Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tightwad Tips for Home Poultry Raising

Many people who've long wanted to try having a few backyard chickens for eggs or even meat are now pursuing that dream as more and more cities relax their home poultry laws in this economic downturn. In their enthusiasm, some, (like some folks who've taken my Urban Farmsteading classes) end up racking up costs that could take years to recoup. As a pathologically cheap tightwad I've long grown much of my own food to SAVE money along with insuring it be organic....for years now I've applied that same El Cheapo mindset to raising free range chickens. Here are some tips for cutting or eliminating costs:

1.I made my large, spacious, hurricane and predator proof henhouse from several large chain link driveway gates I scrounged curbside years ago during our annual neighborhood Large Item day when folks set out TONS of stuff for special pick up. I built it atop four layers of carpet to insure that racoons and opposums can't dig their way in.

2.Chicken feed is expensive: I dumpster dive the discarded lunch items from the CC's Pizza Buffet and the Chinese fusion restaurant Tampa Buffet...starting Friday the Tampa Buffet will start saving for me a 5 gallon bucket of the discarded buffet items as I have long given them eggs now and then anyway. This will be helpful as most times the garbage bag of freshly dumped food is at the bottom of the dumpster, and FAR too heavy to lift up. Many people have commented on how vibrantly healthy my chickens look compared to those fed commercial feed. Between the restaurant scraps, leftovers, weeds and bugs, my chickens eat very well and at ZERO cost to me.

3. To feed baby chicks, I run dry dog food nuggets through the blender as a very cheap high protein "chick starter". As they age, I add chopped fresh grass and veggie leaves, add an occasional drop of iodine to their water to discourage disease (some feed stores sell pricey Lugol's Solution for this purpose), and slowly work them up to restaurant scraps.

4.Older chickens often readily kill baby chicks unless they are slowly introduced. I recently took a large bird cage I scrounged curbside, laid it on its side atop the quail pen, wired closed all the doors but the one facing front, and turned it into a cozy place to acclimate chicks to outdoor conditions and in view of the adult free range chickens. Since it is winter, I filled a Pyrex dish with sand and set it atop a discarded heating pad to acclimate them to cooler temps (they hatch at 102!!). They love to dustbathe in it as it faces south, then sleep in it night for the warmth as they huddle together with the cage covered by a dumpster dived thermal bedcover.

5. Oyster shell grit for their gizzards and eggshell growth is so expensive, so each time I go to the beach I fill a 5 gallon bucket with seashell grit from the high tide line. People I give surplus eggs to comment how HARD they have to whack the eggs to get them open after a lifetime of eating frail factory farmed eggs.

6.To be healthy, chickens MUST have plenty of raw green plant matter, so I feed them weeds and grow a "chicken pasture" in a small fenced off area where I toss in left over veggie seeds or bird seed I dumpster dive, water and let grow. Every few weeks I open the gate and the chickens EAGERLY buzz down the sprouts, especially the sprouted millet and sunflower seeds in the bird seed mixes. I close the gate, let the plants regrow a few weeks, then repeat. Their diet precludes ANY perceived "need" for antibiotics.

7.Chicken bedding for their nests is expensive.....I keep my eyes while driving around town for bags of pine needles set out for the garbage man. Occasionally I will find a discarded bale of hay, which takes care of the nests in the henhouse for months.

8.Instead of buying watering bottles for the baby chicks, I just serve their water in glass ashtrays I found years ago in dumpsters....they hold ample water that is easily changed when soiled, but are too shallow for the baby chicks to drown in.

Attached are pics of the modified bird cage atop the quail pen, 4 eggs I took out of the nest this morning, plus pics of me and the crew of Animal Planet's "Most Extreme" show when they did a segment a few years back about how I feed my chickens for free, plus a segment they did on my trippy livingroom art project that is composed almost entirely from dumpster rescues. They were great guys to work with, and I had the joy of seeing one a few weeks later get his Academy Award as sound man for 'Lord of the Rings'. We had a blast doing the dumpster shoots, then eating tons of sushi at 'Crazy Buffet' two days later! Since I can post just 5 pics at a time, the Animal Planet "Most Extreme" pics will be in a follow-up posting.



  1. Dear John, Having been to one of your winter
    lessons and having made THREE of your water saving gardens and growing LOTS of veges,I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your chickens, I would like , perhaps, a list of the veges that you grow in Penny

  2. Thanks Penny for your kind comments.....I will post that list of winter veggies for central and south Florida very soon.

  3. Can you send me the link to the City of Tampa rules regarding chicken keeping? I'd like to read them myself to be sure of what I can and can't do in the city. I have looked on the website and can't find it using their search functions. My husband and friends took your urban farmsteading class after you spoke at our Daylily club last year. We're ready to take the chicken plunge now and want to stay legal. thanks! Cari