Making grain blocks, for small and for larger flocks

Has this ever happened to you, Gentle Reader: you discover something quite by accident, then you tweak it and you start to get excited, because you realize that you’ve done something pretty smart. This smart thing is chicken-related, and you can see your dear chooks smiling as they agree that you are, indeed, The Best and Cleverest Mama Ever. You then decide to share it with others, only to discover . . . it was already a thing, a long time ago.

And you remember, in mild surprise, that you do, in fact, live under a proverbial rock.

Even where chickens are concerned? Well, maybe even where chickens are concerned. You know how it is if you’re a busy mama and wife and drama teacher and homesteader and primary cook and bottlewasher, and artist, and so forth: you miss some things.

Here’s what I missed: grain blocks for chickens. They are, in fact, “A Thing.” And here I thought I just invented them. I’ve probably brushed past them in the feed store, but since (reportedly) they cost $13.00 I ignored them and went on my way to the bags of chook feed. And I don’t spend a lot of time reading other chicken blogs, because (hello) I’m too busy writing my own. But I guess recipes for grain blocks for chickens are quite common. And have been for some time.

Oh well. I got to the parade a bit late on this one, but I’m still here, waving my flag and grinning like crazy, because it’s really fun to have one more way to make my chickens’ winter experience positive. Pity the poor average chicken in the part of the world where winter is serious (hint: Nebraska is one part).

This hen, during the other months of the year, bolts out of the coop in the morning and goes right to work, doing what she loves to do so well: Scratch. Eat. Scurry. Scratch. Discover a bug. Eat it. Share her success with her sisters. And repeat.

But during the winter, when the ground is frozen hard and all the green plants are dormant and all the bugs are hidden in the hard, cold, frozen earth? This is what she does when she is let out of the coop in the morning: Amble to feeder. Take a bite. Take a drink from the water bucket. Attempt to scratch. Stare listlessly at her Iphone. Gaze at the sky sadly. And Repeat.

Yes, pity the poor chicken. But I’ve been making Frozen Grain Blocks for my chooks, and these dandy items keep my chickens pecking and eating and scurrying and smiling all the livelong blustery, cold day long. It happened quite by accident, as so many dandy inventions do.

I fill 5-gallon buckets about a third full, usually several at a time, with assorted grains (I get them from an organic grain place, and they are “screenings” or the grains that have been swept up off the floor, or whatever, and aren’t fit for human consumption–although I’ve been tempted–they are organic, after all!) and then add enough water to cover the grains. In the warmer weather, the grains would sprout, and I’d have gorgeous sprouted grains for my chooks.

But in this colder weather, of course the grains freeze in the water (last winter I lugged them to the house and kept them inside, while they sprouted, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet this winter) and thereby, I’ve got a frozen block o’grain. What to do, what to do . . . one morning I upended a bucket in the chicken yard, and out came a beautiful frozen block of grain. “Huzzah,” thought I, “but will the chooks eat the grains, surrounded by ice as they are?” But yes. They do. They’ll spend the day happily pecking and eating and not missing summer as much as usual. Leaving their iPhones in their pockets, they do, because they have something ‘way more interesting to occupy them.

But wait! The tale is not finished. One day it was warmer (this winter, so far, has had its share of unusually warm days, usually placed strategically on the weekends) I upended my 5-gallon bucket to have sprouted grains spill out, not in a block formation at all. It started to occur to me that it might be handy to mix a binder (eggs–bread crumbs–and so forth) to my buckets full of grain, and maybe make them in cake pans or something, and bake them–it would be a great thing for the chickens during the coldest weather, especially when snow or sleet is coming down and they don’t relish going outside in the weather. I could bake them like oversized cookies, digging a hole in them before I baked them, so I could thread a piece of twine through them and hang them in the coop or the yard . . .

Voila. I’m brilliant, thought I. Who else could ever think of such a clever way to fend off boredom for chooks in the winter?

Turns out, lots of people. The people who make those grain blocks at the feed store, for example. And all the chicken bloggers in the world, I guess. And their dogs. Basically, everybody and their dogs already do this. You, Gentle Reader, are probably mixing up grain blocks for your chooks, as you read this. Right?

