Monday, October 4, 2010

Acorns as Chicken Feed, Revisited

Last fall I gathered acorns from a single oak that straddles our property line and used them as a feed supplement for my hens over the winter months.  This year I made it a formal goal to be a bit more ambitious about gleaning acorns.  So far this year I've collected over 65 pounds of them, and they're still coming down in my area.  I do think of them as booster fuel for hens during the coldest and harshest months of the year, so most of what I've gathered has been put up in buckets where they will, I hope, escape the notice of rodents who would love to help themselves to this caloric feast.  But I've also been feeding the less prime acorns to the hens as they come in, so I thought it would be a good time to post about some points that have come up for me as I've been gathering them and using them for feed.

First off, I've become rather selective about which acorns I pick up and bring home.  I gleaned a little factoid from the coverage of the recent recall of factory farmed eggs.  Namely that salmonella is carried by rodents, which can introduce the disease to previously healthy poultry flocks.  Squirrels are rodents, are abundant in my region, and show a famous interest in acorns.  Many of the nuts I find bear evidence of nibbling by squirrels.  I do not gather these acorns.  Some acorns have broken shells that may or may not be due to squirrel nibbling.  They may have taken the damage when they fell on a hard surface.  I err on the safe side and don't risk collecting such acorns.

Another type of damage common to acorns is a shell that has split along its grain.  This is clearly not caused by rodents, but it still presents a problem.  Acorn nutmeats are very high in fat, and they will turn rancid fairly quickly once exposed to air.  So acorns with split shells are not candidates for storage.  I do bring home a number of acorns with reasonably small splits in the shell and feed them to the hens very quickly.  It's a way of using up what I can, even if they can't be kept for storage.

The last type of damage that causes me to reject an acorn at collection is a small hole that indicates a weevil has penetrated the shell and is currently feasting on the nutmeat.  If you see two holes (rare when the nuts have just fallen) the weevil has been and gone.  Now these nuts too could be collected for the hens if I were willing to segregate the ones with such holes.  Laying hens, after all, will just as happily eat weevils as they will acorns.  But if the infested acorns are stored with the pristine ones, the weevils will eat their way from one acorn to the next, and there is a net caloric loss with each step up the food chain.  So it's either segregate, or don't collect.  Mostly I opt not to collect those acorns.

Last year I used a small burlap bag to crush the acorns.  Each day I placed a couple handfuls in the bag and crushed them on a flat rock by using a 5-pound hand sledge.  The problem with that setup was that the burlap didn't hold up.  Fairly quickly I found that a glancing blow from the hand sledge could propel an acorn straight through the fabric.  This year I've upgraded to a denim bag crafted from a tattered pair of my father's jeans.  I just cut one of the legs off and sewed up the cut edge with some sturdy hand stitching.  So far it looks as though the denim is going to answer nicely.

A note on oak trees - Quercus is a big family, or more properly speaking, a genus.  (Isn't Quercus just about the best word, ever?)  I'm not going to tell you than I can tell any of the 600+ oak species apart by name, because I can't.  What I can say is that the size, shape, quality, and drop time of acorns varies considerably from one species of oak to another.  Acorns started falling here in August, and there are still oaks dropping their bounty now in October.  It pays to look around and keep looking.  If you don't find acorns of good quality from one particular type of oak, you may well find them from another type a few weeks on.

Storage was a problem last year.  Mice are quite happy to help themselves to any sort of seed or nut kept in our garage over the winter months.  I've taken steps to prevent this this year and recommend you think about how to keep any acorns you collect away from rodents, particularly in light of the risk they might transmit salmonella to your poultry.

I did a little poking around to find out what the value of my acorn gleaning might be in terms of feed for the hens. I have no clue what they do or don't contribute in terms of nutrients.  But the average laying hen needs - at an absolute maximum - 350 calories per day to maintain optimum laying rate.  Presumably this is for hens who live in Siberia and lay jumbo sized eggs.  Even so, let's say my hens need that many calories in winter.  After all, they don't get any supplemental heat, only shelter from the wind.  The other factoid I turned up is that acorns have 1700 calories per pound.  Now I don't know if that figure is just for the extracted nutmeats, or what.  Clearly the acorn cap and shell contribute nothing to the hens' diet.  So let's say that of the 65 pounds of acorns I've gathered so far, we have to eliminate a whopping 25% of that weight to account for the unusable portion. That leaves about 49 pounds worth of acorn nutmeats, which have an astonishing 82,875 calories.  Divide that by the maximum caloric needs of my four-hen flock (1400 calories per day for all four of them) and speaking very conservatively we're looking at a two-month supply of feed from gleaned acorns.

