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CHICKEN FEED:
Feeding Instructions
Time-tested methods, along with modern innovations, in the feeding of chickens

(NOTE: In the USA where this website is written,
"CORN" means "MAIZE"; in England, "CORN" means all edible grains)

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How Much Do Chickens Eat?

A normally-maturing chick (i.e., breeds which mature in about 6 months, such as egg-layers) will eat about 2 pounds of starter feed in its first 6 weeks of life. A Cornish-cross breed, however, which is used for meat, will need about 8 pounds of starter feed in its first 6 weeks of life. (These breeds are bred to grow extremely rapidly, and are harvested at 2 months of age.)

Adult laying chickens consume vastly different amounts of feed. Factors influencing feed consumption include, but are not limited to, breed type, how much they exercise, climate (including variations in temperature, wind, humidity and precipitation), the caloric and nutritional density of the feed, and how much natural feed supplementation they obtain. Also, rodents and wild birds can greatly reduce the feed supply. This can be reduced by removing or sealing off the feed at night.

It is important, and enjoyable, to determine how much feed your flock is consuming. Begin keeping records of amount, type and price of all feed you purchase, the day you receive your first chicks. Be sure to record both the measured amount of feed as well as its weight. Include the number and ages of chickens you have, right in the same page as the feed records.

Click Here for a Chicken-Feed Records Form

Feeding Instructions from
The Family Poultry Flock

Edited by Lee Schwantz
Farmer's Digest
Wisconsin, 1979


(Everything is quoted accurately from the book, unless it is in square brackets "[ ]" in which case it is an entry by the ChickenFeed website.)

Feed management

To maintain healthy birds, keep fresh feed available at all times. Limit the amount of feed in feeders to the extent necessary to avoid waste. It is a good practice to fill hanging feeders only three-fourths full, and trough feeders only two-thirds full. For efficient feeding, keep the lip of the feeder pan in a hanging tube-type feeder at the level of the birds' backs.

Fill non-automatic trough feeders in the early morning, and during the day whenever feed supplies get low. If leftover feed is not clean and palatable, remove it before refilling feeders. Never put moldy or contaminated feed in feeders. Clean feeders as needed.

Keep a close check on birds' weight and their feed consumption. A drop in feed intake usually is the first indication of trouble --- a disease outbreak, molt, stress, or poor management. If the reason for the drop in feed consumption is not readily apparent, consult a poultry specialist.

Keep feed as fresh as possible. Order for frequent delivery --- if possible, every two weeks.

Store feed carefully, in a dry, rat- and mouse-proof place, where it will not be subject to damage from moisture or losses from rodents. A large galvanized garbage can with a tight lid makes an excellent sotrage container for your feed.

Use a growing ration

Your feed supply store can provide you with a growing ration that contains everything your chicks need to grow into productive hens. It may cost more than mixing yourself [!], but bagged feed mixed at a mill has many advantages. From six to 14 weeks, the ration should contain 17 percent protein. From 15 to 20 weeks, 14 percent protein is sufficient. [See PROTEIN CALCULATION Section for instructions in blending feeds to a specific protein content.]

You can supplement the mash with grain. This will reduce the overall cost, particularly near the end of the rearing phase.

Pullets may begin to receive grain as soon as they start eating growing mash. Corn, wheat, barley, oats, millet, grain sorghum, or combinations of these may be used.

Begin with 10 pounds of grain for each 100 pounds of mash. Increase grain until pullets are getting equal parts of mash and grain. Put grain and mash in separate hoppers.

when pullets are 18 to 20 weeks old, gradually withdraw the growing mash and replace with laying mash over two weeks.

Feeding birds on range

Range cannot provide a complete diet for birds. Pullets that get the green feed of the range need the additional nutrients of a growing ration. Mash or pellets usually are fed in one hopper and grain is fed in another.

Some poultrymen use pellets for range feeding, because the larger particles are less subject to blowing out of feeders.

You need about four inches of feeder space per bird. Plan to have enough so all birds (of any age) can eat at the same time. Feeders and waterers should be raised as the birds get older. The top of the feeder side should be raised to at least the level of the bird's back as it stands (in a normal position) on the floor. The birds should have to reach up and over the edge of the feeder. This will help prevent feed wastage.

Set a good table for your layers

It takes a quality balanced ration to keep layers in shape to be high producers. We recommend that your basic ration be a mixed feed purchased at a poultry feed store. Laying hens need a mixture with a 15 percent protein level. [Again, see PROTEIN Section.] Vitamins and minerals usually are blended into the commercial feed to round out the diet of your birds.

