in its place!

The power of country music radio–a gluten-free, soy-free natural egg.

This all reminds me of my early years of writing novels. Back then, it was my habit to play music as I wrote. My favorite, very naturally, was country music. It helped to put me into the setting of my story. In fact, I’ve gotten a lot of themes for my novels from country music songs. Once I took the first chapter of a rough draft to a friend to read and give feedback. She said, very gently: “I’m sorry, but I found it just…boring.”

I came home and thought about it. I had been playing Don Williams ballads over and over. They soothed my soul, but likely did not help me to get conflict rolling. I changed to country music with a fast, swinging beat. The book picked up after that, and I’ve been careful of what I listen to while writing ever since.

The chickens can have their radio. These days when I work, I want quiet. Although when needing to lift my spirit while around the house, I will play music– more often than not these days I prefer Swing. Hmmm…likely that’s why the novel I’m currently planning is set in the late forties.

Wordless Wednesday — Gluten-free Chickens

My heart’s on fire for my Elvira.

Bigstreetrod made me a water fountain for the girls. Just a bucket with these handy little nipples poked in the bottom. Keeps the water clean, and gives the chickens something to peck.

My girls at 21-weeks. Doin’ fine on gluten-free ration.

Shush– I’m sneaking in words. I’ve made a Chicken tab in the menu above. Just mouse-over the Gluten-Free Life tab, and it appears below. I’ve had a number of inquiries about my gluten-free chicken feed. You can find my first recipes and links to other chicken feed recipes/info at my post: The Chicks and Me, Gluten Free. I will be posting my current gluten-free chicken feed diet soon.

My girls are healthy, so the first goal realized. I have not yet gotten eggs. Waiting with high anticipation!

Grace and Peace,