Food for your Chickens
A Regular Supply of Eggs?
If you are looking for a regular supply of eggs from your chickens it is important that you feed them well. Hybrid chickens are simply egg-making machines; they have been bred to produce good-sized eggs as cheaply as possible, that is why they are smaller framed than their predecessors. These girls will produce a 65 gram egg each day after consuming just 125 grams of feed. Well, that’s what happens in the commercial world.
With your chickens having more exercise they may burn off more energy and will fill themselves up with lots of juicy insects and the best flowers from the garden. The most important part of their daily diet, without doubt, is Layers Pellets or Layers meal. All large commercial brands are suitable for the hybrids as long as they contain a minimum of 16% protein. If you wish to pay more for their food then there are some very good organic feeds on the market, however I have found that sometimes these do not contain enough digestible proteins for during the winter months, which sometimes prevents the girls continuing to lay throughout the winter.
It’s great fun giving the girls scraps and tit-bits but please be careful not to spoil them too much otherwise they will simply stop laying and you will have to pop down to the supermarket and purchase some less fresh eggs! Scraps should not be fed until the afternoon; in theory they should have eaten 80% of their daily requirement by midday and hopefully this should provide enough to produce a tasty egg.
No matter how they look at you with pleading eyes please do not feed your chickens any meat or kitchen waste (this is against the law) as there is a risk of contaminating your girls with various diseases and viruses – well, that's the official status; any crops grown in your own garden are fine.
Of course your girls love mixed corn as much as children love chocolate, but it can be extremely harmful if over fed. Wheat and barley contain only 10% available protein but will soon turn your trim girls into dumplings, and fat chickens are not very productive either. You will soon find a drop in egg production if overfed. Another problem is that the hybrid chickens have a much smaller digestive system than their traditional bred cousins and often too much grain will lead to compacted crop. If you really have to give them some corn, just a small handful in the afternoon would be acceptable.
In general a well-fed chicken will not consume poisonous plants as most have a very bitter taste, however there are a few plants that I would remove from the garden to be on the safe side. These would include:
- Young potato sprouts and leaves
- Ivy - mainly young shoots
These are the ones that I have experienced causing a problem, however if you keep your chickens well fed with Layers pellets it will be just bad luck if they find a poisonous plant in your garden. I am more concerned about slug pellets, nitrates and chemicals used on lawns, and rodent bait that some poultry keepers scatter around; these are more palatable for the inquisitive girls and cause problems quickly.
Like any pet we do like to spoil them at times with special treats and it's fun watching their actions as they perform whilst eating them. Each bird has its particular favourites and it is part of the enjoyment in experimenting with different flavours. This is a shortlist of special treats, some of which I would recommend while others I would avoid.
The healthy list:
- Bananas: A good potassium source, but 1 banana minus the skin between 3 chickens once a week, otherwise you could cause an imbalance in their potassium levels.
- Soft fruits: Ideal source of vitamins and it's great fun watching the girls running off with a strawberry or gooseberry in their beak, however too much and they will be runny from the tail end.
- Greens: All greens contain many minerals and vitamins. A cabbage tied up in the run will give endless hours of entertainment and help reduce boredom. Green potato skins and shoots can be toxic and are best avoided. Do not leave surplus on the floor of the chicken run otherwise this will attract rodents and wild birds.
- Dairy products: Yoghurt and milk mixed with porridge will help your girls get through very cold spells and aid quicker regrowth after a moult, but please be aware that all poultry struggle to digest dairy products so little and often is the best policy. Plain yoghurt would contain less sugar and therefore would be more beneficial. If you are having problems with soft shelled-eggs, whole milk will help increase availability of calcium in their digestive system. Mixing dairy products with Layers pellets or mash is ideal but please make sure that they have fresh every day, otherwise you will create a bacteria build-up.
- Rice and pasta: If you want to get into the chickens’ good books then boil up some rice or pasta and watch your girls dance as they squabble to dive on to to these man-made worms! Will not make them too fat but please do not overfeed.
- Mealworms: Now you’re talking. Dead or alive these things will go down a treat and just a perfect feed as they are high in protein and enjoyed by all the girls. Please be careful not to feed too many each day as this can cause an imbalance in the protein intake. If they don't like mealworms then maybe they are ill. If you need to get powdered medication into the girls, simply mix it into a few mealworms.
The not so good list:
- Meat: Please do not feed any meat or meat by-products to chickens. It is against the law in England and rightly so, as this is a major source of bringing problems into your flock (and everyone else's). With meat being imported from all over the world there is a chance that some viruses will be lurking in the meat and no matter how well you cook it there is a strong possibility that the virus could survive and cause havoc to your chickens before spreading to others very quickly.
- White Bread: This is a product that I am not keen on feeding to chicken. I know that most people get away with it but it seems that for some reason too much white bread does upset the digestive system and can lead to very mucky tail ends. Brown bread does not seem to have the same effect, but please do not give two or three girls a whole loaf otherwise you will be asking for trouble.
- Chocolate: Please do not be tempted to feed your girls chocolate or any sugary sweets. OK. it will not rot their teeth but it would not take long to upset and eventually poison them. If you love your chocolate then eat it yourself; I promise that you are not going to produce chocolate-flavoured eggs by ramming a Fruit & Nut bar down their throats!
- Onions: Best avoided. The girls are unlikely to eat them, however if they got the taste of them it would probably affect their appetite for a few days whilst they clear it out of their system. Even though garlic is from the same family, used in moderation garlic is definitely a perfect supplement.
- Alcohol: Alcohol and chicken do not go together, they are lightweights and simply cannot consume any amount of alcohol. A small amount of stout in warm milk given to a poorly chicken can be accepted. The nicotine from cigarettes can easily kill them so please do not allow the chicken run to be used as a dumping ground for discarded cigarette butts. Next section: Choosing your Girls >