What’s a farm without chickens? Since we already had some experience with raising chickens, we decided a layer flock for eggs could make a little money to support our farming endeavor. Not much money, we knew, but off-setting the chicken’s feed bill would be a step in the right direction and a step towards food self-sufficiency. The photo at the head of this post shows our first 35 chicks as they arrived by overnight mail from Asagi Hatchery in Honolulu.
This bunch of chicks was a mixed bag, with 10 Ameraucanas, 10 Plymouth Barred Rocks, and 15 “Brown Production” chicks. the Ameraucanas and the Rocks were straight run, meaning boys and girls both could be the result since the hatchery doesn’t determine their sex before shipping. The “BPs” are a sex-link cross-breed tailored specifically for large brown egg production (hence the name). The chicks we purchased are all females as the cross-breeding yields chicks that can easily be sexed (that’s the “sex-link” part) due to their colors. The cross is likely Rhode Island Red and White Leghorn, or Rhode Island Red and Rhode Island White. Some hatcheries call them Red Stars or Red Comets.
We have since added more Brown Production chicks and will continue to do so until we have about 200 layers in our flock. As the first arrivals get older, say after their third year, they will be “retired” either to the pasture or the stew pot, because after that age their egg production drops off to the point where they barely pay for their feed. Bringing in new chicks every six months or so keeps the flock productive and vigorous.
Our egg production experiment is paying off with increasing demand for our eggs at local natural food stores and giving us a hobby that is fun and satisfying. Our hens are fed non-GMO whole grain organic certified feeds from Modesto Milling in California that include no corn or soy.
We are constantly looking for innovative ways of feeding them to keep our costs down while still producing the best eggs money can buy on the Big Island. Obviously, bringing in feed from Modesto Milling is expensive due to the shipping cost, which makes a premium product even more dear. To offset some of the cost, our hens are pastured during the day to supplement their feed with bugs, seeds, and grasses they forage. This foraging is good for their health not only from a nutritional point-of-view, but also through the exercise they get running around and interacting with each other in “chickeny” ways. They also receive whatever fruit is in season from our locale, banana leaves, and garden greens from our yard, and green-waste from the natural food stores to which we sell our eggs.
Some of their feed we ferment slightly before offering to them. The whole grain feed is soaked in water for two days with a little added IMO (indigenous micro-organisms) and LAB (lactic acid bacteria). The grains will start to germinate, activating some hormones and enzymes, while increasing a bit in size and weight. The LAB controls the micro-organisms to ensure only “good bacteria” are in the feed. The LAB also promotes good gut flora to aid digestion. In this way we extend a 50-pound bag of feed to about 75 pounds while making more nutrition available to the hens with less stress on their digestive systems.
Another feed supplement we grow for our hens are Black Soldier Fly larvae. We built a growing bin for our compost material that the Black Soldier Flies have made their home. The adult flies lay their eggs in the compost and the hatched out larvae bio-convert all our food scraps into a rich soil amendment (similar to red worm composting, only using these specific flies instead of worms). As the larvae mature, they self-harvest by crawling away from their food source and burying themselves in the ground. Our bin is made to intercept the mature grubs so they fall into collection bins instead of finding the ground. These grubs are rich in protein, fat, and other essential elements that is especially good in baby chicks’ diet. If you are interested in these larvae as a feed source for your livestock there is plenty of info with a Google search.