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We are part of the Conscious Culture Cafe’s efforts to keep waste to a minimum.  See where the blue sign says, “Our compost feeds local chickens and they cannot eat those” – that’s our chickens!

We’re outdoing the chicken-serving restaurant in Portlandia.  In that absurd yet not-too-far-from-reality “Farm” episode, the patrons want to make sure the chicken they eat is local.  They even ask what the chicken was fed.  But, they don’t ask if IT ate local.

We’ve taken chicken feeding to the next level.  Our chickens are locavores. Our goal is to feed our 30+ chickens as locally as possible.  We aren’t at 100% yet, but we have figured out some pretty good systems I would like to share with you.

The chickens have several major food sources:

  • compost,
  • black soldier fly larvae,
  • sprouted wheat berries,
  • azolla, salvinia (both water plants), and comfrey, and
  • foraging in their food-forests.

I’ll talk about the first two sources here, and save the other sources and the food forest description for  other posts.  But first, be aware that our chickens’ diet is not scientifically calculated  to produce the most eggs for the least cost.  We are fine with getting enough eggs just to keep us and a neighbor or two supplied.  It’s more about how chickens fit into the environment of the farm than about maximizing their output. The chickens are healthy, and the eggs are beautiful and delicious, with bright orange yolks.  This is a good enough sign that we are feeding them a good enough diet.

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We get some decent-sized eggs.

The compost we feed them is from our farm and kitchen as well as from a local organic restaurant. Two or three times a week, we pick up around five 5-gallon buckets of compost from “The Booch,” as we call  the Conscious Culture Cafe.  The Cafe specializes in live, fermented foods including a wide variety of home-brewed kombucha and several types of sauerkrauts.

Their compost is  ideal for chickens, full of old quinoa salad, garbanzo beans, sprouts, sourdough bread, corn chips, fruit and vegetable scraps – even the occasional failed omelette or rejected buckwheat flapjack.  However, it contains a lot of food scraps that the chickens don’t directly eat, such as lemon rinds and rotten sweet potatoes (plus napkins and compostable paper containers).  This makes great food for soldier fly larvae.

Two years ago I wrote about how we raise black soldier fly larvae to provide protein, fat, and calcium for chickens.  Since writing that blog, we have modified our black soldier fly bins to solve several problems.  The main problem was drainage.  Too much liquid created anaerobic conditions in the bins, making it difficult to use the compost left after the larvae migrated out.  The “larvae-compost”  was too heavy and smelly to use as a soil amendment.  If we mixed in  dryer organic material, such as leaves and grass, and turned it several times, it became good stuff.  But all of that was very awkward to do inside a larvae bin.

So we built these:IMG_1503.JPG

These “compost tables” are part kitchen-waste composter, part  black soldier fly larvarium. They are 5’x3′ plywood boxes on legs.  They are lined with two layers of wire mesh, one larger-weave one for strength, and a finer weave to hold compost in and let liquid drain out.

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This is the 4×4 concrete mesh for strength – 6×6 would also work – just needs to be sturdy enough to support many pounds of heavy compost.

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(Above) I am in the midst of replacing the old mesh (which was plastic and rats had bitten through it), with  1/2 inch galvanized wire mesh, which will be snugly fit in or tacked well on all sides.  This wire mesh is available in 5’x3′ pieces, so you don’t have to buy the 100′ roll (I got this at Dell’s).

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We use either old roofing or a piece of plywood as a cover.  We dump the compost on the cover.  The chickens fly up and eat what they want.  We scrape the remains down into the insides. You can see dried banana leaves on the inside of this bin, too.  Coffee filters and napkins are all in the mix.

Black soldier flies love any compost enclosure they can get into, so they do a great job of laying eggs, and within a week the tables are full of little  larvae.  Extra liquid drains through the mesh, and as they grow, the larvae and other critters crawl out and drop below to the appreciative chickens.

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Each of our three chicken enclosures has a compost table. When the table is full  and the compost inside is ready to be finished, I scape the fresh compost down into a smaller bin, seen above on the left with  a Rhode Island Red on top.  We drilled drainage holes into the bottoms of old Rubbermaid storage tubs for this purpose.

Periodically, we add a layer of dry leaves,  grass clippings, and chicken poop to the compost to dry it out, improve the texture, and add carbon and nitrogen. We also add the too-wet soldier-fly compost from the Rubbermaid bins.  After turning twice, and not adding anything new for around six weeks, here is how it looks:

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At this point it has become more of a worm bin than a larvae bin – the soldier fly larvae have all migrated out, and worms are thriving.  You could add some worms to make sure, but I found they made it in there somehow – probably from when we added fallen banana leaves.

It isn’t “true” compost because it hasn’t reached high enough temperatures to kill seeds and bugs.  So instead of using it in sensitive areas, we use this compost around trees, shrubs, and other sturdy, well-established plantings.

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Even the rooster area gets a compost table.

We still use the original soldier fly bin that we made, which has a pitched roof.  We moved it inside one of the chicken areas so that escaping larvae no longer only feed toads and wild birds. This bin is handy for putting meat scraps in and anything else we don’t want the chickens to have.

So now we have a great kitchen compost system for easily feeding the chickens compost, not letting rats or mongoose get to it, and turning it into a rich soil amendment, while providing the chickens with plentiful larvae, insects, and worms.

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It’s warm!  Portlanders would approve!

 

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