Now, as mentioned, it's not at all clear that acorns alone would give the hens what they need in terms of vitamins and minerals.  But I did lay in a supply of comfrey, dried from our own production earlier in the year, and I know that's a highly nutritious feed for poultry.  Between these two "free" feeds, plus our kitchen scraps, some recycled eggshell for calcium, and whatever mystical stuff chickens find in deep litter bedding, I would bet they're pretty well on their way to a complete laying hen diet.  I plan to use the acorns only as supplemental feed in combination with the locally grown and milled organic grains they normally get.  But it's clear to me that if it were absolutely necessary, we could probably get the hens through the winter with aggressive acorn gleaning (provided of course that the oak trees didn't take another gap year as they did in 2008).  If that were the case, we almost certainly wouldn't light the hens to maintain their winter laying quota, so their caloric needs would go down, which would make the acorns stretch even further.  And that's without even touching on hickory nut gleaning.

Aside from musing about strategies for maintaining my mini-flock in a worst case scenario, I see this as a social justice issue.  We in the industrialized countries "go to the table" ahead of citizens in the developing world.  We eat first, because we can afford to.  Not only can we pay more for the most basic foodstuffs, such as grains, but we choose to eat animal products which are produced at the cost of a huge amount of grain - further driving up global market prices for these commodities. And after we've eaten our fill of grain-intensive meat or dairy or eggs, we then feed our pets with meat produced in an identical fashion.  Thus we consume first, and consume more than the poor.  My flock and my pets are no exception to this reality.  Though they are pastured on our lawn, and we supplement what feed we buy with all sorts of food that would otherwise be wasted, our hens nonetheless eat grain that could have gone to the world market and contributed to lower prices for grain.  My hens compete with impoverished families and hungry children, and they win by virtue of the money I have at my disposal.

So whatever I can do to come up with free food  for my hens not only saves me money and makes my homestead less dependent on a fragile distribution system, it also brings a little more balance to the relationship between rich and poor countries.  That's a real motivation.  Gleaning acorns is fun for a while.  But when it gets a little boring, or my back starts to ache, I push on just a little longer with the acorn hunt.  Because I believe that actions - even small, imperfect, insufficient actions - have consequences.  Even if I never see the results, I know that gleaning this food is the right thing to do.


Unknown said...

Excellent post, one I will keep in mind.Sadly, I just had to give away the last of my chickens when I moved, but I will have them again within the next five years. I bet the acorns offer a lot of nurtitional supplement. Worth doing some research on.

esp said...

Excellent post! We are working towards chickens (need ordinances changed first) and I've been thinking about acorns as a supplemental feed. We've got trees at nearly every playground in our neighborhood, making it easy to collect while my son plays.

Thanks you for also addressing the social justice issues. These are things we as a culture do not consider often enough.

Dani said...


Thanks for all the info.

Serendipitously, my (grown-up) son harvested an oak tree from his girlfriends garden last Saturday - I have it safely snuggled in the nursery corner of my patio. Hopefully it will produce acorns in a year or so...

Also my husband and I were talking (and have been for a few months) about getting some chickens for our farm - not many - just 3 or 4 - enough to keep us in eggs for breakfast, and some for baking.

So again, thank you, I really appreciate all the info you gave.



Wendy said...

Thank you so much for this great information!

I'm seeing a lot of reporting recently about comfrey, which is very cool, as I acquired several comfrey plants from a vendor at the Farmer's Market this summer (who, after I asked for comfrey, dug up a bagful of roots for me and sold (probably the equivalent of fifteen plants) them to me for $10 - I thought "sweet deal" and she thought "Yay! got rid of some of that @$%* comfrey!" :). Now, we actually have a place that we could hang some to dry for use as fodder over the winter. I'm betting all of our suburban "farm" animals would really enjoy it ;).

We're harvesting acorns, too, for ourselves, but I'm sure a fair amount of them will go to the chickens over the winter :).

Rachel said...

Do you not worry about the tannic acid in the acorns? Our goats and chickens are housed together, and I know they are toxic to goats, which is why I haven't looked into using them as food. We have a very large oak on our property line as well.

Kate said...

