Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Health Food for Chickens: Muscadine Grapes?

Having lived in "the country" for a very limited part of my life, I still playing catch up on learning about sustainable living.  My wife and I took our first shot at a garden this year, with very mixed results.  We did wind up with many meals of bush beans and potatoes, but for the most part, we could have made a ton of dandelion wine.

We live, we learn.

Which is why I am always jazzed to get a freebie.  While corralling a few younger chicks away from what we call the "zone of certain death" behind our storage barn, we noticed that they were being drawn back there by an abundance of dark, round berries which had fallen to the ground.  This discovery took place just before Hurricane Irene's arrival, and when pausing for a moment to take a closer look, we were also surprised to hear what sounded like hail with each gust of increasing wind.  As our eyes moved upward into the trees, we realized that the vines for these berries were entwined around many of the larger trees - some traveling as high as thirty feet.

As I mentioned before, I'm not chicken-fried by nature, so I can be a bit of a Nervous Nellie when it comes to wild berries.  Picking one, and taking a sniff, a very familiar scent wafted into my nose - that of...a grape!  I know that many reading this are unimpressed, but "free" five-year-to-mature vines are on my cool list, and I was thrilled.  Even more so, as I began to look more closely into the trees to see just how abundant these fruits were.

How does this relate to chickens, you may ask?

Well, obviously, when stumbling upon a metric crap-load of grapes, your first thought should be "how can I make these into wine?".  Researching this variety a bit, I've identified them as "Muscadine" grapes (again, sorry for those out there who screaming "duh" at me right now...).  While there are a number of great recipes for Muscadine wine, almost all of them are consistent about one thing - the skin for this variety is thick and tough, and you will have quite a bit left over as waste, or "pomace".  There have been studies from The University of Florida however, that have shown that chickens which have been fed this pomace have experienced a boost to their immune systems when it was added as a supplement to their diet.  Their resistance to bacteria was bolstered, and mortality rates from necrotic enteritis were reduced. 

So, a toast to random country treasures, and drunken chickens!

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