FEEDING THE FINICKY— April 2019

By Diane Lockspeiser

““The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley” [go oft awry] – Robert Burns 1785

Back in November, as I snuggled down with several books in my comfy chair near the sunny windows and the warm wood stove, my daughter arrived with her two small children. So much for quiet reading or staying in a comfy chair.  They ended up spending three months here as my daughter went for long-overdue treatments for an old injury.  I don’t get to see my grandchildren very often, so it was a delightful visit despite the circumstances, especially since it extended through the entire holiday season.

However, as we all know, young children tend to be finicky eaters.  Add into the mix that they were not accustomed to their hippie grandma’s organic health-food ways.  Even usually easy sells like oatmeal nut raisin cookies became a problem for a while when front teeth were loose and sensitive.  Once the Tooth Fairy got those pesky things out of the way, we soon had the opposite dilemma of setting limits to the number of cookies per person to be consumed each day!

Dinners, of course, were the biggest challenge. The children wanted things very plain and very simple.  Grandpa and I got tired of very plain and very simple.  I learned to cook up those basic ingredients first and put some aside for the children’s dinner before adding more ingredients, especially the vegetables and spices they were not familiar with.  To add an extra twist, my daughter was on a restricted diet and so I often had to pull out a serving for her before adding the forbidden-to-her ingredients which Steve and I still wanted to have.  We soon settled into a comfortable routine that everyone was happy with.

Then I ran out of chicken feed.  When I had first started to buy feed, I had a hard time finding organic feed.  I had also been advised to buy what’s called “laying mash,” not pellets.  I was told that pellets often disguised inferior feed.  Mash is a blend of whole separate grains that are not processed together into pellets.  Someone had given me the number of a supplier who turned out to be located by the Finger Lakes, too far to be worth shipping the relatively small quantities I needed.  BUT they happened to be making an emergency delivery to a dairy farm near Delhi that week, a farm that usually grows their own feed but had a problem with mold that year.  So my first bags of mash hitched a ride on that truck full of cow feed. We met the truck at the farm to get the feed and were all set for a while, giving me time to search for a local supplier.

I soon found one in Delhi where I was happily buying top-quality feed for years. This last time, however, we found that he had stopped carrying the organic laying mash. It turns out that because Tractor Supply had started to sell organic feed, he wasn’t selling enough of the feed to be worth continuing to take up his limited space. The problem for me and my girls is that Tractor Supply is only selling pellets and crumbles (smashed up pellets), not mash.

The chickens were NOT happy with the new feed, at first refusing to eat much, if any. I tried mixing in some treat grains (what’s called scratch) to entice them, and that made things worse. They started throwing the pellets around in order to get just the scratch.  I had no choice but to keep trying, and gradually they did start eating the pellets.  At that point I discovered the crumble.  I don’t know if they like it better or if they’ve just gotten used to the new taste, but at least they are eating it.

Everything settled down again. Soon my daughter and grandchildren went back home, and it felt too quiet for a while. However, it’s springtime – time for new baby chicks.  I brought six home (a new breed, unromantically called Production Red) and set them up as I usually do.  After a few days, I noticed that their feed began to run out much too quickly. The feeder is a simple thing that attaches to a Mason jar and seems to be working normally. Could they be eating that much already?

It turns out that these new chicks don’t like the feed being in the feeder. They were pulling it out of the holes and scattering it into their bedding. Then they happily scratch and peck in the bedding. I gave up putting the feed into the feeder, just giving them a pile of it in the middle of the enclosure. They can scratch and peck at it to their heart’s delight.

As long as everyone is eating healthy food, I’m happy. To each his own.~