To be successful in raising pastured poultry, at least in my experience, you will need to find and use a great feed supplement or “pre-mix”. One great resource we have found has been that of Helfter Feeds located in Central Illinois (http://helfterfeeds.com).
Helfter offers a full line of livestock supplements that help make certain your livestock are getting the minerals they need in order to be productive, and, in our case, that means vibrant, healthy animals who have good weight gain. Even though we only use transitional organic corn and roasted soybeans for our feeds, the grains are often times being farmed on ground that has been abused for some time, and, in many cases, this means decades of farming practices that has killed anything good in the soil.
No organic matter finds its way back into the subsoil to feed earthworms and micro-organisms, leaving it devoid of real nutritive value. While many of these fields are now being repaired by caring row crop farmers who are using sustainable methods, the grains simply don’t have access to the minerals they, and hence the livestock, need from the soil alone.
Your animal is what it eats. This makes using a supplement like Helfter essential. But be warned, there is no shortage of supplements available on the market for everything from a carrot to a cow and anything in between. They are costly, often times promise the world, and it is easy to go overboard with them. In short, proceed with caution and look for real results. While the long term goal is to repair the land so that we can minimize costly inputs such as these, that doesn’t do us any good in the here and now. Case in point: After we began using Helfter feeds, we noticed an immediate improvement in our pastured broilers. We had fewer leg problems, fewer heart attacks and the birds simply looked more vibrant. This single supplement isn’t a one step cure all for the shortcomings of the Cornish Cross, but it sure goes a long way towards making your labor pay off in the end.
One thing I learned early on, however, about using these supplements is that you have to think for yourself. We originally began using Fertrell Company supplements, but due to a lack of dealers in our area and increased cost over Helfter, we switched. Our grain mill was also able to stock Helfter feeds which made the decision easy for us. However, Fertrell recommended using fish meal in conjunction with its pre-mix and Helfter did not. While I liked Helfter for many reasons, it seemed to me in watching the birds that they were missing something. Our weight gain wasn’t quite where I thought it should be and after two batches of sub-par weights compared with using the Fertrell product, I insisted that our grain mill call Helfter about the use of fish meal. Helfter contended that no fish meal was needed and that the protein requirements were met with roasted soybeans, but the proof, as they say, is in the proverbial pudding – and my pudding was lacking.
Finally, we got some numbers out of Helfter for removing “x” pounds of roasted soybeans and replacing it with “x” pounds of organic fish meal. The next batch of birds was off the chart in terms of weight gain. I’m not a biologist, so I can’t be certain what it was about the fish meal protein that made such a huge difference in our weight gain, but it sure did work. Protein is protein, but I can only assume that the amino acids in the fish meal are somehow more bio-available to the chickens or provided something they were lacking.
In any case, it has been a real success since then. No matter who you choose to use, be sure and do your research and track the progress. Don’t be afraid to try different supplement companies and compare them against one another. You are spending good money on these so you obviously want to get the best bang for the buck that you can. Keeping good notes and tracking the data will lead you to that end.