[GUIDE]What can I feed my backyard chickens

Feeding chickens

What can I feed my suburban chickens

Chickens are well known for eating almost anything and this reputation is not unfounded, they will even eat a lizard or two. Things like lizards are are just supplemental treats though and a chickens diet will mainly consist of cereals like seeds as well as greens and insects.

It’s important to remember that an animals nutritional needs can be very complex and a day to day routine of a commercial feed is always recommended to ensure a healthy bird.

How many times a day should I feed my chickens?

Chickens are hungry critters who will spend most of their day scratching around for food. Chickens are good at finding food but you should always make sure some commercial feed is available for them to graze on.

There’s several ways to make your chicken feed available to your flock. Choosing which feeder will depend on how they are being kept:

  • Use a chicken feeder like a ‘Hopper’ for a continuous supply that can be topped up.
  • Scatter the food on the ground if you can feed them a few times per day.
  • Feed your chickens directly from a bowl or trough that is topped up regularly.

In any case you should avoid leaving food out overnight in their coop or run. Bird feed can often attract unwanted visitors like mice, rats and squirrels.

Can you over feed chickens?

Layer Hens

All chickens can be hungry critters at the best of times but it depends on the species of chicken. Layer chickens they tend to eat little and often. This makes it hard to overfeed layer chickens as long as they are eating a good and varied diet.

Broiler chickens

Broiler chickens which are usually bread to for meat will eat themselves to death if given the choice. Broiler chickens require a balanced feeding routine which needs to be carefully managed.

How much water do chickens need?

Chickens need a good amount of fresh, clean water available at all times.

What can I feed my chickens to increase egg production

Chickens will lay their eggs according to their environment. The better their conditions the more likely they will lay. It is important to note that we should respect nature and allow the chickens to live, roam and lay eggs as naturally as possible.

Forcing them to lay more is not recommended as it can stress the animal and decrease the egg quality.

Some foods can help improve egg quality and production. Each egg produced will use up some of the chickens energy, by providing the right foods you can promote the developing egg.

Foods that increase egg yield include:

  • Calcium is used in the formation of egg shells and it takes quite a lot of calcium to keep the eggs coming. To help eggs develop, feed your chickens food supplemented with oyster shells.
  • Egg shells are a great source of calcium, bake them in the oven to kill bacteria. Crush them and add them to your chicken feed.
  • Protein is also vital to egg development. Providing a small amount of protein rich foods like meal worms to your chickens diet will help increase egg size and yield.
  • Greens are full of vitamins and are great for chickens. A healthy hen will lay more often than a sick one. Providing a steady diet of cereals topped up with greens and other treats will keep your hens happy which in turn increases the amount of eggs chickens lay.

What can I give my chickens as treats

If your like me and you want to give your chickens a little reward for being great egg layers. Or maybe you want to fatten up your broiler chicken a little more? If so then your probably wondering what you can give them as a treat?

Chickens are avid food lovers who will eat pretty much anything laid out in front of them. There are some foods though that your chickens will love you that little bit more for giving them.

Below is a list of foods that we’ve found our chickens absolutely love! We have also taken into account how healthy some treats are because there are some foods that are not very good for a chickens overall health. These foods should be avoided as much as possible, we will cover come of these foods after this.

Here’s 10 healthy & natural treats for your chickens

  • Meal worms – Rich in protein and chickens love them, only in moderation as too many can cause health issues and obesity.
  • Sweet corn – Not only is sweet corn a tasty treat, it also helps add a great flavour to both the meat and eggs from chickens. You can also dangle a partially boiled ear of corn for them to peck at as a healthy boredom buster.
  • Leafy greens – Salad leaves and other greens like cabbage are tasty and healthy for chickens as part of a varied diet.
  • Carrot tops – You can smell the flavour these pack and you’ll find the chickens falling over each other to get some.
  • Berries – Like many birds chickens are suckers for berries. Their favourites are blackberries & strawberries.
  • Scrambled eggs – with some egg shells mixed in is a great protein & calcium boost for your chickens. Once every week or two will help keep them healthy. You can add some bits like oats, salad leaves or garlic (small amounts) too.
  • Melons – Chickens love melons at the bets of times but they will enjoy them even more on a hot day! Pop a melon in the fridge and cut it open for them the next hot day. Your chickens will appreciate the cooling effect and vitamin content.
  • Worms & insects – This is one of the most cost effective treats as all it requires is lifting up a rock or log in your garden. At the most you may have to dig a small hole. Our chickens run to my feet whenever I’m digging in the garden because they know it means there are some tasty worms coming. You can tell by the happy chirps that they appreciate the natural delicacies.
  • Stale bread – whether it’s crumbs or a whole stale bun chickens love a bit of bread as a treat. This should only be given sparingly because too much could cause the chickens to get too fat.
  • Pumpkin and squash – are two very nutritious and functional treats for your chooks. The flesh, seeds and skin pack a high nutrient content including potassium which is an essential mineral for any living animal. The seeds also act as roughage and a natural de-wormer for your chickens.

Foods chickens should avoid

Avocado – The skin and seed are poisonous to chickens and should not be fed to chickens!

