FAQ: Chicken Feeding Tips

Here are my most reliable tips on feeding your chickens: feeding them simply, feeding them cheaply, and feeding them well.

1. How Can I Save Money on Chicken Feed?

Here are some tips:

  • Girl feeding free-range chickens by handAvoid “cheapskate feeds.” There are a lot of cheapskates out there who don’t care about quality. Most mills have a line of cheapskate feeds that you need to avoid, because they’re bulked out with fillers like wheat-milling byproducts that have little nutritional value. Cheapskate feeds often have keywords telling you what they are; words like “Country,” “Thrifty,” and so on. You’ll save money if you quality feed.
  • Buy from the best. Ask your practical-minded acquaintances who the best feed mill is. Usually the verdict is almost unanimous. Buy from the best feed mill: it’ll saves you money.
  • Use the “grain-on-the-side” method described further down in this FAQ.
  • Minimize feed waste. Most feeders on the market are really just baby chick feeders, no matter what the manufacturers say. Their feed pans are too shallow, and the chickens throw feed in all directions. In some tube feeders, it pours over the side on its own! Losing at least 10% of your feed to the poor design of the feeder is very common. Find the deepest feeders you can get your hands on, or make them yourself. Never fill trough feeders more than 1/3 full. Spend more time watching your flock. If you slow down, you’ll notice things and everything will magically improve, including the bottom line.
  • Get a book about poultry nutrition. A lot of what you’ll read on the Internet or hear from your neighbors will be nonsense, and you’ll want to immunize yourself. Also, it helps to have a complete reference manual handy! The best poultry nutrition book in print is the one I reprinted myself, Feeding Poultry by G. F. Heuser. There are other excellent books on the topic, but they are all out of print. (I can’t figure that out.)
  • Read my blog postings on saving money on chicken feed.

2. Do I HAVE to Feed Free-Range Chickens (or can they find their own feed?)

Remember: Chickens can’t find feed that isn’t there, and the more chickens you have, the less feed there is to go around. You have to match the number chickens to the feed supply, or nature will do it for you through poor health and starvation.

How it was done in the old days. A farmer of 100 years ago might have kept a dozen hens and a rooster through the winter, and allowed the hens to hatch a brood of chicks each in the spring, giving, say, 72 chicks plus the original 13 chickens, or 85 birds total. The old rooster would be sold after the chicks had hatched. The old hens and most of the young chickens would be sold in the fall, and one cockerel and twelve pullets would be kept through the lean months. By having 85 chickens during the fat months and only 13 during the winter, the amount of supplemental feed needed by the chickens would be minimized. read more...

FAQ: Deep Litter in Chicken Coops

Deep Litter for Chickens: Another Lost Technique From the Golden Age

Stirring hydrated lime into deep litter.

Many poultry techniques that were once well-understood became shrouded in mystery after the poultry business shifted to factory farming. The old-time diversified farmers passed away, and there are generations of industrialized farmers between us and them, breaking our cultural continuity.

The Deep Litter Method. One of the lost ideas is the deep litter method (deep litter is also called “built-up litter” or “compost litter.” People think they know what the deep-litter system is, but often they don’t. The descriptions floating around these days are more folklore than fact. The article below is the real deal. read more...

FAQ: Simple Electric Fences for Chickens

To a lot of critters—raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, dogs—your free-range flock is a 24-hour all-you-can-eat chicken buffet. Maybe, must maybe,  the local predators are afraid to run off with your chickens today. But it won’t last.

Trust me on this. I have been almost put out of business by predation several times. If it weren’t for the techniques described here, I wouldn’t have any chickens today.

What worked for me? Simple electric fences. Really simple electric fences.

One-Wire and Two-Wire Electric Fences

Two-wire electric fence for chickensThis kind of electric fence, with just one or two wires, we developed over 60 years ago. It is commonly used to keep raccoons out of gardens and all kinds of predators out of chicken yards. read more...

FAQ: Egg Washing

If you raise chickens, you get some dirty eggs. Is egg washing okay, and, if so, how? And how can you minimize the number of dirty eggs? Read on! I’ll cover the basic egg cleaning concepts, how to wash eggs by hand, and what you need to know about both homemade and commercial egg washing machines.

1. Is it okay to wash eggs?

little_girl_washing_eggsIt’s okay by me! Some jurisdictions have laws forbidding you to wash any eggs that you’re going to sell. Some have laws requiring that you wash any eggs you’re going to sell. I’ll go into that further on. read more...

FAQ: Baby Chick Care

Getting started with baby chicks? Robert Plamondon, author of Success With Baby Chicks, tells you what you need to know.

1. How should I brood day-old chicks?

For a complete list of steps, see my baby chick checklist.

Baby chicks in their mailing boxBaby chicks need an external source of heat. Naturally brooded chicks are warmed by nestling against their mothers. Groups of chicks can maintain body heat by huddling together, which is why day-old chicks can be shipped by mail.

People brooding fewer than 1,000 chicks at once generally use electric brooders.

Large commerical poultry operations generally use big propane brooders with a central brooder and a metal canopy, or hover, that retains the heat. Each brooder handles up 1,000 or more chicks. read more...