Some chickens live on a strict diet of processed chicken feed and water. Many people believe this is a complete chicken diet, but my chickens tell me different.
As long as I’ve kept chickens I’ve noticed the first thing they do, when let out of the coop in the morning, is search the yard for tender grasses, seeds, bugs, and little flowers. Free ranging domestic chickens eat much like their wild ancestors, Red Junglefowl.
As I’ve watched my own chickens over the years I’ve noticed them eating mice, spiders, worms, small snakes, frogs, crickets, grasshoppers, termites, cicada, praying mantis, aphids, rose petals and rose leaves, wild berries, wind-fall fruits, clover, dandelion leaves and flowers, cat food, cat poo (yuck), their own raw eggs and the shells, their own droppings (yuck), feathers plucked from other chickens, and a variety of human foods either left over or past their “best by” date, but not spoiled.
To chickens, acceptable chicken feed can be a variety of things. They will pick the bones clean from a roasted chicken already picked clean as best a human can do, feast on hard boiled eggs, waffles, pancakes, omelets, breads, yogurt, warm oatmeal, soups and stews, cooked and raw fruits and vegetables, sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, sheep and goat feed, wild bird feed, plus I’ve watched them scratch through fresh oat straw bedding finding delicious whole oats.
I do provide actual processed feed every day, and they love that too. I provide fresh clean water and oyster grit at all times.
I’ve been known to make a nice warm mush from their chicken feed crumbles and water, mix in some chicken vitamins, maybe mix in a little yogurt and fresh ground flax seed and take it to them first thing on a frosty cold winter morning to warm their little crops.
Feeding chickens what they like is healthy for them and is a great way to avoid health problems. A balanced diet for chickens should always include greens of some kind, even if the best you can do in the city is offer grass clippings (free of chemicals) after you mow the yard and miscellaneous fruits, veggies and things from your kitchen.
From the feed store we can buy prepared feed for every stage of life, starting with Chick Start, designed for the special needs of hatch-ling chicks while grow fast inside and out.
Chicken feed has a variety of ingredients and balance depending on the purpose. Grower Feed is designed for young meat chickens, helping to build good muscle.
Conditioning Feed is usually designed for show chickens helping them get in the best possible flesh and feather condition to compete against other chickens.
Breeder Feed caters to the physical needs of breeding stock as they are prepared for breeding season, but through the demands of laying eggs, incubating eggs and raising young.
When choosing a feed, select one that will meet or exceed the need of your chickens. Remember that roosters have different nutritional needs than laying hens.
A rooster kept with hens on layer feed may develop some deficiencies. Separating him, when his services are not needed and offering Breeder or Conditioning Feed will help him be in the best condition come next breeding season.
There is All Purpose chicken feed that claims to meet the needs of any and all chickens, but these are usually lower in price and not necessarily the best value for your dollars.
These less expensive feeds are made from the lowest food value ingredients which might land your chickens in need of expensive veterinary care and medications. Some feed contains therapeutic levels of Antibiotics which can actually delay or prevent the development of healthy immune systems.
Antibiotics are great when needed, but a constant diet containing them can breed diseases that won’t respond when antibiotics are actually necessary.
The best and most expensive feed will be Organic made from high quality ingredients and void of all chemicals, GMOs and unhealthy traces of pesticides and preservatives. Some chicken feed contains Rendered Fat left over from the processing of other animals.
This fat can have a very short shelf life, turning rancid in storage and containing traces of medications, hormones and chemicals. Good vegetable fats make much better ingredients. You can provide excellent protein and fat for your chickens by feeding whole seeds like safflower and black oil sunflower.
Whole raw seeds contain enzymes and other nutrients vital for chicken health. Chickens love corn, but it is high in sugary starches that can lead to obesity and other health problems. Being void of important nutrients, corn is not a good base for a chicken’s diet.
When considering which feed is right for your flock, I suggest purchasing the best quality you can afford. This will take some research and possibly testing on your flock.
Some people opt to create their own chicken feed from selected ingredients. This can be an excellent way to feed chickens, but may be much more expensive than finding and buying ready-made.