Laura, thanks. I hope you get your livestock back soon - sooner than five years on.

esp, sounds like you've got easy acorn pickings. Get to it!

Dani, you're welcome. I'd be surprised if any oak tree small enough to transplant bears acorns any time soon. There's an old folktale about a man making a bargain with the devil to wait until his first harvest. He planted oaks and lived out the full years of his natural life before the devil got his due. But by all means, get some chickens. you can find acorns all over the place.

Rachel, I had heard that they were toxic for horses and cattle, if I'm not mistaken. Hadn't heard the same applies to goats. Deer eat them in great quantities, as do jays, other birds, and of course rodents. Native American tribes in California relied on them as one of their dietary staples, and Koreans still eat acorn noodles. Pigs in Spain are fattened on acorns almost exclusively. The fact that wild birds eat acorns, plus my previous observation of the hens' enthusiastic consumption of them in the past reassures me pretty thoroughly that this is a safe food for them. In my experience, the hens know what to eat and what not to eat. But if you do turn up any references on toxicity for other common livestock, please let me know.

Rachel said...

Here's one link I found on acorns and goats:

The green acorns are more toxic than the ripe ones, but I'd prefer not to chance it with mine.

I know for humans to eat acorns, we process them to remove a lot of the tannins in it. The California Natives would grind and then leach them in streams.

jim said...

Ms. Kate,
My wife found your site and we really like it! We'll definitely be dropping by on a regular basis.
Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us.

Jim and Janet
Floyd, Va.

cherise said...

Thanks so much for your post on acorns as chicken feed, something that I have been wondering (as I live under a 200 year old oak) since acquiring my first 3 chickens just last week. Great information and such a frugal idea – another thing that I appreciate about your blog.

I do however, differ with you on the “social justice” perspective. I’m an “equal justice” person. I believe that everyone has value and should be treated the same – not that certain people get a pass because of skin color, financial status or otherwise. I think it’s wonderful to use our resources wisely and conserve where we can, however, to think that our picking up acorns and saving a bit of grain in our community will contribute to say, Africans getting more grain, might be a bit naive. The governments of the world, not just ours, have so much control over grain/food production that here in the U.S. we have resorted to burning our food supply (corn) as an inefficient fuel in vehicles. Not to mention the overuse of HFCS in almost every processed food imaginable.

From reading your blog, I aspire to your level of gardening commitment and natural living and have very much enjoyed going through your past posts. I too am longing for food sovereignty and for me part of that is detaching from the social justice aspect of governing, something that I think contributes to ever-increasing taxes, lack of food freedom and zoning laws restricting even the keeping of chickens, like your one commenter mentioned.

simply_complicated said...

i've been casually harvesting acorns for Human consumption, and came across this page:
at the VERY BOTTOM there is nutritional info for the nuts. Hopefully this is helpful for you!

Lee said...

Great post! Very well researched and thorough. I remember reading in a permaculture book about harvesting acorns for human food, even selecting for low-tanin acorns when planting new trees, but it never occurred to me to use them as bird food. Makes sense though.

I've read that pigs finished on acorns can taste more bitter. I wonder if, in sufficient quantities, it could affect the taste of the egg?

We don't have many acorns, but we're overrun with volunteer hazelnuts. I've thought about feeding them to pigs, but it seems much more logical to try feeding them to our chickens.

karen said...

Great post. I was out at our CSA farm the other day (a very interesting place as the land is NOT owned by the farmer, but rather by a group of people who value agricultural land reserves, something our pro-development governments are hell-bent on building upon) ... anyway, the farmer was as usual telling a tale that makes some less hungry for his eggs than others.

Apparently one of the questions he most frequently gets is asking what makes a yolk more or less deep yellow. Most city folk don't love the answer ... he keeps goats and chickens too, and apparently in the peak of heat in the summer, when the flies are at their worst, some of the chickens take trips across the field where the goats are, and happily pick through the goats' waste, apparently for the larvae (maggots), a big chicken treat. Those chickens lay the best, darkest, deepest coloured egg yolks. It was funny because a couple of people cleared their throats in discomfort, whereas my kids and I just licked our lips.

You might like my farmer's blog, he's a guy with a PhD in communications who's decided that he needs to farm like his ancestors. Food justice is a biggie for him, but his focus might be more on local food justice than world right now as he's trying to figure out the best way to bring lower-income people into his CSA. Here's a recent post:

meemsnyc said...

