By Andrew Clinard
The Quail Springs' poultry flock is quite an army - upwards of 100 chickens and 32 ducks. They are crucial to food production, pumping out an impressive amount of eggs and meat. Foraging is their favorite pastime, the chickens race out of their five-star mobile hotel at sunrise and start hunting. This foraging is, however, supplemented with organic grain pellets - the major cost of the operation. These pellets are made up of grains and alfalfa, which require substantial amounts of water, shipping, and processing.
Getting creative about inputs is a key part of permaculture, so we are getting to work raising our own chicken feed. Duckweed (Lemna minor and other species) is a common, simple aquatic plant rich in protein (30-50%) that makes a lot of sense as poultry feed - it grows quickly and with little water. Some chickens will prefer duckweed dried, and many will ignore it at first. Our chickens started eating it wet the second time it showed up in their bins.
There is nothing easier than growing duckweed. We sourced some from a friend, and it took off in a barrel filled with water. A duckweed colony can double in size every 2-6 days. Upgrading from a barrel, we used part of an IBC tote for its great surface area, and again the duckweed formed a thick mat within days. At our site we have not needed to add any oxygen to the water. And as the plant does better with some nutrients, we top off the container with some water from the aquaponics tank. Other great sources of fertility would be a little compost tea, or a little fish emulsion. Duckweed is hardy, thriving in a wide pH range (5-9), full sun, and water temperatures above 60F.
Give duckweed a shot with your poultry, and let us know how it goes!