Every time I go out on the pasture, I have to feed the chickens some scratch feed. They come running out, eager for a treat, and it’s really hard to look at all those expectant faces and disappoint them. Besides, it’s a good practice. By feeding your animals kinda-sorta by hand, they come a lot tamer, you become a lot more attached to them, and you get a good look at them, close up and in good light.
I didn’t always do this. For a while, I just kept the range feeders topped off and didn’t feed anything by hand. But the whole exercise of poultrykeeping became mechanical — just another chore. And the free-range egg biz doesn’t pay anywhere near well enough unless you enjoy it. Things got better when I started using scratch feed again.
I use whole grains, usually about a gallon or so. You want to feed enough that every chicken can get some, even the timid and the latecomers, but you want it all to be gone within a few minutes. If there’s still grain leftover from last time when it’s time to give them some more, they don’t much care about the new feeding. Sorta defeats the purpose.
I broadcast the grain into the grass, as if I were sowing the seed rather than feeding it. I like to cover the area thinly, covering an area roughly a hundred yards long and a few feet wide. I try to do this in the greenest, cleanest grassy area available. If the grass is reasonably short, the chickens will find every single grain. Ground grains or finely cracked grains will be wasted, though. They shouldn’t be fed on the ground. The chickens scratch up the ground looking for the grain, so the area looks a little shopworn after a few feedings, so using new patches of grass each time is a good idea.
You get extra credit for using a kind of grain that’s different from what they have all day long. Usually we have whole corn in some of the feeders, so something else — whole wheat or whole oats — works best as a scratch grain. Chickens like variety.
If the chickens seem unusually happy to see you, your feeders are probably going empty. If they act as if you don’t exist, either you overfed them last time or something has happened to put them off their feed — being chased by a dog, for instance.
Most chickens will rush out for a treat (including the ones loitering in the nest boxes and who otherwise make it hard to collect the eggs). The ones that don’t are likely broody or sick. Separating the sheep from the lambs in this way makes it easier to spot the ones that need attention.