Oooh, thanks for all this great information about gathering acorns. Really good tips to know!

Mac said...

Hello - this is my first comment, and it was about Acorns, but I just want to say that I really enjoy your's one of my favorites. My partner and I just got 3 hens this year (we're in Portland, OR) and it's been a learning process (in the best way). Your previous post on acorns motivated me to do some gleaning for myself. It worked out well, but I found my hen's prefer acorns that have been blanched, with the tannins removed as much as possible...I might try again with the unblanched ones though as it was a real time-suck! Thanks and keep up the posting!

Portland, OR

Hazel said...

I love your acorn posts Kate!
I must go and find some acorns so I can do our Green Eggs and Ham experiment!

I'm lucky in that I get 'tail' corn from a local friendly farmer for my hens- the last dregs, with possible weed seeds etc in it, so not the wheat that would be going for human consumption anyway, which salves my conscience a bit. The chickens couldn't eat that alone, though, so they get pellets and other extras to extend and vary their diet, and acorns will be ideal. We're heavily into apple pressing at the moment, and I think they're getting a bit bored of pomace!

Cherise, I'm not going to answer for Kate, but my reading of her post seemed to tie in exactly with your idea of social justice- our hens shouldn't eat better than the impoverished in the developing world, so we ought to make sure that our animals are not dependent on that system.

I quite agree that there is a political angle beyond our control. There is currently enough food in the world, it's just disproportionately distributed. Personally, I'm quite aware that the grain I save from my chickens is not going to directly solve the problem.
However, saying that it's pointless IMO, is like saying one household reducing energy consumption is pointless. Clearly, individual actions are without effect, but gradually more people copy those actions until a tipping point is reached and normality has changed.

Unfortunately, government action tends to follow public opinion/action and not precipitate it. We need to show our governments what we want, and what we think is important.
Plus, of course, there's the satisfaction of living by your own standards, not the accepted norm because you feel to do otherwise is futile.

Do you have The Body Shop in the US? The founder, Anita Roddick, said “If you think you're too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.” I love that quote :o)

Joel said...

Three strategies to keep pests away from feed (the latter two are from Mollison's Permaculture Design Manual):

You can mix feed with powdered fenugreek leaves. The saponins in fenugreek are a mild insecticide, but don't hurt vertibrates.

You can keep feed in a container that is mostly airtight, but is flushed with the non-breathable exhaust gasses from a fermenting chamber that is periodically refreshed with fermentable organic matter.

Also, you can place the feed such that chickens patrol the outside for insects and small rodents.

As to grain markets: it is a very tricky balance, to prevent global or national shortages of grain, without driving local producers out of business.

While I agree that the US subsidy system is distorting everything else beyond our ability to compensate, I would agree that it's generally better not to demand so much grain or grain derivatives. Partly this is to make big agribusiness less profitable, and any feedstocks that would be necessary for food production in the developing world (rock phosphate is an important example) marginally less scarce.

Diana said...

Thanks for this excellent post. I love how articulately you tied the extended social issues into the values of self-sufficiency and hard work. You've inspired me to go out and collect some of my acorns - I've been meaning to all Fall and keep forgetting.

Kate said...

Wendy, sounds like you got a good deal, and yes I'm sure the vendor was glad to see the back of some of it. Just recently came across a snippet of info that indicated the levels of the "toxic" alkaloids in comfrey leaves are highest in spring, and then dwindle towards the end of the growing season. This will definitely affect my collection and drying routine for next year, and I thought I'd pass that along to you.

Rachel, thanks for the link. Good to know in case we ever get goats. As for tannins, I understand there's a great deal of variety from species to species, but also even from one tree to another in the same species.

Hi, Jim and Janet. Thanks, and good to have you here.

Cherise, like Hazel, I'm not entirely clear about where you think we differ on issues of justice. As for you believing my opinions are naive, well, I would refer you to the national propaganda campaigns launched by both the British and US governments during WWII. They were aimed at the shopping, cooking, and eating habits of housewives. They encouraged a shift in *individual* choices and behavior - and the campaigns were successful. Those individual thrifty choices allowed two militaries to operate abroad while civilian populations at home had enough to eat. Individual actions mattered deeply during the war, or so two powerful governments believed. Were they naive? Today billions of dollars are spent on advertising to influence the individual choices of millions of consumers. If individual choices are without effect, why all the advertisements?

