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Preparing for Passover can make you remember why there aren’t so many Jewish farmers. The craziness of cleaning your house of the last crumb of chametz (the leavened form of the five grains not eaten on Passover, namely wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt) is exhausting enough.
But once you add livestock into the mix, we are talking a whole other category of craziness. This year, for the first time ever, we had 13 egg-laying chickens, 28 dual-purpose chicks between 4-6 weeks that we are mostly raising for meat, 8-week old Khaki Cambell ducks, and… 9 tiny, one-day-old turkey poults that we picked up the day before Erev Pesach because they hatchery switched the date on us.
As you can imagine, the last few months were a little more stressful than usual as I tried to figure out how to pull it all off without having to sell and move my entire flock to a non-Jewish neighbor. My husband even spoke to several rabbis responsible for chicken questions of national kosher certification organizations, but it all comes down to knowing the basics and deciding what you are comfortable with.
I am sharing this information in the hope to 1) spare others the aggravation, frustration, and sleepless nights, and 2) encourage other Jews to get into chicken keeping. Grow your own food — there is nothing like your own pasture-raised meat or eggs! Please note: I am not a rabbinic authority nor a poultry nutritional expert. Please adjust as you see fit, but I welcome any feedback you might have for me.
What Are The Problems With
Chickens & Co. During Passover?
Essentially, the issues are the chametz in the feed and their housing.
I will not go into how to clean the chicken coop for Passover — please consult your local rabbinic authorities to get their advice. But here is what we did: Because we are a Permaculture homestead, we moved our layer chickens from the cattle panel greenhouse into their spring/summer/fall mobile chicken tractor unto pasture and cleaned out the deep litter that they had been building up over the winter. Then we moved the chicks from the basement into the greenhouse with new bedding and clean, chametz-free feeders and composted their brooder bedding. Since the turkeys came just before Passover, they are still in their brooder tub upstairs.
What I fretted about most was what to feed them. I am very picky what my poultry eats because we are raising them for eggs and meat and if I go through the trouble of raising them, I want the best quality protein I can muster. Year-round I am feeding them New Country Organics feed which is not only non-GMO, organic, and soy-free, but also minimally processed (think whole grains, nut crumble or pellets).
For months I researched online and scoured all my chicken and poultry keeping books for every bit of information I could get my hands on. I contrasted and compared dozens of feed recipes — with questionable outcome. Honestly, I was completely overwhelmed. Every recipe was entirely different yet included almost always wheat and soy. If I did find a wheat-free recipe, it had oats, barley, or both in it. Then there was the question of how to process it. We would need a feed grinder.
Ultimately, I decided to adjust Joel Salatin’s Pastured Poultry Profits rations (if you haven’t already, buy the book — it’s life-changing). It could meet my requirements and could be adjusted to use the available unprocessed feed components of my feed mill.
Big thanks to Kevin from New Country Organics for looking it over and suggesting a few changes. This made me feel a lot more comfortable that I had the right recipe.
Kosher For Passover Layer Chicken Feed Recipe (17% Protein)
While commercial growers use medicated feed including more than 30 components that get adjusted with each week of the bird’s life to squeeze the maximum productivity out of them, my goal is optimal health and happiness for my birds. Our mantra is “bugs not drugs.”
Let’s start with the layer chicken recipe as this is my base recipe. New Country Organics had field peas, corn, and milo (also called grain sorghum) available as kitniyot grains. According to the Start-K, all those are permissible to be fed to pets during Passover. This gave me a starting point.
As you probably know, egg-laying pullets require about 17% of protein which provided me the starting point of my calculations.
Although some studies suggest that field peas should not make up more than 25% of an egg-layer ration, the majority of the protein comes from the 40% of peas as the feed will only be given for 8-10 days. The rest of the protein is made up from fish meal (68% protein content) and alfalfa pellets (which contains 15% protein but also supplies plenty of chlorophyll and amino acids). The chickens are outside all day eating bugs which make up for any protein needs that we might miss.
Milo and corn are very similar in terms of energy content, but milo is slightly more nutritious and higher in protein than corn or wheat (11% vs. 3%). Therefore, I used 20% of corn and milo each. Finally, to be sure that I have all the vitamins and nutrients they need, I added 3% Fertrell Poultry Nutribalancer, a complete vitamin and mineral supplement approved for organically raised chickens, and kelp for an added boost!
Adaptations For Chicks & Turkey Poults
Depending on their age, chicks and turkey poults require a much higher protein level. For example, chicks up to 6 weeks old should be fed a ration containing 20-22% protein, while turkey poults need 27% protein in the first 4 weeks of life.
I adjusted the ratio to get the protein content I need without sacrificing the nutritional value. To be honest, this is where I am the most nervous. There is so much that can go wrong when you are dealing with tiny but rapidly developing and always growing bodies. So far, they all have been eating it and they all are happy.
How Much Feed & How To Process It?
After having figured out the ratio, I needed to figure out how much I would need. On average, our egg-laying hens eat about 0.25-0.3 lbs per day (or 39 lbs for 10 days). Our 30 chicks would need about 0.0625 lbs. per day per chick. That makes about 2 lbs per day or 20 lbs. for 10 days.
Add in the turkeys and the ducks, we would have to grind between 80-100 pounds of feed! Silly me. I ordered a feed grinder from Amazon which we tried out for 20 seconds with corn a week before Passover started just to make sure it works. It wasn’t great, and it would mean a lot of elbow grease, but it looked like it would be okay.
Nope, when we started to grind feed in earnest at the last minute, the feed mill broke within a few minutes of using it. I panicked for about two seconds but then had a huge AHA! moment. I realized, we soak our feed the rest of the year (thanks to Justin Rhodes Permaculture Chicken Course), why not now?
Soaking your feed overnight makes it not only softer so you could put it into a food processor but also allows your birds to extract more nutrition from their feed. It also allows the kelp and other nutrients to stick to the bigger pieces, resulting in less waste. And, they love to eat it that way!
And that’s what we did. For next year, we will get food-grade buckets, but in a pinch, our Home Depot buckets had to do. We measured enough for 3 days of the layer ration and the chick ration and added water. Make sure your feed is submerged 2 inches under water to prevent mold from growing. It will swell up significantly, so be sure to check it and add more water as needed.
I used our kosher for Passover food processor to blitz the food into smaller chunks for the bigger chicks and into a small mash for the little ones. As you can see in the picture above, I can’t even close the feeder fast enough because they immediately devour it.
I hope you find this information useful. If you have any feedback, I would love to hear it in the comments or email me directly.