Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chicken Feed: Protein yield

Yesterday I posted a small analysis of growing our own chicken feed for a flock of 25 chickens. I used corn, peas and sunflowers, and found big differences in yield per acre. It would be interesting to calculate the protein yield per acre instead of the whole yield and compare.
Crop Yield per acre Protein Content Protein Yield

All yields are close, except the incredible Comfrey (are those numbers real?). The numbers are for Russian Comfrey, which should grow well in the PNW. It is a heavy nitrogen feeder. It is a perennial that will produce at full yield starting the 3rd year, once the deep tap roots are well established. It can be cut every 5 weeks during the season. It is also difficult to eradicate once established. One option would be to plant it directly inside the chicken run, and protect each plant, then let the chickens feed on one plant at a time.

I may plant at leat 5 plants in the chicken run next year, and protect them the first year to allow them to grow to maturity, then use them as feed supplement.

Aside from Comfrey, we can see that protein yield per acre is a lot more constant that whole yield, and should actually be the main criteria for selecting a crop. Corn, barley and peas seem to be the winners, while sunflower can still be planted as an ornamental while providing some additional proteins.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Eggs for income?

We stopped at a food stand this afternoon, and I saw eggs at $6.50 a dozen. Wow, prices have gone up! This got me thinking, would it be worth to sell eggs, in a situation where I would need to supplement my income (such as retirement for example)? Assuming $5 a dozen and customers for them, 25 layers, 2 dozens a day, for $300 a month. The only cost is feed, and that alone may eat up a lot of the revenue. What about growing my own feed, since I do have good land?

From a study:
"Feed consumption and its efficient utilization is one of the major concerns in commercial table egg production as feed cost is one of the major components of total cost of production. Feed alone may contribute from 60 to70% to the total cost of production in egg type layers according to Mian (1994) and Qunaibet et al (1992). Better utilization of feed and avoiding unnecessary feed wastage could be the leading factors in minimizing total cost of production (Elwardany 1998). A layer requires 2.5 kg of feed for 1 kg eggs produced (Ascard et al 1995). Elwardany et al (1998) reported a daily feed intake of 102 g over a 52 weeks production period and 2.07 kg feed/dozen eggs laid. Petek (1999) reported a daily feed consumption/layer (115 g)."

Since our layers are free range, they will eat a lot more feed than caged, at least 30% more if I recall previous readings. So the 2Kg/dozen translate into 5lbs/dozen. Our need would then be 10lbs a day for two dozen eggs, which is a little more than what we actually use, so a good round number for a conservative estimate. Assuming a little less feed needs in the winter, due to less egg laying, the total yearly feed need for 25 chickens is about 2500lbs. This already seems a very big number.

What to plant? Layer feed must have about 18% protein content.

  • Corn (10% protein)
  • Barley (13% protein)
  • Peas (18% protein)
  • Wheat (18% protein)
  • Comfrey (20% protein)
  • Sunflower (25% protein)
  • Lentil (35% protein)
Deciding what to grow depends on the climate and the particularities on my area. I will likely have to try each of these, and see what works best, which will take several years of experimentation. Another factor is the work needed to harvest and process the feed. I can get a corn sheller for $80 (corn sheller) but I haven't found any tool for sunflowers. On the other hand, sunflower do grow well here, we have already grown them. So, next is to decide on a formula.

First formula: 25% Sunflowers, 25% peas 25% corn and 25% commercial formula. The commercial formula will be bought on demand. The rest will have to be grown, dried and stored. I will need about 600lbs of each ingredients. Next is to determine the yield.

Corn yield ~ 100 bushels per acre, 60lbs per bushel, or 6000lbs per acre. 0.1 acre needed, or 4400sqft.
Field peas yield ~ 40 bushels per acre. 0.25 acres needed.
Sunflower yield ~ 1200lbs per acre, 0.5 acres needed.

This gives some scary numbers, I don't see myself hand shelling 600lbs of sunflowers after growing and harvesting them on half an acre. We can estimate that we would need one acre of land to provide 100% of the feed needs of a flock of 25 chickens. That seems an enormous amount of land (and work!) for just $300 a month. Clearly, growing vegetables seems a better income maker.
I would still like to grow some of my chicken feed. Some companion planting may be used here, using the corn or sunflowers as stakes for the peas for example, while the peas provide nitrogen to the soil. A good star would be to grow 1/10th acre of corn, and the peas that would grow with it. Before that, I need to try out the crop, so using one or two of the 10x25 garden beds is probably the best approach. One bed could have corn/peas, while the other sunflowers/peas.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dealing with slugs - picking and garter snakes

I decided to try and pick up slugs every morning since they started appearing. The first week, I picked up up to 25 slugs at a time. The second week, 10-15. Now I am on the third week, and I pick one or two occasionally. The newly planted lettuce, spinach, and peas have not suffered from the slugs. It looks like this method of working.

Yesterday night, I also noticed a baby garter snake in the grass. Good to see they reproduce near the garden. Those snakes feed on slug.

Some slugs are too small to be picked, and yet are still very destructive due to their number, so I do rely on their predators as well as picking.