What do chickens eat? Chickens eat chicken feed. Good chicken feed and the food chickens peck on is made up of seeds, grains, fruits, rodents, veggies, insects, lizards, dairy products and even meat from dead animals. They love to scratch dirt to find a meal and are true foragers. One of the reasons they make good pets in the garden is because they help clear out any unwanted pests.
You are reading Chapter 4 of our Homestead Handbook:
What Do Chickens Eat? Chicken Feed.
As long as you make sure your chicken are fed food and water every day along with a habitable home, they are pretty content. Properly feeding them will multiply your harvest of eggs, increase their fertility and tastier meat. The best way to feed your friends would be to treat them as if they were wild; allow them to hunt and scurry around for the food themselves when they want it. You will never have to worry about waking up during early or late hours just to feed them, just make sure you leave out enough food to eat.
4.1 – Proper Feed Storage
Birds are made up of about fifty percent water and require water throughout the day to remain hydrated. On average they can ingest two cups and the number increases as they grow in age, during their hatching period, hot temperatures or time of day. The hot spot water temperature for a bird is around fifty-three degrees Fahrenheit, it’s neither too hot nor too cold and they enjoy it. These factors should be observed when you have your chicken, so they do not risk potential dehydration. A day without water takes a day of recovery and three or more days without any could leave them in a poor state they might not recover from. If you reside in colder climates, dehydration is more likely, and the water should not get to the point where it is extremely cold or frozen. Purchasing a water heating pan will be a great investment to keep water thawed. If you do not own a surplus amount of chicken, it would be cheaper to buy a plug-in heater bowl that is easy on energy usage. You wouldn't believe these animals are picky with even water, but they are! They like clear, colorless, odorless water and free of bacteria. If the water were to get contaminated, they would not drink it, so it is a healthy practice to change the water often when it is time. Water holders are called drinkers or waterers; that keep the water free of fecal matter and other debris. Another advantage is that they are extremely easy to clean, and they won't spill or leak. There are three main types that are used so look up the advantages and disadvantages of each so see which will work best for you. Piped-in water is a popular choice because essentially, your chicken will never run out of it, and there is no need to refill it manually. Piped-in water is called automatic for this reason. There are two versions an automatic drinker may come in: a nipple, bowl or bell shaped. These drinkers connect to your main water line, and a hose is also another option for those who do not want to use pipes. The potential downside, other than being costly, is it can end up leaking if it is not properly installed. Water can potentially freeze during the colder months as well unless the frost line is coated with heating tape. If you live in a very rural area, you will likely live on a well. So if you have a power outage, the water will go out as well. The next thing to consider is the material you want. Metal waterers are of course sturdier than those composed from plastic. If you decide to buy metal, try not to buy one that is too cheap – it’ll rust on you. If you enjoy DIY or are looking for ways to spend less money on material, you could also make a bowl or bell-shaped water on your own. A disadvantage that bell-shaped waterers have is that they tip over easily, and the rims end up getting debris accumulated there. However, if you hang it up with a sturdy material that often eliminates the issue. You should clean the waterers at least once a week using soap and water. Disinfecting them requires using a chlorine bleach or vinegar solution. Other than water, you could also give your chicken milk, they love it. Milk is rich in carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. Make sure to implement a ratio of how much milk to give them by their weight because of course the calories will have them putting on some pounds. It should be no more than 1:5 as a general rule. For chicken that are unwilling to drink, you can add some vinegar in their water, a tablespoon for every gallon. You can add two tablespoons if you have water that is more alkaline in your home.
Feeders also come in different styles, and the two most commonly used are the trough and the hanging tube. Knowing what design will work best for you can help when you can figure out whether or not you have food wasters at your clutches. Feeders that are shallow in depth thin and have no outer lip often encourage wasting. A trough has customizable legs and an anti-roosting real that discourages chicken who attempt to hop into it. You do not want your chicken roosting on top the food and possibly sullying the food with its droppings. There should be a good 4-5 inches of space between every chicken on either side. You want to avoid wasting as much as possible so you should not fill any feeder beyond two-thirds its size. Start off by filling your trough half way and increase or decrease the amount of food you put in depending on whether or not anything is wasted. It is also good practice to rake food from time to time to mix fresh and older food. Food that remains settled at the bottom will grow stale and spoil if they remain untouched. Tube feeders are my personal favorite. I prefer it over the trough because you never have to worry about raking or stale food. Once you add the food at the top of the shoot, your chicken will eat it from the bottom up. The only thing to be wary of is using it when you feed your birds mash. You should not fill the tube beyond two-thirds, so the food doesn't get compacted. As a heads up for those who decide to purchase the tube, be aware that chickens tend roost along the edges of the feeder top or decide it's just fun to hop inside and contaminate the goods. When they are done eating, it is best to place a lid afterward to prevent them having playtime in there once they are full.
4.2- What to feed them
Chicken are opportunistic predators; they are not purely vegetarians although they graze often. They are called free-range animals because they will snack on just about anything. They will go for seeds, grains, fruits, rodents, veggies, insects, lizards, dairy products and meat—even from dead animals. They love to scratch dirt to find a meal and are true foragers. That is why they make good pets in the garden to clear out any unwanted pests. You do have to be careful though because although they will get rid of what you don't want, they have no trouble gobbling down on what you do want. It's best to monitor your chicken and don’t allow them too much time in the garden. If you give them free reign, they will end up eating your seedlings or precious tomatoes you spent weeks nurturing. For the most part, you do not have to spend much on feeding them as they can scavenge for it themselves. Nonetheless, you still want to give them access to home-mixed or commercially made grains, scraps, sprouts, greens, and supplements. Corn is often used to feed chicken and provides them with energy and soybean provides an excellent amount of protein. Commercial rations come in three forms you can choose from: mash, pellets or crumbles. Mash is ground up in several textures but still allows a chicken to find foods they wish to eat. Pellets are compressed mash and are nutritionally the same. The chicken will just no longer be able to identify and choose what they want from the blend. Crumbles are pieces of minced pellets often fed to chicks that are not able to swallow large pieces whole yet. Your chicken should meet its nutritional needs daily, and requirements range depending on their age and the type of breed they are. The chart below is a great example to follow to ensure you meet their calcium, phosphorus and protein needs.
That was Chapter 4: What Do Chickens Eat? Chicken Feed. from our Homestead Handbook: Raising Backyard Chickens