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.

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,

Chicks at Nine Weeks– Princess Puny Grows!

Princess Puny at breakfast

Princess Puny is not so puny anymore. Her growth and strength have surprised, and proven once again that we only think we know what is down the road. We never really do know, and only by hoping for the best, making a try for it, can we get anywhere near it. I still recall observing Princess Puny’s withered looking foot when I separated her into a small cardboard box. I, melancholy that I tend to be, was certain she would die in the night. I was certain I would find her dead all those weeks she seemed weak and to spend most of her time sitting. I then became convinced she might never roost– once again I am proven wrong. We have–ta-da–even caught her roosting in the henhouse, on the second perch!

Princess Puny on the left, Big Sister right. not quite the size of Big Sister, but she is most definitely growing and getting all of her feathers. I'm going to have to learn how to put bands on these girls' legs so I can identify them.

She reminds me of the famous Sir Winston Churchhill quote: "Never Give in, never give in, never, never, never..." I shortly may have to change her name.

My dear husband spent a couple of mornings happy as a dog with two tails building his version of a feeder he found on the web. Simple plumbing pipe.

Feeder made with sewer pipe and pipe caps. Dear Husband made a number of them, a small one for oyster shell, too.

An update on the cage, too–

We are grateful to Bryan Edmonds in our Mobile Bay Backyard Chickens Club for showing us his design of a cage with no bottom. Used as a brooder, we put it on a tarp, layered the bottom with a bit of sand and wood shavings. To clean, we removed the chicks to a box, lifted the cage and hauled the tarp out as a bag to throw the dirty litter into the compost pile.

Now the chicks are in the chicken house with a run. We use the no-bottom cage as on occasion as a temporary lawn cage, to let the chicks scratch in the grass, until they are large enough to be safe from the cats for a bit of free-ranging.

The no-bottom cage protects young pullets on the lawn.

My thanks to all the input and encouragement from so many of you. I’m looking ahead to our first egg!