Do I believe my small actions alone are going to feed the world? No. (Which is why I take the trouble to tell other people who might be like-minded about them.) Do I think government should be more involved? Yes. Does that lack of involvement alleviate my responsibility to live in a manner that would make the government more inclined to take the action I believe they should? No. You're free to live your life the way you want, of course. I choose to live as close to my own values as possible.

Kate said...

Simply complicated, thanks for the link. It indicates there that the caloric content of acorns can be over 2300 calories/pound! I wonder if that's natural variation, or to do with the nutmeats drying down somewhat. They do lose a lot of moisture. Very helpful, thanks!

Lee, I definitely noticed an unfamiliar flavor when eating the jamon Iberico, from pigs fattened entirely on acorns. I didn't care for it. But I've never detected any unusual flavor in the eggs from my hens. Of course, they're not subsisting entirely on acorns, so that may be all the difference. If I were absolutely overrun with hazelnuts, I might think about feeding them to animals. But I'd eat an awful lot of them myself, first.

Karen, those are exactly the eggs I like to eat. I'd have been licking my chops too. Thanks for the link to that blog. I'll check it out.

meemsnyc, anytime!

Mac, thank you. Sounds like you've got pampered hens! I don't know if we just have lower-tannin species than you do, or if my hens just never had the chance to compare. I imagine the leaching process is quite the time-suck!

Hiya, Hazel! Never heard of tail corn, and by "corn" I'm guessing you mean just "grain." Here in the US, corn means what you call maize. Anyway, it sounds like an excellent resource for animal feed. Good for you for pursuing it. We give some of our apple pomace to the girls as well, but they're only four chickens, and they can't eat more than a tiny fraction of what we produce. P.S. I've heard that quote before, but was told it came from the Dalai Lama! Good quotes have a life of their own, I suppose.

Joel, thanks for the great suggestions about keeping feed away from pests. I love the recommendation to allow chickens to patrol their own feed, which could work brilliantly for the acorns, since they can't crack the shells themselves. It could work well for the winter months, which is exactly when I'd need it. The rest of the year they're kept in rotational grazing.

Diana, thank you. I'm heartened to hear that you'll be collecting some acorns too.

Hazel said...

Yes, by corn I meant wheat. It gets used interchangeably in the UK, but we tend to use maize much less. I'd never heard of it either, but when offered wasn't about to turn it down! (Another principle we share!)

I wonder who borrowed whose quote? Like you say, I guess the good quotes get passed on and on.

Anonymous said...

I crush mine in an old canvas laundry bag and have my husband drive over it once or twice. I bag dry leaves in the fall and use that for my deep litter, they love pawing thru a fresh bag of leaves.Makes the best compost and my neighbors deliver the bags to me gladly. I use pine needles as my nest box bedding. All free!

Joel said...

I hope it works out!

>they can't crack the shells themselves.

I wonder if they might eat whole acorns, and work to grind through the shells in their gizzard. I've read that pigeons do so. It might be worth offering them harder-than-usual grit for the winter time, in case they decide to try it.

>they're only four chickens, and they can't eat more than a tiny fraction of [the pomace] we produce.

Might it be worth the work of lacto-fermenting a bucket or two of it, to preserve it for them? Sandor Katz makes it sound like hardly any effort. I could even imagine including some whey and a harvest of greens, maybe even fish waste, to make "kimchook"... :-)

Kate said...

Anon, sounds like a good solution. I only have a few hens, so I crush mine in very small quantities so that they don't go rancid. I like the leaf litter for deep bedding idea!

Joel, there's certainly some variation in acorn size and hen size, but there's no way my hens could swallow one of these acorns whole. I LOVE the kimchook idea and will have to look into that. Thanks for the suggestion.

Unknown said...


Gap years are part of the strategy of oak trees, to keep forager populations in check, so it would be good to have a backup plan. Oaks and lots of other trees flower in the spring, and the weather helps determine pollination success. This creates a more or less random pattern of boom and bust years. Small animals with short generation times are not able to adapt to the pattern well enough to over-exploit the mast crop and harm the long-term reproductive success of the trees.

Steven said...

Are you able to harvest that many from your own tree or do you have to utilize more land base/tree(s) than you have at home? I am unable to travel far afield to scavenge feed for my hens and am trying to be more self sufficient on my 1/3 acre city lot. I have no oak trees, and any nearby are on private property.

Kate said...

