Wednesday, August 15, 2007

properly feeding our chickens

As we approach the arrival of our first eggs, I'm starting to do research about changing the feed of our girls to best support their egg laying efforts.

At our local feed store, there are five bins of chicken food. All are available in 50 pound bags, but until we get into the egg-laying stage, I won't be buying in bulk:
  1. starter (don't need it anymore)
  2. chick scratch (what we're giving them now)
  3. hen scratch (for post-egg-laying years?)
  4. Layena(R) mash (for egg-laying hens, and suggested as a good iguana food, too!)
  5. Layena(R) crumble (crumbled quasi-pelletized versions of the mash)
In my quest for more detail on what to get (mash or crumble), I discovered a Geocities-hosted page from the (no defunct) Chicken Encyclopedia's page on Feeding.

Advice is given on what to feed the chicks weeks 0-4 and post week 18 but nothing in the middle. However, I found this section on scratch (what we're feeding the girls now):

Keep in mind once you start feeding them scratch or cracked corn you also need to add a supply of grit for digestion. As you have guessed chickens do not have teeth, without getting to technical, the grit is stored in the chickens gizzard and as the food they eat passes through the gizzard it is ground up.

A good way to check out the gizzard is after you have given you new chickens grit pick one of them up the next day and feel the base of her neck, you should feel a lumpy pocket that is the gizzard.
Uh oh. The girls have been on scratch for a good 8 weeks now (or more) and I've yet to give them any scratch. They've continued to grow quick as a, um, chicken, so I think they're getting the nutrients they need. They must be picking up all the grit they need in their free ranging the yard (I hope!). I'll be getting grit for them asap, though.

Another interesting thing I noticed on that same Feeding page was the following caution (in an annoying blink style font held over from 1995):
The things chickens should NEVER get:

Large amounts of salt, raw potato peels, chocolate

and the biggest NO NO of all do not ever feed beans of any kind to a chicken (they can't expel the gas and it will get ugly so please do not try it)

Oh, I'll be switching the girls to a laying feed once the first egg comes out. Still haven't decided which brand yet (will keep you posted)


Linda said...

Hmmm...interesting notes on feed at that site.

I ordered layers feed when I ordered my Eglu. (Yes, it was pricier, but I needed the assurance that I'd have the food on hand in case I couldn't get to a store that sold it.) I recall reading somewhere that giving the pullets layers feed before they actually started to lay would be OK. I can't recall exactly where I read this, but it seemed a reliable source.

My pullets arrived yesterday. !!! They are eating that layer feed without any issues. Since they were likely a bit stressed from their travel, I also gave them some live culture cottage cheese with some crumbled whole grain bread and raisins mixed in. I know from your blog that the chooks love grapes, but I had no fresh grapes on hand. They certainly love raisins, too!

So far the girls are settling in, although they are a bit shy of me still. The bravest one did take a couple raisins off my outstretched hand today, though.

I've posted a bit more story and photos on my Vox blog here:

Blogger has been a real pain lately when it comes to posting photos, so I'm do a bit of cross-posting.

brad said...

You have more experience with chickens than I do, but from what I have read, chicks should get chick crumble (mash is wasteful) until 8 weeks old, then pullet feed until about 20 weeks old, then laying feed pellets, with about 2 weeks transition time between each.

Once pullets (8wks), they should start getting grit either sprinkled on their feed or in a separate dish. If they have free-range time, they are probably eating dirt and small stones, if available.

Laying feed should have calcium in it, but oyster shells provide more and can be used to supplement the feed.

I haven't seen pullet feed either, though we visit the same stores. According to the book "Living with Chickens", "you can provide perfectly acceptable nutrition for your pullets by mixing oats ... into the chick starter ... begin by adding one part oats to ten parts [chick] starter ration, and increase the proportion until the feed is about one-third oats. When the birds are 18 weeks old, make the same gradual switch to a layer ration."

"Feed Chickens" says that scratch should be used as a treat, not a primary feed, because corn "is high in fat and low in protein".

Unknown said...

Glad you've got your chickens, Linda! And thanks for the extra detail, Brad.

Since making the original blog post, I went and picked up some grit straight away and now there's an extra feed cup in their run full of grit. (actually, it's the same feed cup we used when the chicks were in the cage inside the house). I thought it might take a bit for them to figure out what to do with it, but they started pecking at it right away.

So, I think I might actually start moving them over to layer feed this weekend as we make this next transition.

Will keep you posted!

brad said...

Sorry, "Feed Chickens" should be "KEEP Chickens".

Melanie K said...

Less than one hour after Thomas told me about the problem with feeding them beans, I tossed a green bean into the coop to get the girls to go back inside. They seemed both confused and amused to see me crawl in to take the bean back.


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