Chocolate – Chickens and other poultry should not eat chocolate! It contains Theobromine which is not only toxic to birds but is also dangerous to other animals too.

Green potato – should not be given to chickens. When they are green potatoes contain solanine which is poisonous to birds & chickens.

Oatmeal/porridge – chickens love a warm bowl of oatmeal or porridge. However, it is not very good for the chickens health and can lead to obesity.

What to feed a chicken with a respiratory infection

Chickens can be prone to respiratory infections and are common whether you have a few chickens or a few hundred. If your feathered friend isn’t feeling too good you will hear or see one of the following:

  • Sneezing
  • Open mouthed breathing
  • Wheezing and gurgling sounds
  • Ruffled feathers
  • Discharge around the nostrils and eyes
  • Head shaking

Some common health problems that can effect a chickens respiratory infection are:

  • Mycoplasma
  • Infectious Bronchitis
  • Dust/Ammonia
  • Gapeworm

Less common infections found in chickens are:

  • Avian Rhinotracheitis
  • Infectious Laryngotracheitis
  • Avian Influenza aka bird ‘flu

What should you do if you think a chicken has a respiratory infection?

If you are ever unsure are to what to do with a sick chicken you should always contact a professional veterinarian. If however your chicken is just acting a little under the weather or is sneezing every now and then there are some things you can do to help.

If you can isolate the sick chicken from the rest of the flock then do so. It is important to remember that chickens rely on each other to keep warm and are very social. You may need to provide some extra warmth and stimulation to an isolated chicken.

How to help clear & treat a respiratory infection in chickens

Apple cider vinegar is a great anti bacterial that will help clear up any minor infections. Adding around 25ml to 500ml of water once per month can help boost the immune system and fight infection.

Garlic – is much like Apple cider vinegar, when added to your flocks diet in managed doses it provides a boost to the immune system. It also contains antibacterial properties that will help clear repository infections.

Herbs – these can provide a huge amount and variety of nutrients to your chickens diet. Nutrition is vital in maintaining a healthy immune system in any animal. Herbs like thyme, dill and oregano are great for chickens.

Some herbs and spices that are good for chickens are:

  • Black pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • Salt
  • Ginger

How to make a herbal ice cubes to keep your chicken healthy

Herbal tea’s aren’t just good for humans, you can make one for your chickens too! This is a great way to deliver vitamins and nutrients to your flock. Once brewed you can add a generous amount to their water regularly to keep them fit and healthy.

  1. Take any herb that is safe for chickens and steep it in hot water
  2. After 5 minutes add any of the above herbs or spices to the tea
  3. Leave for another 15 minutes to settle
  4. Strain and cool the liquid then freeze into ice cubes
  5. Add ice cubes to your chickens water once or twice a month

How to prevent repository infections & sickness in chickens

As always prevention is better than a cure – try to avoid having to treat your chickens for health ailments by providing proper care and shelter for them. You can help prevent health problems for your chickens by:

  • Keeping their outside environment clean
  • Regular mucking out of their chicken coop
  • Keep the coop and nest boxes as dust free as possible to prevent mites
  • providing a well balanced diet with the nutrition they require
  • Protect them from extreme temperatures
  • Add some herbs like thyme, dill and oregano to their diet

Dust baths – will help prevent mites and other parasites taking hold. While these do not cause a repository infection they can stress your flock lowering the strength of their immune system.

Cost effective ideas for chicken feeds

Chicken fodder

This is the simple but fine art of sprouting seeds and creating a source of fresh greens for your chickens to eat. To create fodder or chickens follow, this process

  1. Choose good crop seed like barley to create fodder from
  2. Soak your seeds in a bucket for 24 hours to soften them. This speeds up the germination process.
  3. Find a tray with raised edges, something like a baking tray and create a layer of your chosen seeds, this can be as deep as you like.
  4. Cover your seeds & prevent as much light getting to the seeds as possible
  5. once they have sprouted leaves, removed the cover and place in a warm area out of direct sunlight
  6. These can be fed to chickens at anytime during this process but for the best results grow until the seedlings are around 2”- 3” tall.
  1. Remove the seeds roots and plants from the trays and feed them directly to your chickens.

Kitchen scraps

Chickens will eat almost anything and are great for recycling your kitchen scraps. If you cut up the scraps into chicken size chunks and steep them in hot water, your chickens will love you even more!

Apart from a few vegetables & fruits you can give your flock any vegetable scraps from your kitchen.

Chickens can eat meat however, it has been known to trigger cannibalism and is recommended that they avoid meat in a domestic environment.

The UK law on feeding your chickens kitchen scraps

In Britain it is illegal to fee your chickens kitchen scraps unless the house hold is vegan. This is done to help reduce the risk of diseases developing in the avian populations.

Sources

https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/livestock-biosecurity/keeping-backyard-chickens

https://www.evolutionfarmvets.co.uk/respiratory-disease-chickens

http://apha.defra.gov.uk/documents/surveillance/diseases/backyard-poultry-guidance.pdf

Fred

Author and Co-coordinator of The Back-Yard Farm. Hoping to change peoples attitude towards food consumption by documenting this journey right here. Join the Foodscaping backyard revolution

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