What to feed chickens? (part 2)
The complete feeds we discussed last month make up the bulk of your chickens’ diet. However it is good to add these other foodstuffs.
Laying hens require lots of calcium to produce egg shells. And even though commercial layer rations contain calcium, it is recommended to provide them with another source. Have a small bowl with chipped limestone, crushed oyster shells, ground aragonite, or simply crushed egg shells available in their coop. Note that the egg shells should be washed, dried, and crushed.
Chickens have no teeth so they use small rocks in their gizzard to grind down their food. They need it especially if they eat whole grains and green forage. Chickens who are allowed to forage will pick up grit from the soil. Many keepers offer grit in a small bowl as a free choice option.
Note: Don’t mix the calcium and grit in the same bowl so everyone can choose what they need.
Young, tender plants provide valuable nutrients, and chickens love them. Watch them devouring the tiny weeds and grasses that are sprouting after the first rains. You can seed special forage for your chickens. Any mix of alfalfa, ryegrass, clover, buckwheat, flax, millet, radish... is good. Be sure to protect the newly seeded area and let it grow into a nice thick green carpet before offering it to the chickens. Start several forage patches in succession so there is always some green pasture for your flock. If you don’t have lots of space, grow the forage in pots and bring them in the coop when ready.
You can also give your chickens lawn clippings as long as no chemicals were sprayed on it. Avoid long cut grasses as they can get stuck in their crop and cause crop impaction.
There are many more things that chickens love to eat, but they should be considered more treats than food. Give in moderation.
Vegetables and fruits
Chickens love their greens: cabbage leaves, kale, broccoli, lettuce, chards... They don’t even mind the aphids! They are also crazy about grapes, berries, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, and more.
Sprout a tray of wheat, barley, whole peas or oats and offer it to the chickens either when fully sprouted or grow a few inches for a more nutritious snack.
Seeds and scratch
Scratch is a mix of grains that the chickens are really fond of. It usually contains cracked corn, milo, wheat, and barley. This along with sunflower, pumpkin, chia, and flax seeds are candies to chickens. They are high in calories and should be given sparingly.
Hardboil an egg, crush it with its shell, and serve. It’s an excellent way to replenish the protein and calcium lost from laying so many eggs. It’s a favorite in my flock!
Kitchen scraps and leftovers
Not much is going to waste when you have chickens. Squash seeds, melon rind, cooked grains (rice, quinoa, pasta...), old bread... all goes to the chickens. Just make sure to never give anything gone bad or moldy.
Be careful to not overfeed your chickens. Encourage them to be active, forage, and hunt for bugs instead of feeding them scratch and grubs. They will be healthier and happier.
In both this article and last, we mainly talked about hens. What about the chicks and the roosters?
Baby chicks need more protein and less calcium then laying hens. Get them a special starter ration. Unless they have a mom, they should be kept separated from the adult flock until they are 3-4 month old and big enough to be introduced. At that time, they will be fine eating a layer ration.
Roosters do not need as much calcium and protein as laying hens do. If you have a bachelor flock get them an appropriate feed with very little calcium and 10-12% protein. However if they live with the hens, it’s impossible to feed them a different ration, so optimize for the hens and let the roosters eat what the girls have.
Did you know?
Avocado, citrus, and uncooked beans are poisonous to chickens.
Chickens rarely eat toxic plants. When they do eat something poisonous, it's usually because someone fed them something poisonous by accident.
Here are 2 useful lists for chickens' keepers: toxic plants and safe plants.