The Chicken Feed

A chicken is being fed by a man, pecking out of his hand.
Most chickens also like to be fed.

Good Chicken Feed is a Matter of Attitude

Chickens eat grass, grains, worms, snails and insects in their natural habitat. So chickens are omnivores and you can feed them anything that is not poisonous or somehow rotten or fermented.

Regarding the feeding of the chickens you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Would you rather feed organic or conventionally produced food to your chickens?
  • Is complete or supplementary food better for the chickens?
  • What feed can you provide yourself? Do you have household scraps regularly?
  • What about the food and water troughs? Would you like to build or buy the chicken bowls yourself?

The topic of food is really extensive and will certainly provoke discussions among chicken farmers. To a certain extent, feeding chickens is also a matter of attitude. So you can decide where your food comes from and how much you are willing to pay for it. We, ourselves, as well as he majority of our acquaintances, feed their chickens with conventionally produced complete feed additional to suitable kitchen waste or regionally available seasonal feed.

But as mentioned: Food is a matter of attitude.

We try to give you some pragmatic tips we think might help you in your decision making regarding the feed of your chickens.

Better Feed Complete or Supplementary Food?

A chicken is running around in the soil, feed on the ground.
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You can scatter food where the chickens scratch and pick.

As the word implies, complete feed is a feed mixture which already contains all the nutrients necessary for the chicken and can therefore be fed as sole feed. Complete food is occasionally also available as variants for chicks or laying hens, for example. If the animals have a well overgrown chicken run or if the available space is used for alternating pasture, the chickens will certainly also get a varied alternative food.

With supplementary feed it is not quite so simple. We therefore advise against this for private chicken farmers. Often only grain must be added. But the need of the chickens, especially in connection with a functioning run (as already mentioned with the complete feed) is not quite easy to determine.

The Basis of Chicken Feed

Grains and thus cereals are the staple food of chickens. According to a book on this topic, chickens like wheat the most, followed by corn and barley. Rye is apparently not so popular and oats are probably not accepted as grain either.

One reader drew our attention to the fact that excessive consumption of rye by chickens can lead to diarrhoea. If rye is only fed in small quantities, increased viscosity of the intestinal contents can be avoided.

Millet and buckwheat have proven to be good sources of vegetable protein. Buckwheat, however, is not a cereal but a knotweed, which is insignificant for feeding.

Occasionally, distributing loose grain in the barn, will provide a great activity for your chickens even in winter or rainy weather.

Another good reference to the varied chicken feed is the feeding of germinated cereals, i.e. sprouts. They are especially recommended in winter and moulting, as they contain many vitamins and linolenic acid as well as starch and sugar.
But be careful not to feed too much, or the chickens will become fatty. A tablespoon of unsprouted grains per day and per hen is a rough guide. As a reward for this treat, the eggs of the chickens are given a beautiful, rich yolk colour.

You can easily make your own sprouts:

  • Take a flat bowl, made of glass or ceramic. No metal.
  • Cover the floor with grains, for example wheat. The grains should lie loosely next to each other, not on top of each other.
  • Fill the bowl with lukewarm water. The grains should only be lightly covered by the water.
  • To slow down the drying process, the grains can be bedded on kitchen towels or cotton wool.
  • Put the whole thing in a bright but not too cold place.
  • Stop by at least once a day to avoid dehydration.
  • The seedlings are ready after three to five days.
Chicken is pecking on the ground.
A tablespoon of unsprouted grains per day is plenty or the chickens can become fatty.

Bran can be fed just like the whole grain. However, it should have sufficient substance, i.e. be sufficiently granular.

Legumes can also be fed. However, as they contain many tannins, they should only be fed to a limited extent. The soy plant is also a legume. It is often an essential component of commercially available feed, as it is an excellent source of protein. This often has cost reasons. In private chicken farming such feed can actually be dispensed with.

Fruit and vegetables are generally no problem for chickens. Only cabbage vegetables and also mustard and rapeseed are known for making the eggs taste fishy.

Although chickens also need animal proteins, they have been turned into vegetarians by the law on feeding animal proteins to herbivores. If you don’t want to take any chances, you’ll have to put up with it.

Chickens also need calcium, often in the form of calcium carbonate. You can either buy it or make it yourself from chopped eggshells. However, before comminution, these should be disinfected by boiling.

Here, we put together a table with the approximate daily rations for feeding:

  • 45-60% carbohydrates in the form of cereals
  • 15-20% vegetable protein (rape meal)
  • 5-15% animal protein (milk or dairy products)
  • 3-10% fat (oil cake)
  • 5-10% minerals (shell limestone, grit)
  • 3-10% mill by-products (bran)
  • 0.5-1% trace elements and vitamins
  • 3-10% grass

(Source: Book “Das Hühnerbuch – practical instructions for keeping happy chickens” by Wolf-Dietmar and Ursular Unterweger)

Fresh and clean water should always be available for your chickens. And of course you need to change it regularly and clean the water troughs to keep the accumulation of bacteria in the water as low as possible. Less bacteria means a healthier chicken!

Chicken Drinkers and Feeding Troughs

Brown and black chickens in the chicken run outside the barn.
No matter if outside or inside, chickens always need fresh water and access to feed.

You’re spoilt for choice again. Would you like to build the feeding troughs yourself or would you rather buy them from a dealer? It is important that you make sure that all your chickens can pick or drink at the same time. The feeding bowls for the chickens must be either long enough or several small ones. This avoids stress and fights among the hens.

Open drinking areas such as flat, large, round bowls are best suited as water troughs. Drinking from such water points is absolutely natural, only the water itself should be changed in such bowls frequently, if not even daily. It is easier with nipple drinkers for chickens or a banal plastic chicken drinker from the trade.

When is the Feeding?

You should always have clean water and sufficient grains in your hen house or chicken enclosure as a basic supply.
Otherwise the feeding times don’t really matter. It is advantageous to feed earlier and always at about the same time. Then the chickens will already know that food is available at the same time a day, which makes it also easier for them to recognize their owners. This also reduces stress. Of course, it doesn’t make much sense to feed late in the day, as most of the food is left behind and will probably be eaten overnight by the mice or get bad.

Good luck with the feeding!

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