Our Grain-Free Chickens


ourgrainfreechickens

In 2011, I was thrilled to attend an all day session on backyard chickens, hosted by Harvey Ussery. When I left for the Weston A Price Foundation Annual Conference, my perspectives on food and medicine had already been seriously rocked, but this conference left me seeing everything from vaccines to agriculture in a whole new light. Having grown up in Northern California Big Ag, I was in for an intense few days of study.

We had recently discovered that my daughter was having allergic reactions to meat that was fed corn, soy or grain.  If it didn’t come 100% grass fed, she couldn’t eat it.  This took some significant investigating, since the amount of research on allergens in meat was slim to none. Only now, a couple years later, is it starting to make it to the surface of media thanks to things like the Non-GMO movement. It took some leg work, but we were able to source several types of meat that were 100% grassfed, and we were also blessed many times over with hunters who donated wild game to further her healing.

Yet the one thing that was impossible to find was a grain-free chicken.

Farmer, to farmer, to farmer I went. I received everything from ‘thats not possible’ to ‘let me know what you find out’. Some filled my ear with how cruel it was to deprive chickens of grain, some told me stories of how their gizzards meant that they were designed to have it, and others wished me good luck. Most often I received discouragement and advice not to waste my time. Some farmers even gave me horror stories of massive sized flocks they had attempted to raise soy free, only to have them all die within weeks.

Luckily, being told it’s not possible is often just enough to get my feisty-self moving towards proving someone wrong. And when it came to my children, I didn’t need much more motivation to dive in head first. It took me a matter of 3 months to get my next set of research on, get some eggs hatched, and convert part of our suburban backyard into a chicken run. My daughter needed eggs for healing, and we were going to have them grain free. Period.

incubator

In August of 2011 we successfully hatched 18 out of 24 eggs. By completely divine orchestration, I met a farmer who knew a lady who had a family member who was starting a feed company out of Washington. It wasn’t in the stores in California yet, and it was barely going in Washington, but this local family member was a distributor and through her I could get my hands on it. Low and behold, it was not grain free, but it was corn and soy free, and that was better than anything I could dig up at the time. Our first set of backyard chickens were started off by what now is the awesomely well-known, Non-GMO verified, 100% organic, Scratch and Peck Feed.

Our chicks were three months old when I sat in an all day class gleaning every little bit of chicken information I could from Mr. Ussery.  At the end of the day I hung around to have him sign my book, and chat with him a little further. I explained my situation and said to him point blank: Do you think it is possible to raise a grain free chicken?

He thought for a minute, and then said: You mean raise a chicken based on a diet that would avoid whatever allergens a child could not eat?

I said: Yes.

He said: Well, why not?

I said: Because everyone in the industry says it can’t be done. That grain free, can.not.be.done.

And he said: Why? Because you need a big feed company to tell you exactly what nutrients your chickens won’t be getting and that you need their feed? You think that your chickens are not smart enough to eat what they are supposed to eat if you raise them properly? (my paraphrase)

And I realized that was exactly the box I was thinking in.

He encouraged me to go for it. And so we did.

Our first round of grain free chickens are almost 2 years old now. We have grain free laying hens, and have quite successfully raised grain free meat birds. It’s certainly possible.

Want to know more about our chickens? Looking to raise yours allergy friendly, or grain free? It’s coming. Sign up and don’t miss a post! Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and share this information with searching friends.

Hope is contagious! Pass it on!

~ Nichole


33 Comments
  1. Ok, now this is awesome! I can’t wait to read how you’ve accomplished grain-free chickies! (PS, teaser posts are mean :D )I’m also very intrigued to hear about corn-fed meat affecting those with corn allergies. Just yesterday I had a whopper of a migraine, and I have been going nuts trying to pinpoint it’s source. I was half suspecting the pork chops, but didin’t know why…. is there any info/sources you could share regarding corn fed meat and allergies? If this is my problem, it would expain SO much!

    • Hi Maria! I have more information coming! I have learned so much in the last few years and it really is quite amazing. If you are super sensitive to soy, corn, or a particular grain you can certainly be reacting to it in meat. But there are a lot of other factors as well. In my experience there is also a huge difference between those that use organic and non organic feed. GMO corn is not something to mess around with, even in meat!

    • Maria, a couple of things come to mind. One cause of migraines is low magnesium. A Mg suppliment will often take care of the condition. Another treatment is the herb fever few. Ticture or tablets are available on the Net. It is an easy herb to grow, and once established, will be with you forever.

      I do think you are on the right tract. My mother-n-law took several years to determine what triggered her migraines by using a food log. She finally figured out that coffee was the trigger and no, it wasn’t the caffeine, as decaf did the same thing.

      Good luck.

