What is scratch feed, anyway?
Scratch feed is both a feeding method and a type of feed:
- Scratch feed as a feeding method: It’s scratch feed if you feed it by scattering it on the ground (hens reveal morsels of feed and move it around by scratching at it with their feet).
- Scratch feed as a type of feed: Whole grains and coarsely cracked grains are suited for feeding scattered on the ground, because they’re coarse enough for hens to find and pick up individual particles, won’t blow away in the wind, and won’t turn to paste or soup on wet ground. Appropriate grains are sometimes bagged up and labeled as “scratch feed” or “scratch grains.”
Why Feed Scratch Grains?
There are different reasons to feed scratch grains:
- Taming the chickens. A one- or twice-daily feeding of scratch grains will be met with eagerness by the chickens, and if you make them come right up to you to get the grain, it will make them tame. (Chickens fed only out of bulk feeders may never get used to you.)
- Getting a good look at the chickens. By running up to you, you’ll get a close-up look at the chickens, which helps you spot any problems they might be having.
- Getting the hens out of the nest boxes. Hens like to laze around in nest boxes after laying their eggs, and egg collection is faster and more pleasant if the hens decamp of their own free will because you’ve just offered them a snack!
- Encouraging and directing foraging. The chickens will pick up any other yummy edibles that are in the vicinity of the scratch grain, and a bribe of scratch grain will get them to forage when they otherwise don’t feel like it, such as during hot or cold weather.
- Encouraging feed consumption. Similarly, if the chickens are unwell or unhappy, such as in the aftermath of being chased around by a dog, their appetite plummets and their production falls. But chickens are social eaters, even competitive eaters, and they’ll eat if other chickens are eating — especially if it looks like the food might be gone if they wait! Encouraging this kind of mini feeding frenzy helps keep the chickens going.
How Much Scratch Grain to Feed
The rule of thumb is to feed no more grain than the chickens will eat in twenty minutes. That maximizes competition, which means that even hens who are feeling under the weather will be motivated to eat something. And it doesn’t leave any feed on the ground to be eaten by wild birds and other critters you don’t want to be feeding.
If the hens are happy with their normal chicken feed, they may be satisfied with a small amount of scratch grain. My 400 hens are sometimes happy with only a couple of quarts of whole oats. But the benefit is real even if the quantities are small.
I keep running across blog posts praising how well Ruth Stout’s “no-work gardening” methods work, like this post on The Messy Shepherdess.
I first ran across Ruth Stout’s writing when I became interested in gardening as a child, and got a subscription to Organic Gardening.
This was around 1970, and Organic Gardening was very much an end-of-the-world prophet of doom back then. Even articles about how to grow nice tomatoes with a trellis against your house would take time out to explain how you’d better hurry up, because we’d all be dead by 1975!
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that this is getting a little ridiculous! My early warning system went off (that is, I got a piece of junk mail from Professional Awards of America), offering to sell me a patent plaque for U.S. Patent #8786473, “Systems and methods for sharing compression histories between multiple devices,” which is one of the fruits of my day job at Citrix Systems, as part of their CloudBridge network accelerator line, where I’m a principal technical writer and all-around expert. If you’re a masochist, you can read the full text online (the patent lawyers took my clear-ish original description and made it really hard to follow). Citrix sends me a plaque for every patent (sorry, Junk Mail Guys), and I long ago ran out of ideas for what to do with them! This patent was originally filed in 2007, and spent seven years slowly grinding through the patent office’s process. And you thought you procrastinated!
Migrating the Blog
Converting my blog from its old format (b2evolution) into WordPress was not something I cared to do by hand, so I paid http://www.cms2cms.com/ to do it for me.
The automatic conversion failed, but they stepped in and got it to work manually. I like the way the results came out. The whole thing set me back 48 bucks.
I’m toying with the idea of converting my old plain-HTML Web pages as well, since they don’t play nice on smartphones.
Migrating the Newsletter
Around the same time, I gave up on my old, Nineties-style Majordomo mailing list software for my newsletter, and signed up with Sendy. Sendy is a lot like Mailchimp, which I also like, but I have way too many newsletter subscribers for Mailchimp’s free service (which tops out at 2,000 subscribers). Sendy costs $59 up front, and hooks up with Amazon.com’s SES service, which costs $1 per 10,000 emails sent, where Mailchimp costs about $100 per 10,000 emails.
I’ve jumped on the WordPress bandwagon after having my blog running on the b2evolution platform since around 2007 or so. WordPress has so many free, user-supported features, while b2evolution seems stagnant.
The next step is to revive my poultry newsletter, which is running on software so obsolete that it pretty much doesn’t work anymore. Soon…
Another of the patents from my day job at Citrix Systems just issued. “Systems and methods of using the refresh button to determine freshness policy,” U.S Patent #8701010. This was from my Web Optimization Period. It was filed in 2007 and only now made it into the light of day.
That makes me either inventor or co-inventor on 35 U.S. patents. See my patents. Sadly, the patent attorneys obfuscated my nice clear description, so the text isn’t a fun read.
It’s March 29, and I thought I’d mention that the traditional period for using supplemental light to keep the hens laying is September 1 through March 31. By April 1, the increasing day length makes supplemental light unnecessary.
Farmers traditionally set the day length at 14 hours when using supplemental light. The days aren’t that long on April 1, when measured from sunrise to sunset, but it doesn’t take much light to stimulate laying, so that seems to even things out.
The big boys use a different algorithm: keep the day length constant at whatever it happens to be on Midsummer’s Day at their latitude, meaning that there’s just one night a year when the lights don’t come on at all. Those of us with fewer than a thousant hens probably can’t measure the difference, and the convenience of not messing with lights until September carries some weight.
My November poultry newsletter gives seasonal advice and more.
It’s been twenty years since Joel Salatin created the grass-fed chicken industry by publishing Pastured Poultry Profit$ in 1993.
The book has many praiseworthy aspects, one of which is that Salatin describes in great detail the methods he was using at the time, and the thinking behind them. Lots of people have copied his methods, with varying degrees of success. (Farming is like that.)
Something unusual happened along the way, and I think it’s something Salatin didn’t expect. Because it’s the only detailed book on the topic, his single example of how to go about raising meat chickens on pasture has been accepted by many as the only way, and sometimes this gets people into jams.
I logged into the blog the other day and was informed by the blog software that I had a quarter of a million comments awaiting moderation!
Of course, none of these comments seemed to have anything to do with my blog. I was just being victimized by one of the botnets, whose zombie army of infected PC’s was endlessly uploading exhortations to buy various kinds of junk.
I disabled comments altogether to keep it down to a dull roar. Since spammers are the worst programmers ever, the botnet hasn’t really noticed, anymore than they noticed that not one of their last quarter-million comments has been posted. You can see why these guys aren’t holding down a real job.