Vertical Integration

Last winter I pondered whether it would be feasible to add laying hens to our operation.  We gave it a try, and we lost money spectacularly.  Rate of lay rarely exceeded 60% and most of the summer it hovered just under 50%.  This might be due to any number of things.  Maybe our Red Sex Link hens are just a poor batch (we had a surpisingly high occurrence of hens going broody this summer, which is unusual for this type of chicken).  Maybe our feed mill isn’t giving us a good mix.  Or maybe there’s something in our management that needs improvement.  My suspicion is the feed.  Now that the days are getting shorter, we’re only getting about 15 eggs out of 60 hens.

Chickens - Roosts

We moved the pigs and hens out of the woods last Saturday and introduced them to their winter quarters.  The hens have had the hoophouse all to themselves this week so they could get used to their new digs, find the nest boxes, and start roosting in the right places.  We’ll let the pigs in tomorrow.

Chickens - Feeder

We wanted to be able to keep the pigs out of the chicken feed.  We also have noticed the chickens waste a lot of their feed, especially the fines (which tend to be the more expensive protein-rich components, rather than the cheaper carbs like corn and oats).  Our solution for this year is to elevate the chicken feeder, hopefully mitigating both problems at once.  The elevation excludes the pigs, the wire shelves allow the dropped feed to have a second chance as the pigs root around underneath.  Vertical integration, small farm style.

Yes , we have too many roosters. I need to make a butcher appointment for five roosters and a few older hens.
Yes , we have too many roosters. I need to make a butcher appointment for five roosters and a few older hens.  The hoophouse suits the hens pretty well:  lots of wood chips and hay to scratch up, natural lighting, and shelter from the constant winter wind we experience up here on the hilltop.

I think if I could find pelletized layer feed, I’d be able to improve my feeding efficiency because the hens wouldn’t waste so much powdery feed while they search for bits of whole grain.  Our feeder has a supposed “feed saver” lip on the inside, but the chickens are still able to fling out feed with their beaks.  But the bigger key to making the laying hens economical is most likely that I’ve got to find a different feed recipe.  Trying to find a soy free, certified organic mix in small quantities (one ton at a time) is a challenge.

7 thoughts on “Vertical Integration”

  1. Thanks Jeff and Dorothy.
    I used to do wet mash feeding for pigs back when we had just eight of them. They enjoyed the soaked feed, but I never figured out how to make it a practical arrangement. Based on customer demand, I think I could raise several hundred hens next year, so I’m looking for a feeding solution that will also scale up to our future needs. With wet mash feeding for pigs, I ran into problems because (1) lugging heavy buckets around got to be a bit overwhelming as the number of animals increased, (2) I never found a way to make this work in a self-feeder, so it required two trips out to the pigs each days (and I’ve found that if I can cut down my livestock chores to one trip per group per day, especially when they are in far flung parts of the farm, this makes a huge difference in my ability to manage everything), and (3) there was no way to soak the grain in winter without it freezing unless I kept buckets soaking in the living room.or the kitchen. I think all these same limitations would apply for chickens.
    I’m not opposed to wet feeding. I just haven’t seen a system where it scales up, works with remote feeding, and functions without heated facilities. If anyone can point me to examples of wet mash pasture feeding with hundreds or thousands of birds, I’m very eager to see how they make it work.

  2. I was also going to suggest a mash, we have just a small flock of 6 hens and a rooster. They make terrible waste of the feed when it is dry but adding a bit of water makes the feed much more efficient. Only half my girls are laying yet as they were just born in May, but the 3 girls that are laying gave me 18 eggs last week! weren’t able to provide soy free feed this year but I’ve been happy with Lykers farm in Sprakers for feed. Are they able to free range for any part of the day?

  3. After reading your post I would agree that your roosters have to go,especially in an enclosed area like the hoophouse.They can make your hens lives miserable.But as far as feed goes I wonder what the protein percentage is . Last winter I fed my hens a mix of oats,wheat and milo and they didnt do well…not enough protein.This year I kept feeding them a non gmo transorganic broiler mix which has 19% protein and add milo ,oats ,wheat and barley ,mineral salts and some kelp.Ive also added a vitamin mix to their water to give them a boost.Our current batch of layers is laying 100 plus a day out of 125 and the number is still going up…when everyone elses hens are shutting down.Praise the LORD! If your concerned about the loss of feed you can make a mash of that fine feed and they cant waste it as easily. Now I have a mixture of hens (buff orppingtons, barred plymouth rocks,new hampshire,production reds,rhode island reds,white rocks,new hampshire reds,buff rocks,and red and black sex link hens. They all lay,some better than others. I think your right ..its their diet.If you do switch them to a pelleted diet do it gradually so they can adjust. God bless, Jeff

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