Oh well. If you go poking around on the web for these recipes, this is what you’ll find: a big long list of what I consider “people food”–wheat germ, oatmeal, honey or molasses, coconut oil! and so forth, all mixed together and baked into cakes. It all sounds wonderful, if you just have a small flock. But it sounds awful “spendy” to me, with my too-large flock. Really. Coconut oil to my chooks. Hmph. I can’t quite imagine using up my own pantry grains and molasses and so forth, for my large flock. Too expensive!

But I did come up with a great recipe that holds together in the cake pans, once it’s baked. And I didn’t use any expensive “people foods.” Or my precious Virgin Coconut Oil.

The gallons are on sale–half-price, yahoo!–until Thursday, by the way. ๐Ÿ™‚

So if you have a larger flock, or if you are reticent to spend your monthly grocery budget on your chooks (yikes, much as I love them–) do what I did. Save up your kitchen scraps (which I usually throw to the chooks, anyway) for a day or two: apple peelings, vegetable parings, and the like–and combine them with soaked grains (soak at least overnight) and some leftover bread, torn into little chunks, and a few beaten eggs (with the shells, ground and added, too) to bind them all together.

I spread the mixture in greased bread pans and baked them. And: I’m not ashamed of going to all this trouble for my chooks. Who can blame me?

Gosh, it looks good enough to eat, actually. Now I'm a little jealous of my chickens.

Gosh, it looks good enough to eat, actually. Now I’m a little jealous of my chickens.

I spread the mixture in greased bread pans and baked them. And: I’m not ashamed of going to all this trouble for my chooks. Who can blame me?

blockspans

Here’s my recipe:

Grain Blocks for Larger Flocks

1. Soak whole grains overnight (inside, so they won’t freeze) and drain. (I soak them in a 5-gallon bucket, and then dip out what I need.)

2. Dump one gallon of soaked grains into a large bowl.

3. Stir in reserved 2 to 3 cups of veggie scraps, fruit peelings, and so forth, well chopped. Add also 2 or 3 cups of leftover bread, crumbled, 1 cup of corn meal, 1 cup of flour (or 2, if your grains are very soggy) 10 eggs, beaten well, and the shells, mashed.

4. Mix well.

5. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mash mixture into greased bread pans, or greased round cake pans. Bake for 2 hours and then check for firmness. Bake a little longer if they are still soft. When done, run a butter knife around the edges of the pans and turn upside down to remove the blocks.

Note: The first time I made these, I put in too many veggie scraps and too little flour, and the blocks didn’t hold together very well. I tweaked the recipe, and so might you, depending on how wet your grains and scraps are.

Serves: lots of chooks! You can wrap a piece of twine around the blocks and hang them in the chicken yard or the coop, for additional chicken interest and (it’s true) joy.

 

11 thoughts on “Making grain blocks, for small and for larger flocks

      1. rita

        And me. I don’t have one. It’s just a cell, that works strangely. Every text I send (because that’s how my girls want to communicate), it says, “send failed”, but it did get sent. Until I figured that out, I looked mentally challenged to the girls. Technology conspires to make me look stupid like that. Whatever.

        1. dramamamafive Post author

          This made me laugh, Rita. I have a cell phone (hubby bought it for me just in case of emergencies) but I’d like to ditch it, because half the time the battery is low and I turn it off, or else it’s buried in my purse and I don’t hear it ring! So I’m in trouble because I HAVE the thing, and certain people (cough) try to get ahold of me and they can’t, and frustration occurs BECAUSE THEY KNOW THAT I HAVE A CELL PHONE. I’m a freak. I know it. TOTALLY out of step. Sounds like you are, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰ (I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO TEXT, Rita. . . so you are ahead of me!!)

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Janice, I think my daughter got the bugs out of the Saturday Blog Hop Linky, so we should be good to go for Saturday! “Chook” is a slang term in some areas of the world for chickens! I like the way the word sounds: chook, chook, chook!

  1. Chef William Chaney

    Very interesting because I see a long term spin off for your farmers market business. Any leftover bread on a slow day can be recycled by mixing some of the “weeds” aka any vegetables that might be a little over ripe or some grains planted with these “Chick Bricks” in mind. Then sold as a side product on a different table of course. Perhaps you should ask for that new freezer you have been hinting at, because now it could be a storage place for those bricks until they product the money to offset the cost of the freezer………just saying…

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Yikes, Chef, I do believe you’ve stumbled upon that idea that might just earn me enough money to buy that freezer!!!! Brilliant!

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