Backyard chickens have made a resurgence as many of us are adopting
sustainable lifestyles. They are a great example of pets, the environment, and animal welfare meeting somewhere in the middle. Traditionally chickens were all about the eggs, but now we enjoy them as pets too. We give them names and know their different personalities. As a nation, we are much more concerned about the impact that we having on our environment. We are concerned about the amount of waste that we produce and the distances that products travel to arrive on our table. Importantly, we are also concerned not only about where our food comes from, but how it is raised. Proof of this has been seen in a move towards cage-free eggs in many supermarkets and grocers. Backyard chickens fill the bill on all fronts, they are friendly and enjoyable to have around, they eat our table scraps, provide manure for the garden and protein filled eggs!
What we feed our chickens makes a massive difference not only to the quality of their eggs but also to the development of their feathers. Approximately 95% of your chicken’s diet should be high quality complete chicken food. Preferably pellets or a no grind crumble like Red Hen's, Seventeen. These mixes have the right amount of calcium and protein that provides the foundation for your chicken to lay well-formed eggs regularly depending on the age of the bird, variety and also the length of daylight. So if my maths is correct, that means there is 5% remaining in their diet that can come from treats. When feeding chickens treats, make sure it is at the end of the day, not the beginning otherwise they will fa
vour this over the pellets or crumble.
Anything we eat, your chicken can pretty much eat. Exceptions include onion and avocado. That goes for meat cooked and raw, fish, cooked and raw and of course bread and vegetable scraps. Although they will eat peelings and stalks, don’t consider them if they are spoiled. Chooks can get food poisoning as well, so if smells, or has fungus or mould on it then it’s a no-go for the chooks as well.
Some people feed scratch mix (this a grain mixed made up of wheat, sorghum, sunflower seed and corn) as the primary ration for their chooks. If your one of those people, you’ll usually find there is a lot of waste as they eat the grain they like first. Worse still, you attract a lot of wild birds to the coop to clean up the leftovers and you also need to feed grit to help with a lack of calcium. Scratch mix should be considered a treat and only a handful or two (depending on the number of birds) provided daily. Scattering on the ground encourages foraging and reduces aggression as the chickens have something else do rather than bully each other.
A real favourite for chickens is mealworms. These are the larval stage of a beetle and eagerly devoured by chickens. They have little or no odour and can be stored in the fridge for many weeks or purchase as a long lasting freeze dried option. A few each day scattered around the coop is very exciting for the birds and they are also a great temptation for your chickens to roost in their coop at night after free-ranging all day. They can be fatty so like most treats, feed in moderation.
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