Here at HM Ranch we are set up to weather problems of all kinds. We, like many, have noticed that we live in “uncertain times” and that’s why we set the ranch up the way it is. Like I’ve stated in other articles, we are not doomsayers, but are setup and prepared for tough times no matter what the reason. Whether times are good or bad, our lifestyle stays about the same.
In this article I will explain how protein can be grown for free and dispensed right in your chicken yard, while only needing to deal with it about 10 minutes every few weeks or so. The dispenser also has another benefit that I will cover later in this article.
Now I’ll explain what this is and how it works: the high protein feed ismaggots! Unfortunately, that immediately turns a lot of people off. (Maggots do not end up in your eggs or meat.) Nutrition is nutrition. This is “all natural” 101!
Today, mankind has gotten so far away from the basics that now only processed foods seem acceptable. Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to processed foods. Bugs and greens “as is” are not feasible for commercial operations or for easy distribution. But if the cost of feed continues to rise or if one little “burp” in the system happens, it can leave you without chicken feed. Folks need to have alternatives. Again, these are uncertain times, which call for creativity, resourcefulness and action. Bugs, worms, slugs, maggots and greens are the most natural diet for chickens and have been since the good Lord made the first one (or maybe the egg came first).
Any time you see a chicken out in a field scratching and digging, that’s what it’s after. You would be surprised at just how many bugs are eaten. Hundreds of maggots, worms, grubs, etc., are eaten by the average homestead chicken in any typical day, so I am not proposing anything new in feed type here, only an easy and free way to grow and dispense feed and, most importantly in our opinion, enforce a self-reliant lifestyle. A fairly high percentage of egg production can be maintained with this alternative-maggots and greens.
The components that make up the unit.
Our dispenser is what I would consider a deluxe model, mainly because of the vent system I fabricated, which is also used to hang the unit. The maggots fall to the ground and are very clean. I like to place a piece of plywood under the unit to keep the maggots out of the dirt. (We don’t want dirty maggots!) There is very little odor from our dispenser because of the vent system. It is easy to load with virtually no maintenance needed. As the pictures show, the main component is a five-gallon bucket. I cut the bottom out of it while leaving a 1″ lip to hold a round piece of grate (or heavy wire mesh). After that was installed I rolled some light wire mesh into a cylinder shape the diameter of a coffee can lid (which stays at the bottom of the wire cylinder and both are placed on the grate). That is where the dispenser is loaded, or “charged.” This wire cylinder holds the charge and keeps it from falling out. The charge can be many different things. For us we will use any meat, scraps, guts, road kill, etc. (Raw, fatty meat products are best.) We do not use chicken. Although if worse came to worst, we would, if that was all we had. We just feel better using something other than chicken under normal circumstances. Nor would I use anything sick or dying. For the most part, we use jackrabbit in ours, but unfortunately jackrabbits are very lean and tend to dry out quickly, so we save our fryer grease and add that to the carcass.
The rabbits absolutely need to be “thinned” out here occasionally, so it is easy and the only cost is a .22 shell (or a few, depending on how my aim is on any given day).
At any rate, I wait for a good clean shot so as to limit any pain and suffering. We have to deal with jackrabbits anyway, at least they can be used in a productive manner with this system. Our dispenser will hold two. After I kill the rabbit, I’ll run the whole thing through our chipper shredder machine (which does not take long). This basically tears it to shreds but still leaves the bulk of the carcass attached to itself. Now that “mess” is put into the wire cylinder inside the unit. After that, Mother Nature does the rest.
I mentioned ours as being a deluxe model and I’ll explain. The hanger/vent was made out of scrap pipe. At the top I inserted a long piece of ABS pipe. The horizontal hanger is another short pipe that is welded over a hole that I cut in the main vertical pipe. A little below that are two more short pieces of pipe in a v-shape that stick out on each side of the hanging bucket. These just serve as bumpers (I’ll explain why shortly). On the lid of our bucket, I inserted an appropriate sized PVC coupler and a piece of auto heater vent hose, which attaches from there up to the hanging pipe. This is how the odor is vented up and out at the top of the long ABS pipe. Like the vent system, the “skirt” that was installed on the bucket is certainly not a necessity but does perform some added functions. First, it keeps smaller birds from hanging off the bottom trying to eat their fill. Second, the skirt serves as a wind catch. Third, as the chickens go for the maggots they hit the skirt to hopefully dislodge a few more. Fourth, it helps keep the charge from drying out (very important). I did drill one small hole in the center at the top of the bucket’s lid to allow for moisture to be added onto the charge if needed.
Christin shows off the high protein dispenser.
Helping Mother Nature
Now I’ll explain how it works and why it was set-up this way and how it helps Mother Nature do her job. First, you want to install your dispenser at least 20 feet away from the chicken house (preferably in the shade). This will help draw the flies away from the flock. (This is the other benefit of having a unit in your chicken yard.) The flies are immediately drawn to the charge. They then lay their larvae on the charge. Each larvae has hundreds of eggs which in a day or so turn into maggots and they feed on the charge. As they grow larger, gravity is more of a factor and with just one misstep they fall to the ground to be eaten by a waiting chicken. After the initial charge, the maggots should start dropping in about five days and there is continuous production from then on (as long as it is charged occasionally).
The bumpers and skirt help the process in that when the wind blows, the resistance on the skirt swings the bucket into the bumper to gently bang and dislodge more maggots. The one thing that we do not want is maggots turning into flies. A dispenser of this size will provide plenty of tasty, much-needed high protein snacks for a medium size flock and that’s what this project started out to be, but I quickly realized that this can be “sized up” to provide a large portion of a flock’s nutritional needs. A person could easily (probably more easily than this original unit) modify a 55-gallon drum and charge it just like you would throw garbage into a dumpster with a lid. A dispenser that large would provide a lot of food for a sizable flock. This is easy and very inexpensive. Having a scrap pile, ours was free except for a few sticks of welding rod for the hanger (which again is not a necessity).
But like I said before, modern-day folks do not like these basic ways, so we personally would not sell eggs using this as a primary feed method, but “if” times got real tough we would. But we would be up front with our customers, and if they felt uncomfortable and bought eggs elsewhere, we would understand. It’s just a good idea to have a high protein dispenser on hand or the knowledge to quickly build one, just in case.
Can’t help but wonder how all of you “all natural only” egg eaters are feeling right about now…
HM Ranch’s DVD titled “Hoard’s Hillbilly Heaven” includes a tour of HM Ranch. The “poor man’s” guide to low-cost comfortable off-grid living, featuring an educational workshop detailing how we use the scrap pile to build our own inexpensive utility-generating devices. Available on eBay.