It seems to me that one of the most effective ways to become more self sufficient at producing and growing our own food from chickens, is to use chickens that find as much of their diet from forage as possible; while still maintaining good egg production or weight gain (whichever you prefer).
So with those thoughts ever in my mind, I became very curious when both a clutches of chicks I hatched this spring seem to be MUCH better foragers then my clutch last spring.
The strange thing was that these better foraging chicks are the children of my first batch, so there was no new blood or foraging DNA mixed into the new clutch, yet they are incredibly more likely to forage.
To give you an idea, my first clutch, which I bought at a store would not eat worms if thrown into their little pen; where the second group gobbles them up.
On top of that I also got another clutch of chickens that I purchased who have the same foraging desires.
So this begged the question…
Why Were My New Chickens Better Foragers?
For starters neither of these groups of chicks were hatched the old fashion way; with a mother who could have taught them some things.
As far as I can tell, the only difference is that while the original clutch of chicks was raised on a very new and very clean pile of wood shavings, or rose hips or some thing I no longer remember, but that was recommended by the feed store…
This years clutch of chicks are all being raised on deep litter.
If you do not know what deep litter is, it is a way of managing the chicken droppings in a coop that does not require more then one cleaning a year.
Instead of regularly cleaning out the chicken coop, one simply keeps adding dry ‘carbon’ based matter like straw, or in my case dry maple leaves.
This turns the floor of your coop into something very much like a compost pile. This has the side benefit of making the coop NEVER stink! Plus a few other things I’ll go into in another post some time.
Basically its very bio-active and full of life.
Now… I decided to use this method of managing my chickens poo because one, I’m lazy, and didn’t want to clean the coop every few days. And secondly, I have seen research that suggested the chicks are more resistant to diseases when raised on deep litter, as well as grow faster.
However, I think there is another benefit.
I see my new 3 day old chicks digging and eating bugs that live in this deep litter.
So I have a theory.
What I’m about to say could be complete bullshit. And I very well may have no idea what I’m talking about.
But it seems to me that raising chickens using a deep litter method, where they have bugs they can eat, living in the ground they stand on at an early age teaches them to be better foragers then chicks NOT raised on deep litter.
I wonder if there is actually a window of opportunity that chickens learn how to forage, or at least how to forage well.
A window that if no foraging for bugs is experienced during this period, drastically reduces a chickens foraging ability.
If you’ve never studied windows of opportunity they are very interesting, and very real. I’ve just never heard them talking about windows of opportunity when it came to foraging.
And if my little theory is correct, and these new chickens of mine are better foragers… I wonder how much even better they would be at foraging if they were raised by their mother who taught them herself.
So that’s my little theory on improving your chickens foraging skills. I would appreciate any feedback from any chicken veterans out there who might have some insights into a new theory I have on raising a better foraging chicken, or in pointing me towards articles and research on this topic. Seems to be worth exploring.