Thursday, November 21, 2013

What to Feed Your Chickens

We are still learning on the fly (PUN, giggles).  We don’t begin to know everything and highly recommend doing your own research.  Those of you that keep chickens, please comment on things you do, so that we can continue to learn.  Thank you!

How much should I budget for feed and what do I feed my chickens?

First let’s establish that we are discussing standard-sized egg-laying chickens, not bantams, chicks or broilers.  We are also discussing chickens with no special needs, not molting, brooding or healing from an injury. 
A Mille Fluer Leghorn Pullet.  She is
almost the perfect back yard chicken.
Nearly every day she'll lay a great big
whit(ish) colored egg and she only
weighs 6 lbs so she won't eat much.
That's a really good ROI for feed.

Time and again sources prove that the average adult hen will eat nearly a quarter pound of feed a day if she is kept in a caged environment.  Here is one source:   Our hens run around and we feed them kitchen scraps so I know they eat less than .25 lb a day.  For budgeting purposes though, we use that figure.

The average family of 5 people will need about 8 hens.  This will provide 6 -8 eggs a day in the summer and maybe 2 or 3 in the winter.  
Unless of course, there are lights in the coop.  But that’s a topic for another day.  
So 8 hens will eat 2lbs of food a day.  This means that a 50lb bag of feed will last 25 days.   

If your chickens are free range and supplemented with kitchen scraps, odds are high that you’ll manage a month on one bag.  We buy organic feed which is more than double the cost of non-organic.  Regular feed is $12 - $14 in our area.  Once you are past the initial investment, your eggs could cost you $14 a month.  

That’s pretty impressive, especially if you are getting 15 dozen eggs in that month!  Remember that home grown eggs will have a nutrition value that far surpasses store bought eggs, even if you choose not to use organic feed!  Besides, fresh eggs taste SOOOO good!

If you are the food-saving type, here is a great blog on how to keep your eggs all year long!
I highly recommend reading that blog page if you ever have too many eggs.

What kind of feed should you buy? 
Buy chicken food.  Not dog or cat food.  Chickens have special needs because they are doing a special thing when they lay eggs! 
Feed.  A complete layer pellet will have no less than 15% protein.  Soy protein works best – if GMO’s concern you –then hunt for GMO free, soy-based chicken feed.
Grit.  Chickens don’t have teeth.  They depend on stones in their digestive tract to grind up food.  If they free-range, they’ll find their own grit.  If they are penned up, make sure you supply grit in the form of sandy pebbles, store bought grit or real dirt, sand and weeds to play in.
 “The eggshell for each egg that your hen lays is about 95% calcium carbonate by dry weight.  In just one year’s time, the amount of calcium that a hen will put into her eggshells can equal 20 times the amount of calcium that is contained in her bones. That’s a lot of calcium. In order to stay healthy and produce strong egg shells, she needs to consume a steady supply of calcium.”  McMurray
You can see that calcium is important.  So if your feed does not have enough calcium, or you allow free range or feed lots of kitchen scraps, you will need to supplement.  Oyster shell is cheap and worth it.  Some people suggest feeding egg shells to chickens.  Never do this!  It teaches them that eggs are food.  Oops, you don’t want them eating YOUR breakfast!  More information on calcium:
Treats!  Chickens LOVE kitchen scraps.
The short list is what NOT to feed them.
1.     Avocados.  They kill chickens.
2.    Bananas.  They kill chickens too.
3.    Chicken.  Don’t encourage cannibalism. 
4.    Moldy food.  Not to worry, that odd grape, berry or tomato with mold on it is not the real problem.  The real problem is that 3 month old cheesecake you found in the back of the fridge.  Use your common sense—don’t feed that to animals that can get sick from it!  Chickens have very delicate respiratory systems.  If you don’t want your mouth near it, odds are high they don’t either. 
5.    Egg shells, already covered that.  Eggs, however are fine if they’re cooked and in other scraps.  Do not feed raw eggs.
6.    Milk products.   They can’t digest it.  Use real probiotics not yogurt.  (That will be a topic for another day).  Don’t worry about that little bit of cheese in the taco salad, just don’t pour milk in the feeder.
Another blog with more in-depth information about feeding chickens.

If you keep chickens, do you have a daily routine for feeding them scraps?  What do they love best?  Our chickens come running when they hear my voice - do yours?