Whereas the Jungle Fowl only lays one egg every 20 days, we expect daily eggs or quick growing hens for meat within record time. Different breeds of chickens need the right balance to their diet because we expect so much more from them.
Chickens are omnivores which is evident in the wild Jungle Fowl who scavenges for not only grain, greens, vegetables and fruits but also meat from jungle floor rodents or pickings from another’s predator’s meal. Protein features as a very important element in their diet.
So when we are shopping for the best bag of grain to feed our chickens there is already a level of protein added to their mixes. Those levels can vary throughout the year such as during their annual molt when egg laying might decrease or stop for a few weeks while the new feathers grow back. Since feathers are 85% protein most of the signs of a protein deficiency are going to deal with the feathers.
Other signs may be decreased appetite, slow growth in chicks, weight loss in mature birds, smaller sized eggs or even decreased laying of eggs. Egg eating, feather eating and cannibalism can also be linked to a lack of protein.
But with all this talk of protein it’s important to remember to never go overboard with supplementary feeding on a daily basis as it can put more strain on the chicken’s kidneys. Always in moderation.
Good Sources of Extra Protein
Remember that all extra sources of protein apart from their regular layer grain feed is a treat. But when they need that boost, try:
- Mealworms (large tub of live mealworms should last a fortnight, minimum)
- Left-over meat on a chop bone
- Canned fish (eg. Sardines) (1-2 fish piece serve)
- Plain Greek Yogurt (1-2 Tablespoons serve)
Good Bags of Layer Feed
A good bag of layer feed should contain 15-18% protein. Some feeds even go as high as 20% protein, but if there is a lack of amino acids in the diet, that 20% cannot be readily absorbed.
Layer feed grain mixes may contain added calcium, grit, proteins, vitamins, minerals, molasses and fats to help aid the chickens’ health and digestion. Some premium products also have added linoleic acid for enhanced egg size.
Meat birds and commercial laying hens typically have their own special blend of crushed grain to optimise their performance. Many farmers mill their own grain to suit their hens’ desired nutritional needs.
Crushed grain mixes ensure that the birds take up all the grains needed in their diet rather than picking and choosing only their favourite grains, which is what typically happens when hens are thrown scatter grain.
Scatter grain may also be known as ‘Scratch’ or ‘Crack’. As the name implies, they are like candy to chooks so we need to treat it as either a supplementary feed or treat. Black sunflower seeds are the best choice as a treat as they are also high in calcium but not as high in fat as the supermarket sunflower seeds.
If you find that your girls are very selective in picking out their favourite grains in the feeder, leaving behind the other same grains every time, then try a crush or pellet rather than whole grains.
- Barastoc Top Premium Layer Mash
- Barastoc Golden Yolk Layer Pellets
- Red Hen 17
Young little chicks need a different diet to their parents because their gut system is immature to handle certain grains and supplements. Introducing them to the wrong level of feed can lead to serious health problems and early death. So when raising either chicks or young pullets make sure that you use the right grain mix specially formulated for them.
Chick Crumble comes as a very fine crumble and may contain a medicated starter to help fight Coccidiosis.
Pullet Grower is a slightly coarser crumble that has a higher level of protein for rapidly growing bodies and may also contain a Coccidiostat.
Once a chicken reaches 18 weeks or Point of Lay, she is then transitioned over to standard chicken pellets, grains or crush/mash which no longer contains a Coccidiostat. If a hen shows signs of Coccidiosis, your vet may recommend that putting the hens back onto the Pullet Grower to help their digestive system until their condition improves.
Kitchen scraps and other treats should make up to only 5% of a chicken’s diet, which is around 2 tablespoons per day. Excessive treats can lead to obesity and a lack of desire to eat the grain mix in their feeders which have a higher balance of their daily nutritional needs.
Vegetables and fruits contribute much needed extra vitamins and minerals which improves the colour of the egg yolk. When yolks appear pale, increase the amount of red and orange veggies which contain Vitamin A.
The emphasis should always be on their layer grain mix first, followed by grasses, greens and scraps.
There are some things you should never feed your chickens. These can cause toxicity and cause hens to stop laying.
Things You Should Not Feed Your Chickens
- Avocado – all parts
- Green potato peelings
- Raw Dry Beans
- Fatty or Junk Food
- Mouldy or Rotten Food
- LEAVES from tomato, capsicum, potato, eggplant and rhubarb
- Raw Peanuts
- Tobacco – cigarette butts
- Chicken eggs/meat
- Man-made products such as Styrofoam
Fat Hens Don’t Lay
If you have been giving your chickens a lot of daily treats but the egg production has either dropped or stopped, then it’s a case of ‘fat hens don’t lay’.
Try cutting back supplement feeds as an experiment. If you have gotten into the habit of giving the girls porridge in the morning when you let them out, remove that from their diet first. It can be our kindness that kills many of our pets, so think ‘scavenger’ to get that balance back in your birds’ diet again.
It’s Time to Check Your Chooks
It has been an extra cold winter this year in Australia with many poultry owners noticing a significant drop in egg production. Those chilly nights will soon give way to longer sunnier days with Spring just around the corner so egg laying should resume to full production.
If the egg shell quality has been lacking even though their diet is looking great and well balanced, try one tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar per 4 Litres of drinking water to help the girls absorb their intake of calcium.
Make sure your poultry has access to shell grit (calcium), food and water at all times.
Don’t limit their access to any of these essentials, only limit the extras.
For more great information on keeping your chickens in optimum health, I highly recommend you check out the Barastoc Chook Book.
Happy Spring Laying!