There’s nothing quite like tending to your own flock of chickens. Find out how and what to feed chickens to ensure they’re in top health.
You have finished the chook house and are getting closer to getting your first chickens. Their run is secure, there is straw for scratching and nesting boxes prepared. The next step is to decide what you are going to feed them and how.
What to feed chickens
Wholegrain or pellets
Wholegrains allow you to see exactly what you are buying and feeding your hens. With pellets, a little more trust is involved because the pelletised feed looks nothing like the raw ingredients it was made from.
When purchasing either product take a good look at the list of ingredients and nutritional information provided. Does the product include meat meal? Is it made for free range birds that have access to fresh grass and insects every day, or for birds that have little access to other sources of food?
If using wholegrains then fermenting them is a great way to make the very most of the feed you buy.
By submerging your grains in a bucket or jar full of water, and allowing them to soften over a week, the grains become easier to digest, and their nutrients more readily available. Sunflowers will initially float then make their way down.
Fill your jar or bucket only half full with grains as the addition of water will make them swell. Keep underwater for a week before feeding. Start a second bucket for when the first finishes. The imbibed grains will make your hens feel full for longer thereby reducing your feeding costs.
Feeding fermented grains
Fermented grain, because it is wet, cannot be placed in a treadle or toggle feeder. Therefore, feeding must be done by you.
You have the choice to feed once a day if your hens have access to pasture or a well-managed backyard. But if your hens don’t have access to other food and their environment lacks interest, then feed them three times a day to keep them busy and happy.
Alternatively, feed fermented grain in the morning and have a treadle or toggle feeder available with dry grain or pellets to keep them busy throughout the day.
How to feed your chickens
Treadle feeders have a lid that opens when a hen stands on it; their starting price is around $100 for the better models.
They usually come with a wire mesh that sits on top of the grain to prevent hens from flicking out their least favourite grains in search of sunflower seeds. The mesh reduces grain waste but does not eliminate it.
They are water resistant and keep food dry. Pellets reduce waste in this system as hens are not looking for their favourite seeds. The feeder sits on the ground and is easy to move to new locations.
They are not 100% pest proof as birds will learn to feed when the hens do and on rare occasion may even get caught inside. They are usually costly but work really well overall, and arguably better than toggle and downpipe feeders.
These are very cheap to make and cost no more than $15. They consist of a bucket with a toggle at the end that when hit by a hen, spills a portion of food. They are suspended aboveground with durable string.
While they reduce waste overall, hens will often mine more food than they need, leaving excess food on the ground for birds and mice.
PVC downpipe feeders
The downpipe feeders start at around $50. They too reduce food waste; however wild birds have easy access to them all day as they can easily perch on the feeder and their height is not enough to keep rats at bay.
At night they can be closed to reduce exposure to pests. They need a frame to support them and to keep them off the ground.
While no feeder is completely rodent proof, the three discussed in this article all help to reduce food waste by reducing access and protecting food from rain.
Want to know more about backyard chickens?
We’ve got loads of great content about keeping backyard chickens.
Issue #7 of Pip Magazine is our dedicated “chicken” issue, with articles on:
- How to keep your chicken flock healthy.
- A guide to the different backyard chicken breeds.
- Information on how to raise meat chickens.
- Plus, a troubleshooting guide, where we answer all of your questions and dilemmas around backyard chickens.
You can access these articles online here as part of our digital subscription offering.
Also check out our article on designing chickens into the vegie garden from Issue #6 of Pip here.
And don’t forget we have loads of chicken-related content online, including these articles:
- Keeping chickens: A beginner’s guide
- The perfect backyard chicken setup
- Breeding your own backyard chickens
- Animal care: Summer chook care
- A guide to coloured chicken eggs
- Chicken breeds chart
- 7 alternative chicken feed ideas
Like more articles like this one? Subscribe to Pip Magazine’s print or digital editions here.
Images: Village Dreaming