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In part 1 of Basic Guide To Feeding Chickens, we talked about various ways of feeding them about how much to feed them. Now, let’s talk about what to feed your chickens and how to tell if they’re getting enough to eat.
Which Feed I Use And Why
As you know, we’re totally non-GMO, organic based homesteaders. In 2010, we began learning about the risks and damage of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).We immediately began the process of removing them from our home. We immediately saw improvements in health and well-being.
Then we thought, “We are what our animals eat. So if they eat GMOs, then we’re still eating GMOs…” We immediately began searching for an option to our usually chicken feed. After several weeks for research, we found we could identify with the princles and philosophy of Scratch and Peck Feeds. They were Non-GMO Project Verified and that’s important for us.
For those of us who live in rural areas, finding organic, non-GMO feed may be difficult. We believe in supporting local businesses, but they didn’t offer the option we wanted for feeding chickens. We didn’t give up.
We printed out some information from Scratch and Peck Feeds’ website and shared them with our feed supply store. They researched the company and surveyed their customers. Once they saw there was a market for the feed, they began stocking it for us. We were glad to learn they have customers who drive more than 3 hours just to be able to buy this feed. They discovered a niche market and we were able to save money on shipping.
Laying Hens: Need a minimum protein of 16% and maximum of 18%; a minimum calcium of 3% and maximum of 5%. All the other minerals are pretty standard in feeds: phosphorous, salt, fats, etc.
Broilers (birds grown just for meat): Need a minimum protein of 18% and maximum of 20%; a minimum calcium of 0.90% and a maximum of 1.5%. The other various minerals are pretty standard.
Chicks: Because of their rapid growth, they require a minimum protein of 18% and maximum of 21%; a minimum calcium of 1% and maximum of 1.45%.
Feeds used as “scratch” don’t have protein and fat. Chicken keepers who use this type of feed use it as a supplement to a nutritionally balanced feed.
We don’t feed pellets or crumbles to our flocks. We feel it’s better to provide whole grains for them versus processed, compressed feeds. Their bodies are designed to process whole grains. Everyone has their own way, this is ours.
How The Old Timer’s Fed Chickens
Believe it or not, it’s not necessary to provide your flock with any grain at all. Well, let me rephrase that…if you free range your flock, it isn’t necessary to use grains for feeding chickens. For so many thousands of years, chicken keepers kept their flocks without it. In many countries there are flocks of feral chickens and no one feeds them.
Some old-timers made their own feed. Today there’s a move towards doing this and towards eliminating all grain feeding from the flock. They also bartered with their neighbors for grains and gave the flock kitchen and garden scraps along with free-ranging for feeding chickens.
Chickens aren’t herbivores (plant eaters)! They’re omnivores, they eat meat and plants. Chickens aren’t picky, my flock loves mice, worms, and all manner of insects.
If the old-timers used grain for feeding chickens, it was usually just a small amount of cracked corn in the evenings to call them in. Most of them free-ranged, as my granparents did. It was always funny to me to see the chickens running down the dirt road from their foraging when it was time to get their evening scratch.
In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” series, Mrs. Boast gave Ma a hatching of chicks and they fed them some cracked corn. They lived in a time when the farmer grew their own animal feed and free-ranged most all their livestock. This is our goal for our homestead and livestock.
The availability of commercial feeds made it easier for people in all kinds of places to keep backyard chickens. For the hobby farmers or those in urban settings, there isn’t room to grow their own food or to free-range the flock for feeding chickens. In some places it’s against the law to free-range any type of livestock.
Even for those who do free-range, supplementing the diet of your flock with a well-balanced feed isn’t necessarily a bad idea. It can make winter and times of stress a little easier on your flocks.
Guidelines for Feeding Chickens
There are standard guidelines for feeding chickens. However, you will establish your own system according to your personal experience and preferences.
Hatch – 8 weeks feed chick starter. When my hens hatch out, I feed a little chick starter along with her layer. She cracks it up for them and teaches them how to eat.
8 – 20 weeks change feed to grower – especially if you are raising dual purpose or meat birds.
20 weeks+ feed layer to your flock
If your flock is of mixed age, feed the whole flock grower until the young ones reach 20 weeks. Just be sure of offer your hens free choice calcium. The chicks won’t eat it and your hens will get what they need. We use their eggs (next conversation), but you can use oyster shell if you prefer.
How Do I Know They’re Getting Enough To Eat?
It’s kind of odd to me how my chickens always seem hungry. I’ve always trained my flock to come to me with a white bucket. When they’re chicks their food is brought in a white bucket. Anything I take to the chicken yard is usually taken in that white bucket.
They associate the bucket with goodies and they come running to me as early as 3 weeks old! They may have just been fed, or out free-ranging, but they act like their starving! They run as fast as their little legs will let them and talk as loudly to me as if I hadn’t let them have anything all day long.
The best way to tell if you’re feeding chickens enough is to look at their overall health. If your hens are regularly laying healthy eggs, I would say they’re doing well. A healthy egg has a well-formed shell with nice shape and color. You may get some abnormal eggs every now and then, but as a general rule they’re eggs will be healthy.
When a chicken is healthy, it’s inquisitive, lively, and has nice red cones and wattles (unless they’re molting or are not laying). They will have healthy feathers, beaks, legs, and feet. A good check is to see if they’re about the average size for their breed.
You can pick them up, if you handled them a lot or wait until they go to roost then pick them up to check. You can tell if they’re plump or frail. If you follow the guidelines above, you shouldn’t have any problems.
The more you know your birds, you’ll find you can spot a problem quickly just by watching them. When Fat Hen had her run in with the hawk earlier this year, I knew something was wrong by the way she walked. She had developed an abscess, but we noticed she was acting different and were able to take quick action. Her wound healed well and she’s laying again.
I hope you’re enjoying this series and that you’re finding answers to your questions.
Do you have a favorite feed? Share your story about feeding chickens?
If you have any questions or comments use the Contact Me page or leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to help all I can.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack