Chicken feed

Jun 11 2012 0 Comments Tags: chickens, feed

Finding the right chicken feed has been an ongoing problem for us......

For a while we thought the solution was chicken layer pellets, they are uniform, so the chickens don't pick through them, but you never really know what's in them.  I finally realised that the big label on the sack advising me not to feed the pellets to ruminants was due to the waste animal material in the feed, that's why the protein content was so high.  I don't exactly have a problem with feeding meat to the chickens, but when I don't know exactly what meat products are in the pellets and when the cattle are hanging around trying to eat any spilled pellets, I don't think its very safe.  If you look hard enough, you can find vegetarian pellets, but some of these contain soybean to boast the protein, and I'm not too happy about feeding that either....

We gave up on pellets and started buying a nice mixed grain produced by our local stock feed store.  Unfortunately our chickens are very picky, they don't seem to like wheat or sorghum, so these seeds were picked out while they ate the corn and the sunflowers.  Seems like a waste when half the feed ends up on the ground, and just attracts mice.  The chickens also tend to leave the fines in the bottom of the feeder, which  gets wasted as well.

the fines that don't get eaten
Recently we decided that if they like corn and sunflowers so much, we should just feed them cracked corn and sunflower seeds (we usually buy black sunflowers, as they are cheaper than the grey ones and protein content is the same, any idea why there's a price difference?).  The guy at the stock feed store was worried that this would not be a complete food, however with the chickens free ranging, they should be picking up a lot of what they need out in the paddock, ideally we should only be supplementing the feed that they can find for themselves, but I wanted to make sure, so I did some research (or tried anyway).

(By free-ranging I mean that we keep them in tractors on pasture, moving them around every couple of days, as well as letting the chickens out of the tractors most days, as long as they are safe from the kelpies).

Its quite difficult to find information on chicken feed that's not targeted to industrial producers, or just too vague to make any decisions (like "use a layer mash").  Most industrial advice is about what you can get away with, the main strategy for increasing protein content (and pump out maximum eggs) is to add either animal products or soy.  I have also seen a domestic chicken pellet with "yolk pigmenter" included, no thanks!

cracked corn
What I have been able to work out is that the cracked corn we buy has a protein content of 6%, and typically an energy content of 13900 kJ/kg.  Sunflower seeds can have protein up to 24%, with energy content of 23850 kJ/kg.  Sunflower seeds are more expensive that cracked corn, and are deficient in the amino acid lysine, so its good to feed some cracked corn to ensure a balance of amino acids and to reduce feed costs, even though sunflower seeds are the higher energy and protein feed.

sunflower seeds
Apparently, a hen needs about 700 kJ of energy per day to produce eggs and to free-range, and about 18g/day of protein.  A hen can achieve most of her energy and protein needs just from eating cracked corn (about 300g per hen per day), but by adding sunflowers to the diet, the total feed requirement reduces.  For example feeding 50/50 cracked corn and sunflowers reduces the feed requirements to about 120g per hen per day.  The ideal ratio depends on the price of sunflower seeds relative to cracked corn (I did a spreadsheet, you can tell, can't you?).  The more sunflower seeds consumed, the less overall feed and overall energy needs to be consumed to achieve enough protein, so I think we should feed as much sunflower seeds as we can afford (another stock feed person told us that it would make the hens' feathers fall out, but I've seen no evidence so far apart from normal moulting!).  I just need to double-check the prices now.  So far we have had much less food wasted, so even though buying cracked corn is more expensive than mixed grain (some weeks it is about the same, our stock feed just charges a margin on whatever he pays), it is working out cheaper as we don't have to use as many bags per week.

We have found the best way is to fill up the feeders with cracked corn and feed the sunflowers separately in the afternoon, this stops them from picking through the food and spilling it.  We have reduced spillage and food cost by feeding this way.  Its hard to tell if we have affected egg production because its slow anyway at this time of year.  Can't wait for spring and lots of eggs and milk again!!

minerals and shell grit
Of course there are other factors to consider as well as energy and protein, but I hope that free-ranging our hens on grass means that they have access to plenty of vitamins and minerals in their diet (both from plants and bugs).  We also give them a mix of minerals and shell grit.

Enjoying the new corn diet :)

What/how do you feed your chickens and how much do they waste?

By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at}

What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.

Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor

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