Healthy food for the free-range chicken
Chickens that lay eggs need a sufficient and varied diet to keep laying enough eggs. Often a reduced laying or poor quality of eggs has to do with incorrect nutrition. Chickens that are free to forage can largely provide for themselves. Chickens that have less freedom or little greenery at their disposal need a balanced diet to stay healthy and be able to lay properly.
There are many types of chicken feed available on the market. A frequently used feed is the laying pellet or laying meal. In addition to the laying pellet, there is also a grain mix or chicken mix. The latter variant is a laying pellet mixed with grain. A free-range chicken will supplement its food with green plants and herbs, insects and stones. Chickens that do not have the opportunity to look for this themselves must be fed additional green food and gravel. Finally, chickens need chicken grit for the calcium requirement.
Laying pellet and laying meal
The laying pellet consists of finely ground ingredients that have been pressed into a pellet. It contains all the nutrients that a laying chicken needs and is therefore a complete food for the chicken. The advantage of a laying pellet is that the chicken can eat it easily and spills little. Laying meal is not pressed and ground more roughly. As a result, laying meal contains more fiber that is good for the stomach and intestines of the chicken. In addition, chickens take longer to eat the flour, which promotes foraging behavior and counteracts boredom. A disadvantage of laying meal is that more feed is lost. It spills more quickly and when it gets wet the chickens don’t eat it anymore. Spilled laying meal can attract pests.
Chickens usually love grains. Maize and wheat are especially popular grains for many chickens.
A grain mix can have different compositions, but it usually consists of wheat, corn, barley, oats and rye. This is sometimes supplemented with split peas, linseed, sunflower seeds or soy. Oats and wheat in particular contain good nutrients for the chickens. However, a grain mix is not a complete food for the chickens. In addition, chickens often eat too much of it with the risk of becoming too fat. It is therefore better to give limited grain, especially in the summer months when the energy requirement is less.
A chicken mix is grain mixed with laying grain. This can be used as a complete food, but there is a chance that the chickens will leave the laying pellets because they have a preference for grains. Free-range chickens that have sufficient green food can be supplemented with just a handful of grain mix. In other cases it is recommended to give the chickens laying pellets or laying meal.
Green food provides the necessary vitamins and minerals for the chicken. Free-range chickens like to select their own green food. Beloved varieties are grass, clover, dandelion, nettle, birdwort, vegetables, fruits and herbs. If the chickens have less green available, it is good to give them some green food every day. Green food is important for the health of the chicken. Birdwort contains a lot of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, silica and vitamin C. Garlic is good for the production of digestive juices and helps against intestinal bacteria and intestinal parasites. It is also good for the chicken’s liver and respiration. Hemp and nettle seeds are high in protein and fats and are good for laying. Therefore, vary a lot with different types of green and make sure that it is always offered fresh.
Chickens are omnivores and also eat meat. In nature, the animal protein source for chickens will mainly consist of insects. Chickens love it and eat whatever insects they can find. Free-range chickens are therefore constantly looking for worms in the ground. Insects are a good source of protein for chickens. Chickens that have less space to forage can be fed extra insects as a treat. If a chicken gets laying pellets or laying meal, insects are not absolutely necessary for a complete diet.
Stomach grit and chicken grit
Stomach grit is used for the proper functioning of the gizzard. The small stones help to grind up the food. Chicken grit provides a lot of calcium and minerals. Especially chickens that lay a lot of eggs need a lot of lime. Deficiency can lead to the laying of wind eggs or eggs with a porous, thin shell. With a long-term shortage, the chickens can get the calcium from their own bones. Therefore, make sure that there is always enough stomach gravel and chicken grit available for the chickens. You can buy chicken grit, but you can also grind it yourself by grinding oyster shells fine, for example.
Fresh drinking water is perhaps the most important thing for the chickens. If the chickens don’t have drinking water for a day, they probably won’t lay for three days. Eggs consist largely of water and laying hens therefore have to drink a lot. Drinking water must be refreshed daily to prevent diseases. It is best to hang a bowl of drinking water, so that the chickens cannot pollute it so easily. If you have small chicks you should never water deep containers as chicks can drown in this.
How best to feed
The best method of feeding your chickens depends on the type of food and the space of the chickens. It is best to provide laying pellets in a trap tray. The tray will only open when the chickens stand on a step of the stair tray. This prevents mice and other vermin from reaching it. An alternative is a chicken feed silo or a chicken feeder. These are not completely closed, but do keep the food clean. You can sprinkle grains. Especially for chickens that do not have that much room to forage, it is a nice pastime to pick up the grains. You can put green food, stomach grit and chicken grit in a separate container so that it does not become too dirty. It is preferable to offer food and water on an elevation under a canopy. This makes it less easy to pollute with bird droppings or dioxins from the ground. It is also possible to introduce the chickens.
The chickens need more food in winter than in summer. Especially in freezing weather, the chickens would sometimes need half as much as on a warm summer day. With a drop of 10 degrees Celsius, the chickens already use 18 percent more energy. In addition, the chickens produce more feathers in the winter. Extra proteins are needed for this. On cold winter days you should always check several times a day that the drinking water is not frozen. There are special drinker heaters for sale, but regular replacement is often sufficient. If the condition of the chickens visibly deteriorates during the winter, you can add some extra vitamins and minerals to the drinking water.
Once a year chickens moult. It differs per chicken how many feathers they will lose. One chicken is almost bare, while the other chicken is barely visible that she is moulting. Molting usually takes place at the end of the summer and lasts four to eight weeks. The chickens will lay little or no eggs during these moulting periods because all the energy is needed for the new plumage. During this period you can give the chickens extra fats and proteins. Corn is a good supplement for its fats and oils. Insects are a good source of protein. Canned food, such as cat food, can also provide extra proteins during this period.
Chickens to breed
Chickens that are going to incubate need different food than chickens that lay eggs for consumption.
In the period prior to incubation, the chickens need extra B vitamins. These vitamins are needed to give the chicks enough strength to hatch. By giving chickens that have been fertilized extra B vitamin, this will also end up in the hatching egg and the chicks will benefit from this. Roosters also benefit from sufficient vitamin D for good fertility. Apple peels and brewer’s yeast contain many B vitamins.
Once the chickens are brooding, it is important that they have plenty of food and water within reach. Broody chickens take bad care of themselves. Some chickens only come off the nest a few times to eat during the entire incubation period. Avoid giving laying pellets during incubation. This makes the faeces softer, so that the nest can become more soiled. Grains give the chickens dry faeces, which makes it more suitable for brooding. Do supplement the grain with some green food for the right balance of nutrients.