Forest Garden Poultry - Food. Puting the Jungle back in the Fowl? Part Two

When looking at the various wild or we might say 'paleo' diet of the Red Jungle Fowl and comparing it to what we can provide and more importantly the foods chosen by our Forest Garden birds it is also well to remember that modern man has taken a hand in the development of birds, which may thwart us in searching for the optimum diet. This also ties into my previous posts on choosing chickens for a forest garden and also on my 'Fabulous Forage' articles. We are what our chickens eat, when we eat their eggs or meat. Their eggs are also the food for the next generation, so if you want good health for your poultry, yourself and viable hatching eggs and healthy chicks then read on.

Organic Forest Garden Poultry

All industries including biotech, benefit each other (and themselves), thus commercial hybrids with their altered behaviours and digestive systems directly feed off the heavily subsidised wheat, maize and soy industry. Many hybrids, neither have the mental willingness to seek out, nor the physical ability to extract, as much nutrient from wild foods as the heritage breeds. Having had experience of hybrids in my own family, I can add that they are well and truly 'corn fed' (in the English sense of wheat), they will sit at a feeding bowl waiting for the keeper to fill it. In essence they sit at the other end of the scale, being as completely removed from the foraging and hunting Jungle Fowl as it is possible to be and if left to their own programmed gluttony, these birds are barely able to survive past their designated 41 days of life. This by consuming a grain-based carbohydrate and legume-based, (mainly soy), protein diet, which piles on the weight.

Ironically, with growing customer interest in and with the higher price labels attached, pastured poultry is gaining ground, literally and thus the Poultry Industry's hybrids are now in the process of having to be 're-engineered' to forage.

Even so, forest garden habitats and certainly commercial pastured poultry systems are two different ways to raise birds, so lets look at what the former tries to provide and compare it to what my recent research has to reveal about:-

'Jungle' Food

Food of Choice

One of the main proteinaceous foods noted by Collias and Collias as being consumed by the Red Jungle Fowl, was the termite and in particular 'during the termites’ mating flights' (Collias and Collias, 1967).

Our Coturnix quail and her chicks eating ants' eggs

I can attest that one of my chickens' favourite 'hunted' foods and this goes for the quail too, is the ant, also its eggs and in particular the winged ants, or 'alates'. The latter are a crucial element of an ant colony's continuance, being the means by which the population increases and spreads. Here above you can see one of my Golden coturnix and her chicks hoovering up flying ant eggs, which they found when I was emptying out the planters in their greenhouse. These flying ants emerge or swarm in late Spring and early Summer in what is known as the 'nuptial flight' and because atmospheric conditions have to be just right, multiple flights often occur simultaneously. Thus I have observed my birds actually waiting and watching for the winged ants to emerge when there is a tell-tail sign of sudden, intense ant activity. The ants' own theory apparently, is that by emerging from the nest in huge numbers these mature male and female ants will have a greater chance of surviving in large numbers to form more colonies. For my chickens and quail it is a gala banquet day! Incidentally ant eggs are high in levels of that crucial Vitamin, B12 and 'ant protein' is now being used to stem the tide of the human B12 deficiency epidemic!

Forest Garden - Mulberry tree
Our now large, red mulberry tree heavy with fruit

The other great attraction for Jungle Fowl is fruit, I can attest to this, although not all of my birds' fruit is foraged directly from the trees. We form the garbage disposal unit for my friends' organic shop, so my birds get a great range of damaged or over-ripe tropical and locally grown fruit. I have also noted that certain breeds of my birds are more likely to eat particular fruit and for that matter, specific vegetables too. In particular, my birds enjoy the juicy fruits such as melon, grapes (which I hang in bunches from bushes and trees) and of course that great local staple of Normandie and used in pies, beverages and sauces, the ubiquitous apple and pear.

Polish and Ardenner Poultry eating organic fruit
My birds also have a fine understanding of how to eat fruit, in that they eat many varieties of fruit seeds/pips but tend to discard the skin. Interestingly a notable exception is the grape, where they eat both the skin and seeds, these contain the very powerful antioxidant resveratrol.  The outer protective cover of the fruit contains substantial amounts of what is sometimes referred to as an anti-nutrient: phytic acid. Below you can see the typical remains of the windfalls I find in the orchard. The seeds of the apple are particularly prized by my birds, they will always eat these first. It has been postulated that the old adage 'an apple a day keeps the doctor away,' included the pips but not the skin. If you'd like to explore this further, search for amygdalin aka vitamin b17. Similarly the fruit of the Summer squash or Zucchini/courgette and melon are highly prised by my birds and are in fact a tried and trusted natural wormer for livestock.

How chickens eat organic apples


Jungle Fowl - Omnivorous Appetites

In their study of the Red Jungle Fowl, Collias and Collias wrote:
'Beebe (1926) mentions that in the crops of birds that he shot at considerable distances from cultivation he always found vegetable matter predominating, and that young shoots of bamboo and other grasses, leaves, petals, and wild seeds of all kinds are eaten. Jungle fowl seem to eat a wide variety and a succession of fruits and seeds which become available at different seasons. We saw Red Jungle Fowl feeding on fruits of banyan (Ficus bengalensis) trees on the ground and on fruits up in the branches of mulberry (Morus) and chamro (Ehretia Zaevis) trees. Our shikari pointed out various other trees and shrubs that bore fruits and that he said jungle fowl feed on..,'
Organically raised Polish chickens Forest Garden

Our house is covered with passiflora caerulea
As you will already be aware, if you have read my forage articles, my birds eat a similar  diet, including leaves, petals grasses and wild seeds and even the young leaves of the bamboo. The one thing our poultry do not eat, surprisingly is mulberries and I particularly planted what is now a very large tree as part of our forest garden scheme. However, that has a very positive side as it means all the more for us. Unfortunately my birds do enjoy and straight from the bushes, raspberries, elderberries and red currants but not blackcurrants, although they love the leaves! They also eat up the hardy passion fruit 'caerulea', whereas we have 'passiflora edulis' growing under glass and out of reach!

