Feeding your chicken
Chickens are always looking for food and will eat all sorts of things. Most chickens are fed on prepared food pellets or ‘mash’. These contain all the nutrients they need as well as natural yolk colourants and in many cases, grit.
Chickens need different types of food at different stages of their development. Chicks up to 8 weeks old should be fed on ‘chick crumbs’. Pullets between 8 and 18 weeks should be fed on ‘growers’ or ‘rearers’ pellets. Once they begin to lay their first eggs you should move onto a ‘layers’ formulation. Ex-battery rescue chickens will have been fed on layers mash, so it is best to start with this. You can then convert the birds to pellets over the first couple of weeks. All food should be kept dry and replaced if it becomes wet.
Mixed corn foods can be fed as a ‘scratch food’. This is simply thrown into the run and the chickens scratch around to find it. This is best given in the afternoon, and is an excellent way to keep them busy, although mixed corn should only make up about 10% of their diet. There are a variety of functional feeders available that will hold up to several days’ worth of food.
Always check they have enough food, and refresh it daily. Where possible feeders should be suspended in a covered area, which will protect the food from being wasted or soiled by wild birds, and will also keep it out of reach of rodents.
Chickens do not eat during the night, but they like to enjoy an early breakfast when the sun is rising.
Chickens don’t have teeth and break up seeds in their gizzard. To be able to do this they need to be able to find grit or oyster shell. This also provides them with calcium for healthy bones and egg shells. Free range birds will naturally pick up what they need, but the best option is to have it available to all chickens so they pick it up when they need it.
Water should always be readily available in a drinker, as chickens tend to drink a lot. Through the winter, make sure their water hasn’t frozen and always check it in the morning to make sure the drinkers are clean and the water is fresh and plentiful. It is best to provide water outside their house, otherwise it can be spilled or can create humidity in their coop that can lead to unhealthy living conditions.
Like most pets, chickens love treats. This extra stimulation can help to avoid feather plucking and aggressive behaviour. Remember to only feed treats in moderation. Chickens particularly enjoy grapes which can be offered in feeders used for wild birds. Many treats suitable for small animals or birds can be suitable, but again be wary of anything with a high fat content. If your chickens are fed vegetarian society approved or organic foods, be aware that binding agents used in some treats may be animal based. Suspending treats from a chain can make them more of a challenge but avoid making the chickens jump as this interferes with egg production. Finally, chickens love to eat live mealworms, so much so that they can cause a feeding frenzy, feed them in moderation as a treat. Do not feed chickens dried mealworms.