This fall at PCV, we watched Chicken Run, the Claymation film that presents chickens as clever captives who hilariously escape the farmer’s hatchet. What other blockbuster portrays chickens as freedom fighters? After all, for most of us, chickens are simply food. We here are lucky, because we get to enjoy chickens as lively, curious fellow creatures while eating their eggs and, now and then, the birds themselves.
I was gone from PCV when the first chickens arrived, so the pungent odor wafting from the garage that greeted my return surprised me. I saw straw mats covering a large mound on the cold concrete and went in to touch the top—warm! Who wouldn’t be curious about a mysterious pile agitating in the garage? I already knew that PCV was making our own feed because 90% of the market feed available includes U.S. imports of genetically modified corn and often, growth hormones. It was time to study what a sumptuous feast our birds dine on. The bulk of their diet is rice. Should it surprise that Japanese chickens like what Japanese people like? They get rice in the form of flour, bran, hulls, and hull charcoal.
Where we live in the mountains of Hiroshima Prefecture, rice flour is available as byproduct of sake brewing. Our local brewer takes the processed white kernel eaten at the table and shaves off another 50 percent! The part removed and sold cheaply is high-quality white rice.
Rice bran, where the nutrients reside, is not part of the typical Japanese diet. So, our chickens get the healthiest part of the grain—and for free. Rice hull (husk) goes in for roughage, to improve digestion. Carbonized rice hull adsorbs toxins from water-borne organisms and decomposing materials.
Then there’s okara (soy pulp), the part of the bean that remains after tofu is filtered out. The high-protein byproduct is available anywhere in Japan. In cities, okara is sold in supermarkets. In the countryside, the tofu maker gives away the healthy mash. It comes to us so moist and warm, it’s practically decomposing on the shovel that hauls it to the mound. Its swift decay will supercharge the process. Added for calcium are pulverized oyster shells and egg shells—our chickens’ own!
Once we’ve mixed the mound we created of these ingredients, we dig a large crater into its top. (Proportions are given at the end of this piece and on the video Making the Chicken Feed available on Facebook.) Into the depression we pour the stewed fish waste and work it in fast. The delightful potpourri of intestines, liver, bladder, fins, scales, and gills creates the alchemy that will transform the powdery blend into a fermentation project. Beneficial bacteria turn the medley into probiotics for chickens. Different parts of fish putrefy at different rates, galvanizing fermentation over a period of two weeks. We turn the pile daily, and it can feel hot to the fingers! When we call it done and pack it up for the coop, it carries the aromatic warmth of microbes slaving away at their spectacular project.
The tasty eggs and uppity claims of our feathered friends tell us that every effort for the living mound on the garage floor is worth it.
Chicken feed ingredients (parts per one hundred)
Rice flour (komekona) 米粉 ３０
Fish brew 魚 ２７
Rice bran (komenuka) 米糠 ２０
Tofu pulp/soybeans (okara) おから １５
Oyster shells/Egg shells 蠣殻/卵殻 ５
Rice hulls (momigara) 籾殻 ２
Carbonized rice hulls (kuntan) くん炭 １