Feeding the multitude.

A great deal of digital ink is spilled over at Backyard Chickens on the subject of feeders. Keeping chickens fed can be time consuming, labour intensive, and expensive, if you let it. Chickens are pigs. This is a problem not only because chicken feed can be expensive (if one feeds organic), but also because loose feed attracts rodentia, and you can end up feeding the neighbourhood birds.

So, what’s the answer? I’ve become a big fan of feeders made from PVC. Yes, it’s an expensive outlay (especially for 4 inch PVC, which gives the best feed “flow”), but I’m convinced I’ve earned that investment back in feed containment and reduced schleppage. I can go away for days at a time, and Chicken Debbie never has to fill the feeder.

Our original setup is still in use: an elegant design (though I say it myself, who shouldn’t) which allows the chickens to feed inside the coop from a curved container which prohibits the “billing out” of feed:

And a storage tube outside the coop, to facilitate filling:

The system works very well. The PVC is mouse/groundhog/raccoon proof, and it holds about a week’s worth of feed for pastured chickens.

However.

With the introduction of 2.0 and 2.1, I began to add feeding stations. When integration was first implemented, there was no denying the competition and bullying. There was also no denying that 1.0 was on the skinny side.

I spent the summer feeding in three additional places: a small bowl inside the coop, another inside the run (where 2.1 hangs out most of the day), and a plastic dog dish at the front of the barn. Everybody eats, and that makes me happy. (Strangely, I’m still going through about one 50 lb. bag a month, even though I’ve gone from ten hens to seventeen. Go figure.)

The waste is appalling at these three new stations…

…and I don’t like seeing the chipmunk sneaking in and out of the run. Further, setting them up and putting them away is a chore that I could cheerfully do without.

For the uninitiated, a 50 lb. bag of regular chicken feed is about $13-$15 around here. I’m paying about $25 for the same size bag of organic feed. And the turkeys are coming. (They are. I swear.) Turkeys, as meat birds, require a much higher protein ratio in their feed, and that means more money.

Chicken Debbie and I have been back and forth on this; she has looked into what is available from all her distributors, and we have finally found organic turkey/gamebird grower feed from Nature’s Best, at $35 a 50 lb. bag. This motivates me to solve the waste problem, as one might imagine.

Why worry about it now? you might ask. I won’t be feeding turkeys until May. True. But I am weeks away from my very first molting chickens. Once chickens are over a year old, they molt their feathers every fall, sometimes a little:

Sometimes a lot:

Sometimes drastic measures are called for:

It’s cruel that this happens just as the weather is getting bitter, but Mother Nature can be a real bitch, as we know. Remember, this is the same woman who decreed that lambs shall be born in February, and eggs shall be laid big end first.

I’m not sure what to expect this fall, but I do know one thing: molting chickens do not lay eggs. Replacing feathers takes a great deal of their nutritional resources, particularly protein. While they’re growing new feathers, they can’t lay eggs, too. This was my biggest reason for getting 2.0 this spring. Someone has to pick up the slack when the feathers start to fall.

One tip recommends upping chickens’ protein intake when they’re molting, to speed up feather regeneration, and get back to the egg-laying business. So, I’ve decided to try the higher protein turkey feed for the duration of the molt, and see how it goes. If it noticeably improves egg production, I may keep it up all winter.

But how to reduce the waste, and still keep multiple feed stations? I believe I have the answer: outside PVC feeders. Different design, same materials.

I had thought, last spring, to make two PVC feeders in the coop, and bought the materials for two, but one has proved more than adequate. I made my way to Home Depot today to get the other pieces I need to make this:

I’ll need to strategically fill the bottom piece part-way with something concrete-ish, so that the feed flows from the tube through to the mouth of the feeder. The top cap will be removed only for filling; the bottom cap (on the ground, here) will be reinserted nightly to prevent theft and water damage. I can place something under the whole thing to raise the feeding point, and use plumber’s strapping to affix it to the barn wall.

As you can see, the hens will have to put their heads right into the lower tube to feed, making it impossible for them to scratch or bill out feed. I haven’t yet discussed any of this with The Man, but I am confident we can implement this money-saving brainstorm and still preserve the look of the barn. (Right, honey?)

But, wait! There’s more! You also get this smaller version of the same design for oyster shell, on accounta I’m sick of sweeping it up!

This one will also be raised to keep it out of the reach of any babies who shouldn’t be getting the calcium.

So, there you have it: the next phase of poultry management at Heedley’s Hens.

She is good, yes?

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6 thoughts on “Feeding the multitude.

  1. I really need to do this… I would need more than 1 of these though. 1 might last me a day. I am going through 150 pounds of food every 2 weeks.. Maybe even more.

    I went with the high protein feed for my turkeys and chickens and didn’t notice a difference after a month, so I went back to regular grower. It was just too expensive. My turkeys are healthy and thriving :) But they are wild turkeys, so they are a bit more hardy when it comes to free ranging. I love that they clean up all spilled feed before going to the feeder. They are useful!

  2. By the way, those bad moulting pictures are of frizzles, and they moult the worst out of any chickens. You most likely will never get anything that severe. :)

    And some girls lay through a molt. My RSL did.

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