Use a good laying ration and keep it in front of the birds at all times. Feed is the biggest expense of egg production, running at about 60 percent of total cost. To prevent waste don't fill the hoppers more than one-half full. Commercial poultry rations normally contain enough calcium (3.0 to 3.5 percent) so that oyster shell or other calcium supplements are not needed. No grit is necessary with present-day laying rations.

If grain is low-priced, you may want to use it to cut the cost of purchased feed. However, feeding too much grain will make your hens overly fat. When a complete 15 percent protein laying feed is used, do not feed more than one-half pound of grain per 10 hens daily. A 20 to 22 percent protein laying feed can be used with grain fed free-choice in separate feeders or spread on the ground (1 and 1/4 pounds of grain for every 10 hens daily). Supplementing the complete ration with grain is most economical when low cost local grain is available.

Feeding whole grain by spreading it on the litter induces hens to scratch in the litter and maintain it in good condition. [Dry leaves make great litter. Deep litter --- 6 inches or more --- makes hens happy!]

The form of the mash makes little difference. Pellets often are offered for laying rations. Crumbles are another form frequently used for younger birds. These may cost a little more than mash but have only a small advantage. They may reduce waste or wind loss, are less dusty and will not separate during handling.

[ChickenFeed and Friends, of course, encourage everyone to try blending at least some portion of your own feed. At the very least, check the ingredients labels and ask the feed store if there are any feeds that do not have sludge additives or other things you don't want in your food chain.]

Table scraps, garden products and surplus milk can be useful feed supplements to reduce costs. Feeding should be limited to amounts which your birds will eat in 10 to 20 minutes. Peelings, stale bread, and leafy vegetables such as cabbege, cauliflower, turnips, are useful. Avoid strong materials such as onions unless you relish onion flavored eggs. Don't feed spoiled or moldy feeds or foods. Fresh or sour milk is a valuable feed. Put it in plastic, glass or enamel containers, as the lactic acid formed will rust galvanized containers.

If chickens are fed whole grain or green forage, they should also receive insoluble grit. Grit is available in chick or hen size. Continuous feeding is not necessary, but grit should be available free choice, two or three days per month. Fine gravel is an acceptable substitute for purchased grit. [NOTE: calcium, bone or seashells do NOT substitute for grit --- calcium sources dissolve in the birds' system, grit does not --- grit is used as "teeth" to grind up hard grains, etc., and should be granite or some other hard rock, and angular, not rounded from stream bottoms.]

Laying hens require large amounts of calcium for egg shells. An effective way to provide it is by free-choice feeding of oyster shell or calcium grit. Also, egg shells can be saved, washed, dried, crushed and fed back to the hens. Wet shells should not be fed because there is a danger of bacterial growth on the residual albumen. There is also the risk of induced egg eating.

Laying mashes containing 2.5 to 3 percent calcium supply enough calcium, if they constitute the entire ration (no pasture or grain). Growing chickens require only about 1.2 percent calcium in their feed. If you use the higher calcium laying feeds for growing chickens, kidney damage can result.

Feed loses its quality when stored too long. It is a good idea to buy a supply that will be used up in two or three weeks. This is particularly necessary in warm weather.

A 25-pound bag of feed should last 10 hens about 10 days, if waste is controlled and the feed is a good high-energy ration. Expect to use 80 to 90 pounds of feed per layer kept for a year.

Home-mixed feed will do
[HOORAY!!!]

Home mixing of poultry feed for small flocks is discouraged. [BOOO! But remember, this was written when the "in" thing was to buy the up-market, factory-produced product.] Your hand mixed blend may not equal commercial feed in quality and it is usually easier and less expensive to buy feed from feed stores or mills. [In the long run, it is more expensive to compromise and erode one's health!] Large mills have lower production costs due to larger volume purchases of ingredients and efficient milling and mixing facilities. On the other hand, sacking and retailing costs are high, so those who have access to home-grown feedstuffs may be able to save money by home mixing. You may prefer your own mix regardless of the cost. To make a cost comparison, calculate the total ingredient cost of home-mixed feed. Be sure to add the value of any home-grown grains used. (Don't overlook the alternative of feeding grain with a high-protein laying feed.)

[They have a point about ease of use and getting all the right ingredients. But the freshness and wholesomeness of home-blended feeds, plus the big advantage of avoiding unknown additives and chemicals, certainly can impart unmatched health to the farmer and his or her customers/family/friends.]

Here follows "General formulas for home mixes" that are found in the Feed Recipes section.






