Yesterday I was talking with a backyard poultry raiser who was having problems with her hens and eggs. I was able to help her figure out some of the issues. Mainly they were diet related. I know WHAT we need to feed our hens to get eggs but I realized yesterday I do not know WHY. I figured if I didn't know they WHY you may not know either! So I did some research for ya...
Let me break it down...
The following break down in nutrition requirements are only for LAYING HENS that do not have full free range access and flocks who's PRIMARY source of nutrition comes from a bagged commercial feed (or should be getting). I figured most of our back yard flocks fit into this category.
Protein: Laying hens need somewhere around 15% protein. Protein is required for the hens to create the eggs in thier body and maintain overall health. It is arguably THE most important element in keeping a healthy productive flock. Our chicken feed is at 20% protein.
Calcium: Calcium is very important to egg production. It is the mineral that supplies the hen to make strong and healthy egg shells. When producing an egg a day it is important to make sure your hens diet has enough calcium. Too little and your eggshells will be fragile and/or non existent. Feeding a corn only diet will not provide nearly enough to maintain healthy egg production. A good comercial feed will have 3-4% calcium. If egg production is poor a suppliment of oyster shells with quickly correct the issue.
Vitamins A and E: These two vitamins are necessary for a helthy reproductive track and over all health of the bird and the flocks immunity. A commercial feed, organic or conventional will contain the required levels of these vitamins.
So what about all the other stuff? Corn? Scratch? Oyster shells? All of these things can be useful.
Corn: Corn is often found in a commercial feed already. We personally use corn only in the winter as a supplement to their feed. Corn is to chickens what McDonalds is to kids. They love it. But it is not for everyday. The corn will supply a boost in energy to help the chickens stay warm in colder months. Corn should NOT be used as the primary source of feed.
Scratch grains: Like corn scratch is more of a "thing for chickens to do" than an actual diet. While it does offer some supplemental food stuff, feeding too much of it will lower the feed intake and you will see a reduction in the health of your flock. Again we feed this only in the winter. In place of corn if we choose to feed it, not with.
Oyster Shells: As I said above oyster shells already exist in a complete feed. If you notice a thinner shell or no shell a small amount of oyster shells can be offered to the flock. Oyster shell has no other nutritional value to the birds aside from calcium.
Our postiion on "homemade" chicken feed: There may be some backyard chicken raisers who have success with making thier own feeds. However generally speaking to ensure the consitant dietary needs of your flock it is not recommended. Commercial chicken feeds are tested and measured for exact nutritional content. Most, not all, back yard flock raisers do not have the equipment or supply to do this successfully long term. There is nothing wrong with giving chickens table scraps and treats but due to the nutritional requerments above we feel it is necessary to feed a comercial feed. That being said we offer a numeber of feed options from Organic to Conventional to fit your budget and needs.
As always if you have questions about feeding your flock please stop in or email us! Let us know what you are feeding now and how you are feeding it and we can help solve the problems.