Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thinking of the Chickens in Winter

Being on our restricted retirement financial budget, we're always trying to think of ways to reduce costs in any way we can.  But perhaps even more than that, we're committed to the nutrition of the food we eat and the feed we provide for our chickens . . . which comes right back to our personal nutrition because their eggs and, eventually, their meat ends up on our table.

A day or so ago, I was noticing the beautiful stand of kale growing in the garden.  We've been enjoying eating a lot of it lately because, like Swiss chard, kale becomes more lush and flavorful in the cooler fall temps.  Next I started thinking of it as a possible supplement to the feed we have to buy for the chickens.  Hmmmm, if the chickens had some of that lush, nutritious, green-ness to eat in the winter months . . . 


So because I was looking for something to do with my time (insert hysterical laughter --- hubby did question my sanity), I took my old, beat up, giant colander out into the garden and piled it high with kale.


I cut the thick rib out of each leaf and then chop, chop, chopped it as finely as I could, and spread it out on trays from our dehydrator.


Our dehydrator has eight trays and by harvesting four heaping colanders full, I did two full batches with the chopped kale.  (Truth to tell, I finished off the second dehydrator filling with chopped Swiss chard as I wanted to save some of the kale in the garden for us.)


It took about three hours for each batch of the greens to dry thoroughly.  I dumped the finished product from the trays onto a sheet of newspaper which made it easy to funnel into glass jars for storage.


From the four huge pickings of kale (and a little Swiss chard) I got a smidge under a gallon and a half of dried, green goodness.  You may detect some striations of red in the jars.  That's the Swiss chard (Ruby Chard).

I'm thinking this is going to be much appreciated by our poultry during the many months of this coming winter when they're confined to their chicken house and solarium.  (Even when we provide tiny little snowshoes for them, they do not like to go out in the snow.)

How will we feed these dried greens out?  How long will it last?  This first year will be an experiment, for sure.  Papa Pea is thinking we will either mix it in with their laying mash or sprinkle it on the floor (we use the deep litter method).  I have a feeling it certainly won't last all winter, but it will be interesting to see if we can tell if the chickens appreciate it, and if our egg yolks maintain more of an orange color as they do when the girls are out foraging on green grass all spring, summer and fall.

13 comments:

Sunnybrook Farm said...

I have let my chickens out in the garden and they ate the kale a little but didn't devour it like I expected. They didn't seem interested in turnips or swiss chard. They can be strange birds sometimes, I would suspect that if you rehydrated the greens and mixed them in their food that they would eat them, it would be good for them.

Susan said...

And, if they don't like it, you and Papa Pea can benefit from your frugalness! I am drying a lot of kale this year, too. It was for me, but now you have me thinking...

odiie said...

Great minds think alike. ;-) I dry kale in the rafters of the machine shed along with nettles and comfrey. Then I put the dried greens in old feed sacks and stomp on them. (It's kinda fun.) I use this as a supplement for my chickens, turkeys, ducks and goats. I'm hoping to eventually grow all of my chicken feed with sunflowers, corn, kale, comfrey, and pumpkins.

odiie said...

P.S. In the winter, the chickens seem to love it.

Mama Pea said...

Sunnybrook Farm - If your birds have ready access to greens all summer, that may be the reason they didn't go crazy when turned into the garden. Our birds are so full of good greens and bugs and worms that they run in the opposite direction when they see me coming with yummy table scraps and cleanings from the garden!

Mama Pea said...

Susan - My husband has already thought of that. If the chickens don't appreciate the dried kale and Swiss chard, he says he'll eat it! (I wonder if that will be before or after it's mixed in with the laying mash?)

Mama Pea said...

odiie - Oh, how I wish we had a "drying shed!" We really need some kind of a structure like that. I struggle every year trying to figure out where to lay out and dry my huge crop of onions. And, boy, have you made me think . . . comfrey! Why the heck haven't I thought of drying our comfrey for the poultry? That would be so good for them, too. Thank you, thank you! (We have a nettle patch, but it's not very big.)

We've talked with "older" farmers/homesteaders who claim you can feed chickens (and have them lay well!) without feeding any laying mash. Just whole grains with some of the supplements you mentioned. Wouldn't it be great to get to that point?

I would think the birds would love just about any dried green they could get in the winter. I know ours seem to love green, leafy hay.

Carolyn said...

Ok, ok. I'll grow some stinking kale already!! EVERYONE seems to be growing / eating it and now that I see you are even drying/storing/feeding it to your biddies once snowfall starts, I think I'm going to have to try it. We don't really have a problem with the chickens finding something green in the winters (not lush, yummy, fresh greens, but better than nothing). The problem with winter here is no bugs for them to eat. OMG, did I just say that "no bugs" is a problem?

Kristina said...

I grew winter Kale one year, but this year we didn't get much to dehydrate. That's an awesome bounty you have. And I'm sure the chickens will enjoy it too.

Stephanie said...

Great idea!

Mama Pea said...

Carolyn - Isn't it just a pain when we hear/read about something that is just going to make more work for us? But you simply have to do it anyway? No wonder we never get done with our To Do lists. Hee-hee!

Mama Pea said...

Kristina - When you say you grew "winter kale" does that mean you over-wintered it? And had it to feed out during the winter months?

Mama Pea said...

Stephanie - odiie's method (see above) of drying big bunches of greens for her livestock would be the way to go. Now if we can just figure out how to get a huge . . . about 50' x 100' . . . storage shed on our property . . . free of any cost, of course . . . I would love to start doing it that way. I don't mean to ungrateful for what we have or greedy for more, but what a fantasy wish that is! (And would be for any homesteader!!)