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DEFINITIONS
Types of Feed

Mash: a blend of several feed ingredients, ground to a small size but not to a powder

Pellets: small kernels of compressed mash, causing birds to eat the whole blend, not pick and choose

Crumbles: pellets broken up into smaller pieces

Starter: a blend of feed for chicks and growing birds, usually in the form of mash; approximately the same as "Grower"; can be replaced with "adult" food as soon as chicks go for it, somewhere between 4 and 8 weeks of age

Grower: approximately the same as "Starter"

Layer: feed blend for chickens that are laying eggs, having extra calcium and protein added

Broiler: feed blend for chickens that are growing as fast as possible, in order to be harvested for meat as early as possible

Scratch: whole grains fed separately to chickens, usually scattered on the ground or litter of the coop; usually a mixture of grains, such as wheat, rye, oats, etc. (corn/maize must be cracked before using as scratch grain)

Feed Ingredients Concentrate: a blend of protein-rich foods, plus any other nutrients desired; usually fed together with a grain ration

Grit: angular, hard crushed rock, preferably from granite, used by the chickens in place of "teeth" --- seashells and bone CANNOT substitute for grit; for confinded birds, grit should be offered several times a month at least; it should be of the right size for the age of the bird (see Baby Chicks page); birds allowed to free range don't need to be offered grit -- they find their own ideal sizes and types to suit themselves

Corn: American term meaning maize corn, or "corn on the cob" (in England "corn" means what grain means in the US, that is, all food grains)

Grain: American term meaning any small, hard seeds, especially grass-family seeds (called corn in England); provides energy, B vitamins, phosphorus, and the whole grains are a fair source of protein, too

Bran: the outer coating of a kernel of grain; extremely high in silicon, which slows down its decomposing in the soil; cheap by-product of milling, often given away free by large mills

Germ: the embryo plant inside a kernel of grain; very nutritious and high in protein; wheat and rice germ (also called "rice polish") are a saleable by-product of milling

Middlings: an old milling term for the parts of the kernel that are milled off with the germ, and probably contain both the starch and bran (please email me if you have more specific information :-)

Calcium: provided by sea shells, crushed bone, and fresh or dried greens --- amounts need to be measured closely, if not free range; must be provided in higher quantities as soon as chickens begin to lay eggs

Protein: any food high in amino acids, used to build tissues; protein quality is determined by the "completeness" of the amino acid varieties in the food source; all meats, eggs of all kinds, milk, cheese, nuts, seed germs, and soy beans are high protein sources

Amino acid: a molecule that is one building block of protein; there are many different amino acids, most of which can be manufactured in the body; the few that cannot must be supplied by foods, and are called "Essential Amino Acids"; a food that supplies all 8 essential amino acids is called "complete"

Vitamins: an old, general term meaning "life-giving"; a chemical found in nature or made by man to imitate natural ones; new vitamins, and new uses for known vitamins, are always being discovered; see RECIPES section for which ones to use

Minerals: non-life-created chemicals found in nature; these and vitamins can be added to dietary regimens to improve health; sea water contains all the minerals of the earth, in their natural forms and safe amounts; "trace minerals" are those needed in relatively very tiny amounts, and can be highly toxic if these amounts are exceeded; "macro-minerals" are those needed in large amounts, such as calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium

Kelp: sea-weed, plants that grow in the sea; contains all the minerals of the earth; all kelp is edible, and can easily be dried and fed to chickens by clipping a sheaf of it to something in their area (also, this replaces any need to add salt to their rations)

Methods of Raising Poultry
Free range: ideally, not controlled by fences, able to get to fresh greens and insects; as commercially used, this term allows fences, with minimum amount of space per bird set by government agency definition

Pastured poultry: hens kept in movable, usually wheeled, pens, moved daily over fresh pasture, creating delicious meat and the very most nutritious eggs (and very fertile pastureland, too)

Organic: inspected by government agencies, organic food sources must not contain traces of harmful chemicals; the term as currently used does not insure that poultry has been raised in the best possible way, only that it has near zero harmful ingredients

Types of Chickens
Pullets: female chickens in their first year of lay, or prior to their first moult; female baby chicks

Hens: female chickens in their second year of lay, or after their first moult

Straight Run: a random mixture of male and female baby chicks, usually less expensive than only pullets

Cockerels: male baby chicks; male young domestic fowl

Broilers: chickens raised to be eaten

Layers: chickens raised to be egg-layers

Layer-Broiler: chickens raised to be both egg-layers and to be eaten

Meat Bird: same meaning as Broiler