      • Thank you, Michael. It’s very possible that magnesium plays a part, but I have been able to trace most of my migraines to specific foods. First dairy, then grains, then, to a very high degree, corn by-products. As for the migraine I first talked about, it turned out that acetic acid was a LISTED INGREDIENT on those dang chops! Eek! That’s the last time I’ll make THAT mistake!

  2. Hi Nicole! I am so excited for the opportunity to learn and share here. I’ve been on a similar journey, not for myself, but for my many GAPS customers. We have gone soy-free in our feed and have always purchased organic from a local feed mill, but I’m having a hard time getting my broilers to size if I mess around too much with protein levels. They are allowed to free-range, but they are lazy birds so don’t do a lot of foraging on their own. We also feed a lot of greens and veggies from our market garden. Our layers, of course, are hardy foragers. I’ve read Harvey’s book, but haven’t taken the time to get my head around how to put it into practice on our farm (in a practical way – we’re pretty stretched here.) Thanks so much for giving me an excuse to stop, take a breath and learn from someone who’s doing it already. Maybe I can let you know how it works on a larger scale. I truly believe GAPS is the diet that will heal our guts as more of us transition away from GMO’s.

    • Dotty what kind of broilers do you raise? we found that Freedom Rangers tend to be pretty aggressive foragers, ours are always out and about looking for goodies.

    • Dotty that is WONDERFUL! It is my dream to not only have enough birds to sustain my family on eggs and meat, but to be able to help others who need it and cant raise it themselves. It is exciting for me to hear there are farms giving it a real try. Just eliminating soy opens up the doors for so many people. Care to share your farm location so that I could pass that info on?

      • HEYYY YES!! I WOULD LOVE TO HAVE THAT!!!! Some meat (grain free ext to feed me my family and then others FOR SURE)))!!!!!!!!

      • I am the same as your daughter..I never knew why i felt gassy after eggs but now i know! it’s the proteins of hmos and grainS! Im ABSOLUTELY allergic and sensitive to the T one spec and i feel sick …. I’m so glad there’s someone out there like me!!! My mom thinks I’m CRAZYY!! !:P :P :P :P Well my whole family does i think but thanks! I hope i can do the same someday (raise allergen free chickens for myself and then eventually HAVE SOME FOR OTHERS THiS IS SO EXCITIING!!!!!!!

    • Just some info in response to your troubles with protein levels; I’m sprouting seed for my freedom ranger chicks, and the one thing I’ve learned is that both peas and sunflowers run at 25% protein. The peas are not their favorite, and are a little large when they’re still little guys, but I’m sprouting they’re entire daily diet. The sprouts have encouraged them to forage for themselves also, which our other batches never did…this is our first batch grown 100% on sprouts. Excited to see how they grow out. They are 5 weeks now and have 6 more weeks to go. :-)

  3. I am so happy for you and am eager to see how you raise them absolutely grain free. I presently have 7 chickens 4 that are laying. They dont seem to eat the grain (southern states) unless they are locked up in the pen. They are awesome foragers. I am growing pleasant valley omega 3 but they have voracious appetite. Feels like i am seeding every couple of days. I cant seem to get anything higher than an inch tall. They love all the bugs which i have plenty of and in the winter i supplemented them with boss seeds grown inside to about 3 inches and worms from my vericompost.

    • Sounds like you are off to a great start! Hopefully I can share some information that might help you out. Im not familiar with pleasant valley omega 3. We have not seeded at this point because my hens have enough room to run.

    • Hi Kathi, to grow grass inside the chicken runs for my chickens, I put quail wire (1/2 x 1″ welded) in long strips of about 18″ or a bit wider plus two long sides of about 3″ that are bent 90 degrees to hold up the strips. The cross section of an end of a strip, then, looks like a paper staple: up 3″, bend, over 18″, bend, down 3″.

      The chickens cannot scratch the soil and cannot eat the grass until it grows up to the quail wire. So they tear off the tops of the grass and always have more coming.

      I use these strips because they are easy for me to remove to clean and replant from time to time, and they fit my chicken runs. Blessings
      Dee recently posted…Coconut Water and It’s Amazing BenefitsMy Profile

  4. My husband and I want to do chickens so bad. We are stumped on how to do grain free, but we keep asking each other why it couldn’t be done. God didn’t make chickens to have to eat grain. I’m thrilled to find someone who is doing it, because I have been researching and couldn’t find anything.

    • I couldn’t find anything either! It got so frustrating. I finally just had to go for it. Good luck!

    • Have you looked into growing your own barley fodder? It’s what we feed our chickens, goats and ducks exclusively. Everyday we soak 10 pounds of organic barley, the next day we pour it into seed trays (without earth, they eat the whole root mass) and water it several times a day. In 8 days we have lovely green grass that now weighs about 60 pounds. The chickens and ducks seem to prefer it younger though, before it’s leafy but is sprouted. We went from a $90 feed bill per week to $15 and our animals are healthier than ever.

