Fat hens don’t lay is true.
But if truly free ranging throughout the day, they are likely to run off their daily energy intake. With increasingly smaller spaces in suburban backyards to keep our hens in, their energy intake also needs to decrease.
Certain foods can help or hinder chickens, so choosing the right foods at the right time of year is important.
Nutritional needs change throughout the seasons, particularly during their annual moult when egg production might decrease or cease for a time until feathers regrow.
Some foods, however can cause a false positive health scare. This one causes many poultry owners to panic, but just by adjusting their flock’s diet, it can be remedied.
Treats should make up around 2% of their diet.
That equates to around a cup of treats per week, per bird.
Grains or pellets should be the largest percentage of a chicken’s diet as it contains all the essentials vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrates.
Chickens with a dirty poo-y bottom are an indication that they need to be wormed.
Foods with a high water content such as lettuce or melon are a favourite amongst poultry owners to give to their birds, but this can cause a poo-y bum.
If worming is up to date and their health is generally good, then is most likely caused by the diet through the feeding of high water content foods.
Suspicion of blood in their droppings can often be dismissed when traced back to capsicum or beetroot in their diet.
Eliminate these foods to test.
No need to cut them out entirely, just reduce the frequency and be aware that you may see unusual signs for the next day or two.
Lettuce is nutritionally void of anything beneficial for a bird; for poultry or caged ornamental birds.
Lettuce is responsible for diarrhoea amongst birds, more than any other fruit or vegetable due to its high water content.
Iceberg lettuce is the most common and perhaps one of the worst choices.
Choosing a more gourmet variety is a better option but still not ideal. (e.g. Romaine lettuce)
Dark leafy greens are the answer:
- Beetroot leaves
- outer leaves of cauliflowers and broccoli
During moulting season which typically occurs around summer to autumn, hens will start to look a little more naked or not as lustrous as they normally do. Increasing their protein will help grow back their feathers and get them laying again.
Protein should not be at a consistently high level all year round as this will overload their kidneys.
A good grain mix or pellet will have a protein level of around 18-20%. That is sufficient on a daily basis.
Extra protein can be added with treats such as:
- Meat – meat on a chop bone, cat food, fritz, bone marrow
- Meal worms
- Canned Tuna in springwater (no salt)
- Plain Greek Yoghurt – high in calcium and protein (1-2 times per week)
- Dark leafy greens
- Broccoli & Cauliflower (cooked) – stems cut open, raw are also excellent
- Peas (fresh or frozen, not dried)
- Sprouted wheat grass
- Fish and fish guts (from fishing)
- Mice (trapped not baited)
Free ranging includes all sorts of foraging that definitely includes weeds and grasses.
What you may notice, though, is their lack of interest in the weeds while they are still in the ground growing.
It’s a little bit of a contradiction -They WILL eat them if they have been picked by you.
Make sure any weeds you do give your poultry have not been treated with any weed killers or fertilisers.
Best weeds to give:
- Grass (short lengths to prevent impacted crop)
- Milk Thistle
When giving vegetables and fruits either as scraps or in pieces, colour is the key to ensuring a good range of vitamins.
Orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables are the best = Vitamin A
Vitamin A = fabulous yolks!
- Sweetcorn (minimal)
- Watermelon/Rockmelon (high water content)
- Cooked pumpkin
- Cooked or grated carrot
AVOID green potato peelings. These are toxic. All other potato peelings are fine.
Even though many foods are a firm favourite and a tasty treat for chickens and ducks, there are a few foods that should not be a regular part of their diet. Treats should never become fillers. Chickens learn very quickly that if they hold out for these treats they can become a replacement for their well-balanced dry feeds. That is not a good for their long term health.
Minimise these foods:
- Spaghetti/Rice (cooked) – serve within 24hrs
- Ice cream
Sunflower seeds are a favourite amongst all chicken breeds, but keep these as a special rare treat also. The supermarket variety is often called ‘Cocaine for Chickens’ due to its very addictive nature. Instead, opt for BLACK Sunflower Seeds which are more nutritious and have a thinner shell than other sunflower alternatives, which also adds fiber.
Sunflower seeds have a high oil content. Great for feathers but also make fat hens.
Ideal for moulting or during winter.
Also excellent in the use of training chickens. Scattering a little over the top of any new foods may encourage them to peck and eat.
Corn is also on every chicken’s wish list with benefits and disadvantages.
Corn is given as a conditioner to help hens put on a little more weight, so avoid corn if any of your hens are becoming overweight.
There is a difference between dried and fresh corn.
As it takes longer for poultry to digest dried corn, it raises body temperature in order to break it down before the body can extract its benefits. Broody hens must not be fed dried corn as this will only prolong their broody heat. Avoiding any form of corn during a broody period may assist.
Anything long that can curl up inside of a chicken’s crop can lead to an impacted crop.
These include grasses, entire green beans, rice (especially when drying out), hay/straw or other discarded rubbish such as string left around the yard.
Vets find the most interesting collection of things in poultry crops.
Live bugs are more beneficial to poultry than dried packaged varieties.
This is because live bugs help to break down food in the chicken’s crop to enable it to flow through to the gizzard for digestion. By the time the bugs reach the gizzard they are digested by the stomach acid and enzymes, too. (e.g. meal worms, spiders, maggots, etc.)
Keep mealworms to a rare treat too. They are void of nutrition other than protein and activity for the crop. Very addictive and a firm favourite treat of chickens.
- Stone Fruits
- Black Sunflower Seeds
- Plain Greek Yoghurt
- Tinned Tuna in springwater
- Vegetable peelings
- Cut open stems of broccoli & cauliflower