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The Omlet Blog Archives: March 2021

Why Chickens Are the Ultimate Anti-Waste Weapon!

Photo Photo by Erik Karits from Pexels

Chickens and green eco-living go hand in hand. Hens are a great part of the ecosystem of a healthy garden, and they also ‘recycle’ a lot of food that would otherwise be thrown away.

Converting scraps into eggs is a powerful symbol of eco-friendly living. Keeping your own hens is also a significant step in the direction of a ‘green’ lifestyle. No intensive rearing, crowded barns or other ethical issues involved!

Kitchen scraps can be a healthy supplement to your hens’ pellet-based diet. Chickens are omnivorous and will eat most of the things you offer them, including cooked pasta, wholemeal bread (soaked in water to avoid it swelling in the bird’s crop), green vegetables, cereals, cooked meat (nothing cured or salted), banana, sunflower seeds, alfalfa, pumpkin, courgette, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and cucumbers. If you hang a cabbage or broccoli stalks in the chicken run, the hens will have great fun pecking at it.

Treats such as bread, cereals and pasta should only be fed in moderation, as they have little nutritional value and can cause your chickens to pile on the pounds. Dairy products and too much lettuce (especially Iceberg varieties) can cause diarrhea, so these should also be avoided.

Chickens enjoy many garden plants, including nettles and dandelions. There are several toxic wild foods, though, and this is a hazard when feeding wild-sourced foods. A good starting place is the Plants and Foods that are Poisonous for Chickens page in Omlet’s online chicken guide.

Foods that should never be given to chickens

Potatoes, tomatoes, and aubergines (eggplant) are in the Nightshade family, and they are toxic for chickens. That applies to all raw forms of these foods. The toxic ingredient, solanine, is broken down when the plants are cooked, and so cooked potatoes or tomatoes will not cause problems.

The other everyday foods that you should never feed to chickens are apple seeds, avocados, chocolate and other confectionary, salty foods such as bacon, cheese and crisps, dried raw beans and pulses, and raw garlic, onions and leeks.

Citrus fruits are mildly toxic, and although they will not kill your chickens, if fed in excess they will cause diarrhea and a drop in egg production.

 

 

Photo by Tetiana Bykovets on Unsplash

It also needs emphasizing that all kitchen scraps offered to chickens should be fresh. Any moldy food should be thrown away and not fed to chickens, other pets, or wild birds.

Overripe and wilted vegetables or stale bread are all fine as long as there is no mold present.                                                              Photo by Ayda Oz on Unsplash

You should only feed wild plants to chickens if you know they are safe. First, you need to identify the plant. If you are in any doubt, don’t give the plant to your chickens.

…And don’t forget the chicken manure

The food waste fed to chickens isn’t all transformed into eggs, of course. Some of it is ejected as chicken poo, and this is an excellent fertilizer once it has been rotted down. Chickens droppings should never be applied fresh to vegetable or flower beds, but should be added to the compost heap along with the soiled bedding from the coop.

In intensive hen farms, waste is a big problem, as run-off from accumulated chicken droppings can pollute rivers. On the small scale of backyard hens, though, composted chicken poo is a great benefit to the garden.

How chickens help you stop wasting food

When you feed kitchen scraps to chickens, you suddenly become aware of what you and your family are wasting. Those scraps are all things that were being routinely thrown away before you invested in a chicken coop and a few hens.

This may make you reassess your buying and cooking habits, and it puts the notion of food waste into a new perspective. As a result, you may stop cooking more than you need, and you may stop bulk-buying and keeping veg in the fridge until it rots. If finances are tight, these details can make a big difference to the family budget.

To begin with, you may have enjoyed taking all those leftovers out to the hens, but once you start to question the cost of it all, it gets you thinking. How much are you effectively ‘spending’ on kitchen waste for your chickens? After all, the hens can get all the nourishment they need from a diet of layers pellets, grain, grit and lots of dandelion leaves. They don’t actually need those kitchen scraps.

Once you’ve found a balance here that suits your lifestyle, it can lead to other positive changes in your attitude to waste and sustainability in general. Your chickens can teach you, in a roundabout way, to reduce food waste, and that poses the question – what other waste could you reduce? The list here is endless, but it begins with single-use plastics and other environmentally unfriendly products and packaging. We’ve moved a long way from the throwaway culture of previous decades, but there’s still a long way to go.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

How local communities use chickens for anti-waste campaigns

Some communities have taken this thinking to its logical conclusion, reducing personal waste on the one hand and, on the other, making sure nothing is wasted. Chickens are the beneficiaries here. Any appropriate waste food – from households, restaurants or shops – is collected and fed to the communal flock. The hens convert the waste into eggs, which are enjoyed by everyone involved in the community scheme. There is very little extra expenditure involved, so people are, in effect, getting their eggs for free.