Jim, I've certainly heard of gap years being common to walnuts and even fruit trees. But the reports I read of the 2008 acorn gap made it sound extremely unusual and puzzling to botanists and forestry workers. The eco-logic of gap years you mention makes sense, but it still seems to have been very rarely observed before in oaks.

Steven, I'm gathering acorns from oaks off-property this year. But I'm doing it opportunistically, only as my errands or necessary travel take me where I can find acorns in abundance. I'm too conscious of energy consumption to drive around for the sole reason of acorn collection. If you have oaks on private property nearby, why not ask the owners if you would be allowed to collect them? Almost no one sees any value in them, and some see them as simply more tree litter that they're obliged to rake up and dispose of. I'd guess that most people would be fine with letting you have them, particularly if you gifted a few eggs in return.

jenny said...

I really enjoyed reading about acorns as chicken feed. We have lots of acorns on our property, and I always hated to see them wasting away on the ground. Used to have deer come around and eat them, but have not seen deer lately, I wonder if it's because we now have chickens?? (our chickens free-range)

We started picking up acorns, first by the side yard, and those are teeny tiny, then we walked over to the other side of our property and discovered acorns the size of quarters! We quickly filled (2) 5 gallon buckets. Then the acorns in the front yard are medium sized-- bigger than those teeny tiny ones, but about half the size of those large ones, and so many that we cannot take a step without stepping on one!

I am excited at saving some money on feed for my chickens and plan to feed acorns every other day. I expect to fill another 5 gallon bucket today with those medium sized ones.

Thanks for all the info you shared! :o)

Maria said...

I had never even thought about acorns before I read your post. This week, I picked some from the ground, smashed them with a hammer and let the chickens try it out.....It was love at first try! Thank you for your suggestion. My hens will be getting this treat as long as I can keep collecting them....I have taken your advise and I will be choosy with which acorns get saved.

Kate said...

Jenny, you're welcome! Glad to hear you're feeding this free resource to your chooks. I too have seen the teeny tiny acorns you describe. I don't bother collecting those. One park near us has several different species of oak, so I've seen how many differences in acorns there are from one type to another.

Maria, I'm very glad to have passed on information that you can and are using. Thanks for letting me know you're feeding acorns to your chickens.

Leigh said...

I'm very interested to know about the acorns for chicken feed and how you collect and deal with them. I will have to try this as we have oaks and plenty of acorns.

I grew amaranth for my chickens this year as well as sunflowers. I find that when they have plenty of natural foods including kitchen scraps and dried, crushed egg shells, they seem to eat less commercial feed. I'm happy to know about ways I can meet their needs and rely less on industry at the same time.

Gabrielle said...

Hi, I found you blog when checking if ducks would eat acorns. We have several large oak trees on our property and have fed them to our pigs but I want to do more as its a very abundant and free crop. Great post, bravo.

cottage garden farmer said...

Great post Kate, thanks for all the info

Kate said...

Leigh, I may do another post at some point about acorn storage. They do definitely need to air out after collection. I'm considering building an acorn basket. If I do, I'll post about it.

Gabrielle, I have heard anecdotally that ducks will eat acorns. No idea whether they'd need them crushed or not. What did you find?

TCGF, you're quite welcome. Thanks for leaving a comment.

Tammy said...

I totally enjoyed this post! Always looking for ways to supplement chicken feed! Will have to go gather some acorns with the boys.

ada said...

Have you considered using a tamper instead of the sledge hammer? A tamper would allow you to stand upright as you pound the acorns- spares the back.

Kate said...

Ada, no I hadn't considered it. In principle standing instead of crouching seems like a good idea. But I don't know what a tamper is, exactly, and I'm pretty sure I don't have one. I tend to find ways of getting things done with what I already own, so as not to acquire new things. But by all means please enlighten me as to what a tamper is and how it works.

Anonymous said...

I am a little uneasy about feeding my chickens acorns, after reading so many articles that both acorns and oak leaves are toxic for chickens. I have a large oak tree over my outdoor run for my 6 chickens, and am seriously considering cutting it down. Your site was about the 50th site that I was checking for acorn toxicity, and I was surprised to see the opinion that acorns are safe. I guess I'll have to keep searching :), someone has to be right?

Kate said...

Anon, if you're nervous enough to read through 50 articles about acorns, I doubt any report of my empirical experience, or really anything I have to say, is going to convince you. But don't cut down your oak tree. Chickens can't crack acorn shells themselves, so even if you think acorns are poisonous, they won't be able to access the nut meats without your help.

