Jan 23, 2011
Steve

Feeding Chickens

“That’s chicken feed”… You may have heard that as a part of an expression meaning cheap or inexpensive. If you go back a hundred years ago to rural America when many homes in the country had their own chickens you would find chickens “Scratching” out their own food from the fields or eating table scraps thrown out for them. Feeding chickens back then was indeed cheap.

However most of those chickens were always on the verge of malnutrition, especially in the Large Chicken Feederwinter months. A chicken needs nearly an acre of space to forage for food on their own. Add a second chicken and you need 2 acres. Few backyard chicken enthusiasts have that kind of space and even if they did, predators would likely continuously threaten their flock and stress their birds.
 

Most backyard chicken enthusiasts will use a combination of commercial chicken feed and table scraps to feed their chickens. Commercial feeds can come in a variety of forms and formulations and can range from affordable ($0.30 a week per chicken) to organic feeds costing over $3.00/week.
 
If you feed good table scraps to your chickens, you can reduce your costs considerably but you have to keep in mind that chickens need certain nutrition in their diets in order to maintain their optimum health.

Table Scraps

In most cases, chickens can eat most anything a human will eat with a few notable exceptions. These can be classified as Bad Ideas and Harmful

Bad Ideas

Chickens eggs can be affected by the food the chicken eats. Feeding your chickens things with onion, garlic, fish and strong flavors such as curry can cause the eggs to take on very undesirable flavors.

Many people have reported that giving a chicken a taste of eggs (table scraps) can cause the chickens to acquire a taste for eggs and will cause the chickens to cannibalize their own eggs for food. I personally haven’t seen this but the idea of feeding eggs to chickens isn’t appealing to me so I avoid it anyway.

Harmful

Some things should be avoided altogether as they can cause health problems and death to your chickens. These include:

Avocados – their seeds have a brown cover containing the toxic compound persin that is deadly to chickens

Raw Potato peels are very difficult for chickens to digest. Eating them will cause digestive distress which will weaken their immune system and can lead to illness.

Other foods that can cause digestive problems or are just plain unhealthy for chickens include:

  • Fried foods- if they aren’t good for us, they aren’t good for chickens
  • Caffeine or alcohol
  • Foods high in fat or sugar
  • Sugar substitutes 
Last lets discuss rotting foods.
 
Chickens aren’t the smartest animals and if you put rotting foods out, they will likely eat them. Rotting foods will likely contain high levels of toxins and salmonella. If you want your fresh chickens and their eggs to be salmonella and disease free, keep rotting meats and vegetables away from your flock.

Commercial Feeds.Feeding Chickens

There are different formulations for chickens depending on whether they are young chickens, laying chickens, meat chickens or show chickens.
 
In general, young chicks need higher levels of protein in the feed to help them grow and develop. Young female chicks being raised as layers will need up to 20% protein in their feed while young chicks that are being raised for meat will need more protein to grow rapidly (24% protein.)
 
As the young chicks age, they will need less protein and more energy though laying chickens still need up to 20% protein in their diet.
 
Feed itself comes in 3 main styles:

Mash

Mash is a combination of various grains and such that are ground down to a small size but are still separate pieces. Chickens will often pick and choose what they like from the various grains used. 

Pellets

Pellets are like the mash but have been compressed into pellet form. Each pellet will contain all the grains and such in the feed and the chickens will eat the whole pellet thus insuring that the complete nutrition from the feed is being made available to the chicken.

Crumbles

Crumbles are like Pellets but have been broken into smaller bits more suitable for younger birds. The smaller size is easier for the chicks to eat and digest.
 

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