What is it that I feed the chickens? How do you feed them?
True, that chickens could survive on simply whatever they find out in the yard. Bugs, insects, grass, etc. Or, their favorite appetizer - slugs. Insert a huge icky face here. Blech! I can't even handle watching them eat a slug when they do. I give them to them, then turn my head. But hey, we all have our weird tastes.
Chickens can live and survive on simply whatever they find lying around. But, then again, we humans could live and survive on water and bread. But, I ask you ... What kind of life would that be? Bread and water? Yum. That's about the enthusiasm of chickens with surviving on anything that they find lying around.
But there are benefits to buying premade food, prepackaged foods, and supplements for chickens. Their health is better. Their overall appearance is better. And most importantly - they are more happy. That is, I would say, the most important, and beneficial, to feeding them a wide variety of things.
As any good book would mention, they need plenty of calcium, protein, fat, vitamins,etc. Just like us. The source of which is your choice.
Calcium's most valuable source is purchased ground oyster shell. Another is spinach and brocolli. Depending on your chickens tastes, and such, it may be different for you - google 'Chickens Calcium' for plenty of options. Or simply google 'Calcium food.' Chickens benefit from most foods the same way as we do. Nothing is the same for everyone. I, myself, since oyster shell gets expensive, simply prefer to not only give plenty of greens for calcium, but I pretty much have the ability to feed back their eggs to them quite often. They love it and will start doing a soft chortling sound for you when you give them things they relish and enjoy. Eggs are particularly good at receiving that sound :)
I prefer to cook the eggs before giving them back. I give them them the entire egg. That way, as you crumble up the egg before giving them back, it doesn't resemble as much of their own egg. Myself, I haven't had a problem with egg eating, but it can be quite a hard habit to break I've heard. They break an egg in their nest, purely by accident, then decide it's quite the treat! Then, they will do so from then on most of the time. However, I have had an egg break in the nest and them eat at it while there, but still, they hadn't bothered to continue - which I am extremely lucky for that.
Also, it's a great way to keep track of the calcium that they are receiving I've noticed, by paying close attention to the shell. Most store shells are quite thin and pretty much nothing. However, if you notice that when you break open an organic egg shell than you will see that they shell is quite thick compared to the store ones. This is a great way to keep track of calcium absorption for the chickens. Occasionally I have noticed the shells get thin. Mostly not. It's just a great way to keep track. If they get thin - like the store - you'll know to up the calcium. It's important for egg production - calcium - so if you have egg laying chickens, it is a very important to make sure they get enough. Think of how calcium affects our own bones - as a woman I'm speaking - and how brittle they can become without proper calcium. Same with chickens. As soon as they start laying eggs, they will need to receive proper amounts of calcium options.
Another great way of reducing waste it to simply set aside used egg shells when you use your eggs, let them dry - my girls never approve of wet egg shells! - and add (crumbled) them to whatever you feed the girls, or the cooked eggs and shells.
Please keep in mine that my chickens are pets and they are for egg production. Not meat. A lot of the things that I do for mine need to be ramped up if you choose to raise chickens to eat, or are not concerned about their well-being. This blog is only for people that truly want enjoyable pets and egg-layers. Though, just as everyone has different ways of raising children and any other pets, your ways may be different than my own. I'm sure on some things I do they are lacking, and others are over-kill. But then again, this is a blog to give people ideas. Or, to simply tell them how I raise my chickens. Not someone elses.
Another important feature of chickens is grit. Grit is pretty much anything that they can pick up and fill their crop with. What is a crop? A crop is where the food passes through before it gets digested and moved to the stomach. Chickens don't have teeth. Though they can pinch hard enough to rip skin if they want to! :) My mom just learned that little lesson when she decided to go out and trim some branches by the coop. Lily decided she needed to investigate the bare toes showing and my mom ended up with a nice little cut on her foot. My response, 'You heard me just saying that Lily wanted pick on the bare skin showing in the cut knee area of my jeans and you went in there with flip flops?" hehehe Yes, she - Lily - has attitude. Hence she got the queen of the Underworlds name - Lilith :)
Grit helps the chickens grind up the food that passes through. Grit is basically really small pebbles that they fill their crop with. Think of a grinding stone. That's the way the the grit works for the chickens. For us, we don't need to provide extra grit because our chickens have a dirt ground. They are able to go around and dig up dirt to find plenty of grit naturally. However, if you have a cement floor, or just want the option, you can buy packaged grit. Then, all you need to do is to provide them with that grit in a bowl, or scatter the grit on the ground for them. Typically, it's a good idea to have it accessable to the chickens in a bowl. I just like making life easier for the chickens.
Foods that I feed my chickens are pretty much anything and everything that I eat. However, unless you want your eggs to taste like fish, garlic, onion, or anything else icky as that, then I would suggest making sure your chickens don't have access to those foods. Can you imagine baking a cake with their eggs and imagine tasting a nice delicious piece of fish cake? Or how about having a nice garlic tang to your pies? That would be why it is very undesirable to feed your chickens food of that nature. What you put in does come back out. And in the case of eggs, it comes out to what you put into your body.