To give a large-scale example of this, in Austin, Texas, a local authority pioneered a zero-waste food program a few years ago, paying people in the area to keep backyard chickens. The hens were fed solely on waste food, of sufficient variety and high quality to satisfy the birds’ nutritional requirements. The goal was to reduce the amount of food entering landfills. In redirecting it to backyard chickens instead, there has been a substantial reduction in landfill-derived methane emissions.

Some schools in the UK, the USA and elsewhere have taken up this anti-waste challenge too, channelling the community’s waste food to their chickens. It’s certainly food for thought!

The thought of household waste being converted into fresh eggs is a very pleasing one. Taking that concept to the community level is an exciting idea, and it’s possible that such schemes are about to become commonplace.

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This entry was posted in Chickens on March 30th, 2021 by alisa.deluca


Pride of Omlet: The Constant Companion

This article is a part of our Pride of Omlet series, a collection of amazing stories which shine the spotlight on extraordinary pets and share their selflessness, bravery, talent and compassion with the world.

-Written by Anneliese Paul

Martha’s humans, Nicola and Ben, bought chickens to bring joy to Julia, their mother who they cared for at home. The family could never have imagined that a chicken would become a caring companion to Julia in the advanced stages of dementia.

Julia used to have chickens as a child. She fondly told Nicola stories about dressing up the chickens and wheeling them around the garden, like babies in her toy stroller. However, it wasn’t until her 90th birthday that Julia actually owned chickens again. It was a dream come true.

Nicola and Ben always thought they didn’t have enough space in their bungalow garden, but while visiting relatives in Ireland, Ben saw an Omlet ad and brought it home to show Nicola. “That’s just what we need,” she said. The Eglu arrived soon after, and then their two hybrid chickens moved in. Julia named them Martha and Mary.

While Mary was always shy and kept her distance. From day one Martha ran to Julia, Nicola’s mum. “She was mom’s best friend from the beginning,” says Nicola.

Unfortunately, Mary died and then there was a near miss for Martha. Like most people, the family liked to let their hens roam free in the backyard for a bit, but one day a fox came into the garden and attacked Martha. Nicola and Ben heard her squawking and went to the window. The fox saw them and ran, leaving poor Martha very shaken and suffering from a broken wing. Martha was brave though, and luckily the wing has completely healed. Now Ben and Nicola have extended the run so the chickens only come out when they are present in the garden.

When it was sunny, Julia liked to sit outside in the sun watching Martha. Julia had to use a wheelchair, and Martha would jump (in a very ladylike way) onto the footrest to warm her feet. Last Summer when Julia could no longer speak in sentences, she’d make gentle noises and Martha would answer back. She’d sit for hours by the wheelchair with Julia, having quiet conversations.

Nicola couldn’t deny Martha had a human quality. She didn’t just come for crumbs because she was there when there weren’t any. Martha cared.

“She went from a chicken, running around the garden then in those moments with mom, it was like she knew. It was beautiful.”

Nicola began to trust Martha to squawk loudly if something was wrong. When she went into the house to make a cup of tea, she’d leave Julia in the garden with Martha.

“It was weird,” says Nicola “ Martha would squawk, and I’d go out to find Mom had dropped something, or something had fallen off the table, or Mom was confused because she didn’t remember where I was.”

 

Martha was the thing that made Julia smile every time, and her eggs brought so much joy to Julia in the advanced stages of dementia. Boiled was her favorite, and Martha would let them all know when it was ready to be collected. When Martha lays an egg, she stands at the edge of the run and squawks and squawks as if to say, “Come and get my egg!”

Julia loved holding Martha’s warm eggs. Once, when Julia was having a nap, Nicola took her the freshly laid egg. She’d just woken up, and a big smile spread across her face, then she fell asleep again holding it. A couple of hours later, Nicola went to wake her up. Julia sat up. All of a sudden, the egg rolled out from behind her as if she’d laid it on the bed. Incredibly it was completely intact. “Are you laying eggs now?” asked Nicola. Julia understood, and that made them all laugh. It was the happiest occasion, just an egg rolling along the sheet. Julia kept the egg in her hand for the rest of the day. Moments like that are precious memories to Nicola and Ben.

Sadly, Julia died in September. When Julia was alive, it was Mom and Martha, Nicola says. She never thought she’d make a connection with chickens. However, having seen how Martha cared, chickens have become constant companions.

I think we’ll probably always have chickens because they get under your skin. Well, no, that’s a bad expression. They become part of you. They’re like a little family.”

 

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This entry was posted in Chickens on March 30th, 2021 by alisa.deluca