Polish hen eating apple blossom
Bungle unlike the rest of our birds, does not wait for the apple blossom to fall but likes fresh-picked!


It is interesting to note that, Collias and Collias do point out that food eaten by Jungle Fowl, in the case below they referred to an insect of the family Pyrrhocoridae, is not always acceptable to their less wild cousins:
'However, domestic chickens to which we gave some of these bugs generally ignored them, preferring instead to eat rice which we also scattered before them'  

Polish rooster catching caterpillars
Waiting for lunch to descend
Ironically my birds readily eat all sorts of invertebrates that descend upon them from the trees but they are actually quite wary of anything that has red colouring, as in the case of  the so-called 'red bug' mentioned above. Maybe living amongst humans has taught them the red for danger meme!

So What About Cultivated Grain?

The area studied by Collias and Collias in the Siwalik Hills was in some areas farmed by 'slash and burn' systems, more of this later when  I come to discuss plumage. I was therefore interested in how and if the birds fed in these cultivated areas. Beebe in his field study looked at wild pheasants, peacocks and Jungle fowl, some of which occasionally had their territories contiguous to  farm land and in several countries, thus a varying choice of grain crops. In his 1909-1911 study Beebe had an interesting observation to make about the wild game fowl and what happened when they came across cultivated land:
'...the birds do very little damage to the crops, and even when they make a regular practice of appearing among the grain morning and evening, it is the insect life which is the principal attraction.'

Similarly with my own birds, although they will eat grain and I do feed a little (sprouted triticale) morning and evening just as a supplement, I have always known that they prefer grains 'in the green' and furthermore that they prefer wild. I actually once grew a mini field of mixed organic cereals and the grains were much more acceptable to them eaten green and straight from the stalk. When I have a larger 'forest' and land for cultivation, I will stop feeding grain altogether and just grow wild grasses.

Polish hen foraging in an old meadow


The Hungry Gap

Beebe also made other interesting points on how game birds (in this case pheasants) could find invertebrate protein even in the colder months, this is very similar to the way in which my birds will hunt through piles of dried logs and other Winter forest floor debris, as they seem to have a fine understanding of the nature of hibernating prey.
'I realized how it was possible for these birds to remain at such high, barren altitudes when all other sources of nourishment were sealed by frost and snow. I investigated the seed-cases of a half dozen lily clumps four hundreds yards apart, with these interesting results - Nine were empty except for a scattering of seeds. Twenty-six held a single earwig each. Four held two earwigs (in three instances both insects were in the same partition). ........Thus almost fifty per cent, of the seed-cases contained one or more earwigs, and some of these, as well as others of the insects, were heretofore unknown species.'(Beebe, 1918)
Organic Cochin foraging in a forest garden


Unexpected Choices of Protein?

Another hark back to their wild habitat maybe, is a protein source which my birds love. This I have to provide them with, although if we were a little nearer to the beach I might think about seeing if they would hunt and forage for that too! There is never a morsel of fish or seafood which ever goes to waste in our house, whatever we don't consume, my birds can and will 'lick' clean of anything remotely edible. Witness this delicious lemon sole (below) with local-caught shrimps, which we ate when my Aunt, who is a marvellous fish cook, came to visit. Needless to say there was not a lot of leftovers from this dish but I'm sure to a renascent Jungle Fowl a shrimp head or piece of fish skin is a poem.

Beebe noted in his 1918 study:

'Still more remarkable in habit were the Green Junglefowl on the sea-shore in Java, feeding on shrimps and marine worms from the small coral pools left by the tide'.

In my next post I will share how wild Jungle Fowl and our Forest Garden Birds feed and if and how they use similar feeding behaviours in courtship, hierarchy and of course brooding. If you have enjoyed this article, then think about sharing it, giving it a plus or maybe joining the blog or my YouTube Channel.

All the best and hope to see you next time.


Forest Garden Poultry - Symbiosis. Putting the Jungle Back in the Fowl

The first part of a series in which I compare actual field studies on wild Jungle Fowl behaviours and see how my Forest Garden Flock more


Providing Forage for Organic Poultry Part 1

Learning from the past. If you are setting up a forest garden  to run your poultry through it, you are probably going to be short of certain wild pasture more


©  Sue Cross 2016

A Field Study of the Red Jungle Fowl in North-Central India, Nicholas E. Collias and Elsie C. Collias The Condor Vol. 69, No. 4 (Jul. - Aug., 1967), pp. 360-386 Published by by the American Ornithological Society.

Beebe, W. 1918-1922. A monograph of pheasants (4 vols). London, H.F. Witherby & Co (This study was also considered by many later academics in the same field to be a seminal work on the Jungle Fowl) This work was later issued in abridged form with the title: Pheasants, their lives and homes, in 1926

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