Drew Rinella said...

Thank you for this great post. I don't think you should feel bad about grain being used for animal feed, though. I have read that much of that grain is unfit for human consumption by design. I think it's a trade off of edibility vs. yield.

Fearless Farm Frau said...

I'm a little late to this thread, but I have heard that acorns can turn yolks green. Have you noticed that at all? I'm glad to hear that it doesn't seem to affect the flavor, so maybe I'll try gathering some next year!

Kate said...

FFF, I've heard this too, but no one has ever told me that they've seen it themselves. It may be a rural legend. Or it may be that the chickens need to subsist entirely on acorns to produce that effect.

Jeanie R said...

Super information and just what I needed! A bumper crop of acorns in our area made me start wondering about a food source for our hens. Heading out in the morning to start gathering!

EleCap said...

A friend of mine who provides many with fresh eggs collects spent oyster shells, crushes them, and gives them to the hens as well. It provides extra calcium and makes for tougher shells!

Dilly Filly: said...

Hello, I realize this acorn post is about 4years old...but I first want to say I loved your view point regarding our world food system. Thank you for including that in your post, a surprising finish to your article, yet insightful...and true! I never thought of it in terms of our pets /livestock. Second, thank you for sharing your experience with the acorns. We're purchasing a property covered in oaks & I'm researching capitalizing on the acorns we'll have in abundance for livestock. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

an easy way to leach acorns is to put them in a mesh bag and leave it in a stream, or the top of your toilet if you have one (not the bowl). Found that on (which is how I found your site). Thanks for posting your stats on how long the supply will last!)

Ronald said...

I enjoyed reading this post very much. I have used acorns to feed my mallard ducks and a few Toulouse geese. Since ducks in the wild are known to eat acorns, I was not too concerned about the tannins. I have raised chickens in the past and a sister is raising them now; I plan to start a flock sometime soon. The free feed does sound interesting, and I hope you are having great success with this project. I believe, though, that I would crush acorns (I like the suggestion of putting them in a bag an backing the car over them!) and leach them for a couple days before draining them to dry a bit and feeding them.

Unknown said...

Very good post. While reading about using acorns what about black walnuts? I have two large, very productive trees in my yard that we just end up collecting all the nuts we can and 'relocating them'. If they could be used for my 6 chickens that would help alot! I'll see if I can find any info on this online.

Unknown said...

Sjoe...I have indeed learned a lot! Thank You.

Unknown said...

Very interesting. I enjoyed this article a lot. Thank you!

James said...

After several iterations I've had some success and some failure getting hens to eat acorn meat. I've learned to use white oak acorns since they have less tannin. It also succeeded each time I introduced acorn as the only food source for a day or two early on at around week 3-6.

But two sets of birds wouldn't take them when I offered them after the first year. Sometimes I have tried to give red or black oak acorns to the birds and they wouldnt' take them. my daughter and I tried them and found that red and black Oak acorns are a lot more bitter than white oaks.

Unknown said...

Hi Kate, GREAT post. This is my first time on your blog and I LOVED it! I just wanted to add a bit about using acorns. I come from a Native American perspective. One thing I read here in comments is about the bitterness of the acorns. Yes they are FULL of tannins! And your chickens might not like that. Does it flavor the eggs, I don't know, but can certainly see how it could.

One of the commenters said she blanched the nuts but it was too time consuming, and that's certainly true. This year, I reverted to, sort of, the old ways but with a twist. Two of the old techniques are to leech the nuts with water, either running (a stream or river) or by hand pouring water through the ground up meal, this 2nd very labor intensive. Another technique is to bury them for several months and let the earth do the work but subject to bugs, etc. This year I got lazy and it worked beautifully! After gathering, I put them in a large bucket and set them, shells and all, out in the rain. When the water got dark, I drained and set them back out. Did this from August until this week (2/2019). Just cracked one and tasted it and NO TANNINS! Easy peasy! Now I'll let them dry until the shells harden again to make cracking easier....indoors away from thieving rodents!

Hope this helps

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for the great information. I have lots of oak trees where I live and tons of acorns in my front yard. I found one other source of protein for my chickens. We have lots of stink bugs here and I dislike them and other birds won’t eat them because of the foul stuff they release, but I found out the chickens love them and it doesn’t change the taste of their eggs 😁