      Here’s a link to a video on feeding alpacas and chickens and a different persons webinar on dairy cows. We’ll never go back to the way we used to do things! We now have it automatically watered and it takes so little time and they really enjoy it. Wheat is also easy to grow this way.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hes3ZhvjtqY

      http://www.extension.org/pages/65651/barley-fodder-feeding-for-organic-dairies-webinar

  5. Like everyone else, I am very excited to find out what you. Ours are free range and haven’t had feed since they left the brooding box. We keep debating if the REALLY need grain. As we all know, it’s near impossible to find that info on line. Even when doing free range they pretty much all say to supplement with grain. This is very exciting. Perhaps when we add more next year we will even attempt to hatch our own. :)

  6. Keep the posts coming – we’re intrigued! Shared with our readers at homesteadlady.com.

  7. This is great! I don’t know too much about it, but have you ever considered the Cocofeed from Tropical Traditions? Also, I’m not sure what feed she uses, but our CSA farmer also uses soy-free feed (not sure if it’s corn free) that is also organic. It is very hard to find a farmer who does this!

    • I did look into the Cocofeed. Unfortunately it does contain grain, though I cant remember off hand specifically what kind or if it contained corn. Its great that you found a local source for soy free chicken. Like you said, it is very hard to find!

  8. I cannot wait to read how you’ve done this!! (I hate teaser’s as well!) I have read Ussery’s book and implemented so many of his ideas (sprouting grains, etc.). We’ve been feeding our chickens non-soy feed but I’ve been having some issues with our meat birds on the non-soy, non GMO organic feed. It has been taking them forever to get up to weight! I’m curious how your egg production is. Of course, you probably don’t have anything to compare it to, not having used grains at all. Are you going to tell us how many eggs you get per day, per how many chickens?? My family has been on a no-grain diet for almost a year now. I wonder if our eggs/chicken meat is an issue. Now I’m thinking about our hogs too. I feed them milk & sprouted barley. (And several people told me they would DIE if I didn’t feed them soy! We CAN feed our animals outside the conventional box! We just need more people to share what they’re doing so we’re not reinventing the wheel all the time!)

    Please don’t keep us in suspense too long!

  9. I am signed up and can hardly wait to read all about it. We are new chicken owners (proud flock of 19 right now, but want some show birds for 4H) and are building a farm house on 19 acres. I want all of our animals on a natural diet to how God made them. I am convinced we can cut out feed bill doing it. All we need is the knowledge. If GMO effects reproduction organs of rats, I have to believe it effects egg quality and production in chickens (not to mention us!). I found organic very expensive. I am hoping there is a healthy option the birds can have, like utilizing land. I am even willing to compost during the winter so they can get bugs. If I turn it will should stay “hot”.

  10. How much yard space do you need to grow chickens? I mean at minimum. And does it have to be sunny? Shady? How did you get started?

  11. Very encouraging. Love your story, thanks for sharing and motivating people like me. I very much want a small farm and I hope to raise grain free chickens one day :)

  12. Hi, I was researching about getting some chickens, and I was hoping to raise them grain-free, seeing as I am going paleo, and I am trying to restrict grains as much as possible. I’m buying a house with a decent back yard, and I was hoping to raise some chickens. Do you mind sharing your ideas on the type of chicken that would be best for laying that is friendly, easier to take care of and also what I could I feed them besides my grass, bugs and scraps.

  13. Chickens in the wild (the modern chicken ancestor) didn’t eat a lot of grain, because the grains we have today had not yet been developed. The wild grasses that were the ancestors of modern grains had tiny little seed heads compared to the modern ones. So it doesn’t make sense to say they “need” it. I am a relatively new organic farmer in western WA and am making the grain-free transition for my ducks as I am expanding my flock.

  14. I am very excited to learn more

  15. Geoff Lawton at GeoffLawton.com has 2 amazing videos of grain free chicken raising.

  16. Hello,

    I loved reading your story about grain free chickens. I have been going crazy trying to figure out why I have felt so crummy even after cutting out all my listed allergens.
    Little did I know, until I sought out help from a naturopath, that I was “eating” my allergens through the eggs I bought at the store. I guess hormone free and antibiotic free ggs, was just not good enough.

    I got really excited when I found that tropical traditions sold eggs from their coco-feed hens. But when I asked them what their coco-feed consisted of, they replied : corn, oats, and wheat! I was so dissapointed!
    Now I don’t know where to get eggs I’m able to eat from. I’m allergic to so many things, it’s depressing.
    If you know of anyplace, I would appreciate your help:-)
    I wish I could get my own chicken like you, but my home association doesn’t allow it:-(

    Anyway, thank you so much for your story! Best of luck to your daughter and your family…she is lucky to have a mother like you who cares so much.

    Best,
    Ginger

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