Thoughts on Feed
Our family eats what we grow at Maple Hill Garden, so it’s important to us that what we grow is healthy, nutritious and tasty, raised in a way that nurtures our environment, our farm, and our community, and is economical for us and for our customers.
Our Cornish Rock chickens are capable of foraging between 10-20% percent of their diet if allowed to range on pasture. The chicken forages by catching insects and by eating seeds, grasses, and clovers found in the pasture. The remaining 80%-90% of the chicken’s diet must come in the form of a feed ration of mixed grains, including a high-protein legume (or other protein source).
Chickens, like pigs and humans, are omnivores. They require a varied diet that consists of digestible carbohydrates and proteins obtained directly from the food that they eat. To remain healthy, chickens require a diet that consists of 16%-20% digestible crude protein. On pasture, some of that protein comes from insects eaten by the chicken. The remainder of the animal’s protein requirements must come from a high-protein feed source. Legumes fit that bill, but not all legumes are created equal. The soybean has the highest digestible crude protein level (37g/cup dry roasted) of any legume and as a result is the most common legume used in animal feed. Note: Unroasted soybeans are toxic to poultry.
Soy free chicken feed does exist for people who are concerned about the phytoestrogens found in soybeans. If you are interested in soy free feed, our feed supplier, Luxemburg Feed Service, does carry it. Due to the feed cost (about $22/bird), we do not raise any chickens using soy-free feed.
Our Feed Choices
Since 2012, to meet the requests of our customers, we made a conscious decision to keep two separate flocks of chickens; one raised on conventional feed and the other raised on feed free of genetically modified organisms (non-GMO feed).
Feeding with conventional feed supplied by a local farmer-owned co-operative costs about four dollars a bird. Feeding a broiler chicken on non-GMO feed costs about nine dollars a bird.
Using conventional feed has allowed us to keep our prices lower. Since, however, we believe that the flocks fed with the non-GMO feed are healthier and the quality of the flavor is vastly improved because of the high quality ingredients, we have increased the percentage of our non-GMO flock beyond the demand of our customers.
Over the past couple of years, our prices have begun to reflect this change. These changes help to defray our added costs while ensuring our customers don’t experience sticker shock. In 2016, for example, our flocks will consume over 2 tons of non-GMO feed. By 2018, it is our intention to use only non-GMO feed for our flocks.
© 2017, Maple Hill Garden
What Does it Look Like???
Our locally milled conventional feed. The dark yellow is ground soybeans. The lighter yellow is ground corn.
Our non-GMO feed. The yellow is again soy and corn. You can also see some whole oats. The overall green color is from ground alfalfa, which is added to boost protein and add a significant source of beta-carotene to the chickens' diet.