Living on our organic pastures, the broiler chickens at Elmwood Stock Farm are afforded a varied diet of seeds, insects, worms, clover and bluegrass. You might remember that they only really get 10 to 20 percent of their diet from pasture because their digestive systems aren’t set up to digest a quantity of forages. Chickens are monogastric—they have one stomach, like us. Their nutrition comes not from fermenting forages, like a cow or sheep, rather from a mix of sources.
Last year, the farm fed 51,000 pounds of feed to the broilers. (Incidentally, the laying hens ate 37,000 pounds and the turkeys 30,000.) The broiler ration consists of organic corn and roasted soybeans, ground alfalfa, vitamins, and minerals. Every grain of this is carried to the field via a 5-gallon bucket, 25 pounds at a time.
We grow about 60 percent of the organic corn and soybeans that we feed. They are, of course, non-GMO and produced under US Department of Agriculture National Organic Program standards. The corn provides the carbohydrates in the chickens’ diet. For protein, poultry can better digest roasted soybeans, so we sell our raw soybeans to the mill and buy back roasted for the feed. (Some areas of the US are fortunate to have a portable grain roaster come by the farm to roast beans for the farmer, similar to the traveling sheep shearer, but Central Kentucky is not on the route.) Corn and soybeans each have a set of amino acids, and together, they provide a balanced mix of the amino acids that chickens need.
The vitamins and minerals are provided in a mix called Nutri-Balancer. This is a naturally sourced mix of vitamins and minerals formulated by Fertrell. The alfalfa provides additional vitamins and minerals for the ration. Granite grit is made available to the broilers, and when ingested, it helps crush the hard seed coats of the grains in the chickens’ gizzards.
Twice each day, the broiler chickens know we’ll come to their pasture with their feed. Feeding twice a day ensures the chickens will clean up their entire meal before they lose interest. If they were to doze off or wander away with grain still in their feeders, the wild birds would swoop in for a snack. We don’t need to encourage wild birds to eat something we’ve invested so much time and money in when they have all the free seeds and insects they could possibly want on the rest of our 550 acres. Feeding the broilers twice each day also stimulates their appetites, encouraging them to eat more and gain weight efficiently. They quickly learn the routine and look for us to come to the field with their buckets of grain.
A wholesome mix of nutrition such as this—along with a strict diet of outdoor air and sunshine—helps to keep our chickens healthy.