Nutrition For The Chicken & Homemade Feed
There are many items chickens will readily eat however just like humans need to eat a nutritionally balanced diet, chickens also need certain foods to remain healthy. Chickens are omnivores, which means they’ll scarf down just about anything, or at least try to! Chickens are excellent natural foragers; hunting insects, worms, and greens. Insects and other pests make for an exciting tasty treat and it’s a very captivating experience to witness them foraging naturally. Chickens also eat less exciting foods, like vegetables, fruits, flowers and grass. They will even eat grains and seeds! Chickens will scratch the ground to search for bugs and other specks of things that normally humans cannot see or even notice. So, the question isn’t really what chickens eat, but what is the right diet for them.
In the 19th century most chickens were barnyard scavengers. Chicks would hatch out of their eggs under their nesting mamas and were taught to look for grain, bugs, and greens in the garden. The farmer and their family would typically toss stale bread and other kitchen scraps to the hens to graze on. Chickens destined for the table were usually fattened up on sour milk just before harvesting them. Sometimes, in the winter, they’d be given a handful of grain. The hens back then laid only a few eggs a week. This haphazard diet was enough sustenance for them. Over time flocks started to grow larger and more confined. Some chicken breeds were specifically bred to lay more and more eggs. Instead of average of 90 eggs a year, modern hens may now lay over 300 eggs a year! With the increase in egg production came an increase in the nutritional requirements of the flock.
[count_block text_color=”#2a2b2c” background_color=”#fff” number=”90″ icon=”fa-circle-o” ]Annual Average Eggs – 19th Century Hens[/count_block] [count_block text_color=”#2a2b2c” background_color=”#fff” number=”300″ icon=”fa-circle-o” ]Annual Average Eggs – Modern Hens[/count_block] [count_block text_color=”#dd3333″ background_color=”#fff” number=”210″ icon=”fa-circle-o” ]Difference Between Then & Now Hens[/count_block]
After extensive research and understanding of what a typical diet consists of, we have discovered there are 5 essential dietary ingredients that are needed to ensure they are getting the best nutrition available. In addition, feeding your chickens a well balanced meal will also have some direct benefits for you as well such superior tasting eggs and meat. Lets find out what the 5 essential dietary ingredients are:
- Meat Protein
- Grass & Hay
- Dried Whole Corn & Grains
Protein is essential to egg production. It is not recommend feeding your chickens meat as this tends to turn your chickens cannibalistic. When chickens forage, they eat worms and bugs which are high in protein. Not everyone has the ability to free-range chickens and therefor normal foraging might be limited, there are some alternative options to help supplement this foraging such as raising your own worms. You can also pick up mealworms and crickets at most local pet stores that sell reptiles or birds. The chickens will go crazy to eat some of those fat little worms/crickets/insects and run around the pen, squealing with delight. In addition, you can provide them with fish oil and fish meal throughout the year. They not only love it but it’s good for them as well.
Grass & Hay
Fresh clippings from your recently mowed lawn might be an excellent option to provide them with some fresh grass. We would sometimes take a few cubic feet of pesticide free grass patches for them to devour at their leisure. You could even stop at your local feed store to pick up some inexpensive bale of hay.
Dried Whole Corn & Grains
Although this is an important ingredient it is best used sparingly and typically during cooler weather as it does cause the birds to warm up. In addition to fluctuating their internal temperature it also benefits to the richness of the yolk.
The secret to nutrient rich, delicious eggs is greens. This may include lettuce, beet greens, kale, or whatever green scraps you have in your kitchen. If you are short on greens at home, you might be lucky to find a farmers market or grocery store that normally throws them away into giving them to you for free or cheap so that you can feed your hens. Even neighbors might be willing to give you there unwanted veggies.
Calcium is essential for chicken’s health as well as the overall egg quality and its shell. No this does not mean you need to shove down any calcium pills down their throat. In fact most homesteaders feed them baked eggshells. Other backyard chicken farmers you may find might have other methods of providing calcium to your hens. Whatever method you did will be best for your hens at the end of the day, laying hens need lots of calcium. A lack of calcium is bad for your hens and causes thin and weak shell eggs.