Grit Blogs > Natural Chicken Keeping

This Season, Don't Forget Your Chickens!

Leigh Schlling Edwards‘Tis the season, and we all know what that means! It means Black Friday is always spent tracking down and bringing home…

… that perfect trophy buck! And in my case it means spending the rest of the day explaining to my youngest child that I am not, in fact, skinning one of Santa’s reindeer.

Oh – what? You thought I was going to say “Black Friday Shopping?” OK – we can call it “deer shopping” if that’s your thing…

For us, deer hunting is one of the primary ways we feed our family through the winter months (and spring, summer and fall if we do really well). We also supplement our diets by raising chickens for both eggs and meat.

Have you ever thought about how deer hunting and chicken keeping could be partnered in the perfect symbiotic relationship? OK – neither had I until I got into an online discussion with some other chicken-keeping friends about boosting meat protein in the diets of our flocks. And that’s when the “why didn’t I think of that” suggestion was brought up of keeping most of the deer organs you would normally discard while field dressing a deer. 

Hunting is somewhat of a family tradition. My father was born and raised in Wyoming, and his mother taught him all there was to know about hunting deer and elk. Like most parents passing on important knowledge, she taught him about field dressing … and now here I come, the 40-something whippersnapper that I am, hollering about not leaving all those wonderful organs behind!

Personally I toss the intestines, though there are plenty of other uses for those too. But as for the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver … well if you’re not going to eat them, your chickens certainly will! And to top it off, it’s good for them. These organs (especially the liver and kidneys) are rich in vitamins A, B and iron. If left to their own devices, nearly 80 percent of a chicken’s diet is made up of bugs. Chickens will also happily hunt lizards, field mice and other forms of meat protein to supplement their diets.

It’s important to know that most commercial chicken feeds have no meat protein in them at all – they are heavily regulated by the FDA concerning ruminant meat protein … but that’s fodder for a whole different article there! Unfortunately, this vegetarian diet is not the most natural diet for chickens.

So – we bring the hearts, kidneys, livers and a few other choice pieces home and, once I have processed the rest of the deer, I toss these things as well as the tongues, testes and brains into the meat grinder and create treats that my chickens will fight over!

chicken treat
Manual meat grinder with chicken treat

When you grind these organs, expect the result to be a bit watery and mushy. Sort of a pungent, gelatinous ooze of vitamin-rich goodness. But don’t discard the liquid. It will help these treats freeze together nicely. (Expect young children … and perhaps some old children … to wrinkle their noses at the livery smell … and then offer them some for a good laugh!)

For easy, serving-size treats, I use a muffin pan and cut tin foil into squares to use as liners … but if you’ve got your Martha Stewart on, you can use decorative cupcake liners to create a lovely ambiance and accent the succulent, hacked up innards you will soon be serving your poultry. (Let’s just call it “pâté,” shall we?)

chicken treat
DIY frozen protein-rich chicken treats in a muffin tin

I use an old ladle to fill each place in the muffin pan. Then I loosely cover the whole thing with a sheet of tinfoil or parchment paper and precariously balance the muffin pan in the chest freezer atop the rest of my packaged venison meant for human consumption.

Once frozen, I remove the mini pâtés from the muffin pan and put them in a freezer bag or other freezer-safe container. In this form, they will stay fresh for quite some time.

I serve these to my chickens twice a week, and I use about one pâté for every 10 birds. The treats are usually gone in an hour or so, and I notice the chickens aren’t as interested in the regular chicken feed the days I serve pâté.

So … next time you field dress a deer, remember – don’t leave all that FREE chicken food behind!

chicken treat
Hen and rooster enjoying a DIY, protein-rich chicken treat