Uncooked potato skins aren't good for them either. Though I've heard some chickens like mashed potatoes, mine do not. And when my chickens don't eat something, I try and always make sure it's able to be taken up, otherwise you will end up with rats. And anything else. Though, if you ever watch, you'll notice the wild birds around your yard trying to get in there to nibble the delicious goodies the chickens get and most don't dare get into our coop because the chickens have always stood their ground quite well!
My chickens like anything that I give them with some exceptions. They don't do large pieces of apples. You'd have to shred those. Only because they are so hard. Same with carrots. They like the peels when we peel them for cooking, but if they aren't small enough, the problem with to big of pieces is the fact that the crops can become impacted if things get in there that are simply too big to pass through. I prefer to take that extra moment to chop up all pieces that they might not eat to be smaller. Same with tomato skins. It works to take that extra minute to cut them into smaller pieces so that the chickens eat them. And they do love tomatoes.
As for staple foods, it is really important to feed - in our case we use casserole dishes - the chickens in a bowl, their base food. That is the food that is always available to them. Having all those extras gives variety and additions, but the staple food is most important to them. Some people only feed that food, but we prefer adding variety as well. Chicken scratch, chicken layer pellets, organic pellets, etc., can be purchased from your local feed store. In our case we use Bothell Feed Store. Minus them telling my mom that the babies should be housed in cedar chips, they have been very knowledgable and helpful in all our questions. There are always going to be bad and good advice from those type stores, and anybody, but it's a good idea to research like crazy and go with your gut. Always take everything with a grain of salt, but still learn something from it. Even my info, because as I've said, this is my way. It may not be your way. That's fine. Nobody does everything the same.
The thing with providing all those other treats along with their normal food, is to make sure they are still eating their own foods. I used to do this by never giving them the extra varieties until after noon. Though, now I've learned that it's okay to give them anytime because my chickens will still eat their base food so they can have goodies whenever. But, no matter what I give them it is usually in a plate, bowl, etc. Otherwise if food is left out after they go to bed at night - though it can still happen during the day - then you walways have the possibility of rats and other undesirable creatures coming to feast.
Water. Water is a very important component in their diet. Always make sure that they have access to clean water. I'm not a stickler with their bowl of water. When it's hot I make sure that it stays cool. When it's freezing, I make sure to dump some hot water in once in a while and check to make sure that it doesn't freeze over. I keep it towards the warm side. Not warm, but definitely not cold either. Ice water is no more fun to a chickens throat I'm sure, then it is to ours. Hello brain freeze :) But, as with the food bowl, I simply use a glass casserole dish that we are not using for their water. Once a week I wash it out. Our chickens keep their food and water fairly clean. If it does get excess dirt and leaves, etc., in the bowls then I will clean them up more, but otherwise I only fully clean them once a week. I have many more animals and house cleaning to do during the week. I'm not going to kill myself when I know it won't get dirty and they will be healthy and fine. Stress is not going to make for a happy chicken mommy :)
Our food and water bowls, as I've said, are simply casserole dishes. Clear, plain dishes. I tried the chicken bowls and water bowls that my mom bought when we first got our chickens. They are the basics that you can buy from any place for chicken feeders. But I hated them. I liked the idea of being able to clean them. I am a bit of a clean freak. I didn't like the idea that the feed would sit there for a while and I couldn't get into them and into every crack to clean them. They were bulky and cumbersome. I just hated them. I went through quiet a bit before I chose the casserole dishes. For treats, I have a lot of excess stainless steel bowls from the dogs that I no longer use. I have small, medium and large bowls. They work perfectly to use for the chickens. Chickens love shiny things. They are drawn to the shiny silver bowls.
Chickens I have heard (I always say 'I've heard' because I haven't had nearly the problems I've heard that people have had to deal with, with mine.) like to dump their water, food bowls, etc. They advocate having the feeders/waterers lifted and raised in some way. I have mine sitting on top of two short lengths of 4X4's that have a piece of small plywood on top to make a table. They haven't had too many problems with knocking it down, stepping on them, soiling, anything. I have an opening of 10 inches or so around the entire food and water bowls so that no chicken crowds another. Since they are all girls, if one crowds another, then of course, they will peck each other. Anything to prevent that, I'm all for.
Items they enjoy though are:
Tomatoes, Mac and Cheese, Cheeseburger Macaroni, Lettuce (sometimes), spinach, carrots (shredded), apples (shredded), corn, beans, smashed garbanzo beans (they can't crush them and they are too big otherwise), peas, weeds (as long as no pesticides), grass clippings, fruit (no citrus fruit), peaches, Cheerios, tree leaves (when still green of course), pasta, small (or crushed) cat food, small (or crushed) dog food, wheat bread, on and on.
You'd be surprised at just how much food a chicken can take in!
Next up? How about the weather changes?
Have a question? Just ask :)