In regards to keeping Chickens and feeding them the general writings out there contain advice to the extent of something like this “each Chicken should have access to the daily needed intake of food and water in sufficient quantity and quality.” Great. That’s a no brainer if you want to keep any kind of pet. But what does that really mean? What does a Chicken need and want in food?
Well, the want is easy, as Chickens are as much junk food addicts as you and I (and my cats for that matter). Throw your hens a cup of balanced food pellets that include all their daily needs for vitamins, minerals and proteins, and then toss a handful of sunflower seeds the other direction. See what they go for first….
Matter of fact, try it with the Roosters first and see which pile of food scores them more girls. It doesn’t matter if they cluck like Adam Levine or do the Jaggernaut Dance like Mick Jagger, if they’re stuck with the healthy food pile the hen party will go elsewhere ! Yet if you gave them sunflower seeds alone on a regular basis their feather butts would rather quickly change into some fatty butts, let alone some rather vitamin and mineral deficient ones. Yes, in case you did not know, Chickens can get fat, they can even get fatty liver and die from it just like an obese Human being.
If you want to feed your Chickens an appropriate diet then you have to familiarize yourself at least with the basic anatomy of a Chicken and its natural feeding behaviors!
Chickens are very special, at least if you consider their digestive system. For most living things digesting food starts with chewing it, which is something missing completely in Chickens. The teeth that is. Meaning digestion of food does not start in the beak. This anatomical “error” was corrected by mother nature by creating a crop and gizzard. The food that is eaten, which Chickens choose based on optics by the way, as they can only smell and taste very little, so is it a wonder that little red Henny Penny is going straight for your lovely bright flowers that you so diligently planted right beside the house? The food is then moved down the esophagus until it lands in the crop. Here it is stored and softened by the drinking water until the Chicken digests it at her leisure. The food still hasn’t been chewed, though.
That happens a little farther down the line in the gizzard, a muscular organ that acts as the Chickens’ teeth to grind the food and mix it with digestive juices, helped along by several small stones (grit) that have been stored inside the gizzard, ever since the Chicken instinctively ate them earlier.
The final “chemical digestion” and with it absorption of the nutrients is then completed in the small intestine, similar to all other mammals. However, Chickens don’t form lactose, so to add any kind of milk product or lactose to their diet is useless! Another little tidbit of information: Chickens do not urinate, they don’t even have a bladder. Urates produced by the Chickens’ kidneys are simply added to the digested food waste at the end of the digestive system, at the vent. Both are then dumped together (exactly, only one way out here people) which is why normal Chicken poop contains white urates which are mixed in with all the other brown, green and darker looking digested material. Quite frankly, I never wondered about the color as much as how the Chickens inevitably find THE one spot to dump their load, like my front door mat or the one spot I need to step to get into my car.
The natural Chicken Feed
Just like with humans a Chicken needs a variety of vitamins, minerals, proteins and enzymes. They don’t just need food but also need a variation of nutrients. If they don’t get all needed nutrients then they can become sick and their egg production may suffer. Approx. 50 different minerals and trace elements belong to the group of nutrients needed by a Chicken. This vast amount of variety needed makes it pretty clear that there will never be just one type of food that can supply everything. More so, Chicken food should consist of multiple sources of food types which build on each other to make a complete, balanced feed. If you take one look at how Chickens behave in nature when allowed to free range this becomes plain obvious! In nature Chickens roam all over the place, scratching and pecking at everything, in order to satisfy their varied needs. On the menu are seeds, worms, leaves and berries, grass, insects and food scraps. Or – in the case of my flock – my dogs buried meat bones, the kitchen garden, the herbs I hang up to dry and the grass seed I just spread in the front lawn. Which, by the way, will never become a lawn if the Chickens keep eating the seeds. One neat side effect of this is, though, that I have tomato plants sprouting all over the yard. And Grass in my flower beds.
How much food per Chicken
Knowing what Chickens would eat if left to free-range should make it obvious what to feed them when kept contained. And if you think that because Chickens are not that big an animal and therefore need little food and water, then think again. Twice, because you will be surprised how much they eat. Of course, the amount of food depends on size and breed of little clucker, but a good rule of thumb to go by is 1.5 lbs of food per bird per week. Plus, half a pint of water. Which means about 0.3 lbs food per day, so almost 5 ounces. Or if I may fall back to the much more exact measuring method of my ancestors (did I mention I am from Europe?) you need to feed 120 g feed per day for a Chicken that weighs about 2.5 kg. And give it 250 ml of clean drinking water. If you want any eggs, that is. And a healthy, fluffy Chicken. However, if you are able to let your Chickens supplement their diet by free ranging, or even semi-free ranging, you will notice pretty quick that the feeder needs a lot less frequent filling. Unless, of course, you have a gang of super lazy English Orpington Roosters, like me. Their philosophy seems to be “why go after the food if the food comes to me”. Until the next coyote shows up. They DO go after their food and when one shows up at my feeders the Roosters actually display some surprising speed.
Anyway – as you can see from my little calculation (and if you do some reading up on properly feeding laying hens or breeding Chickens), if you own a couple of those little food silos they can eat a pretty goodly amount of feed per week! But you don't want to be cheap with your food if you keep Chickens for eggs, as everything you feed your Chicken you will get back in the egg. Lousy nutrition = lousy eggs. Healthy Chickens = nutritious, healthy eggs. Pretty simple.
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