I’ve just realized that my chicken feed is too good. I do “cafeteria feeding,” where the hens have a high-protein pellet on one feeder and whole corn in another feeder. The idea is that the hens will mix and match in an appropriate way. This is a proven technique that has been used successfully for more than 100 years.
But it’s not working! The hens are eating more pellets than corn. These are fancy, expensive, 25% protein pellets that are custom-milled for us. Normally you expect the hens to mix and match themselves down to about 16% protein, eating roughly two pounds of corn for every pound of pellets. But nooooo, they like the pellets best.
Then I realized — my pellets are too good! The whole idea is that you have high-calorie/low-protein corn and high-protein/low-calorie pellets. But these pellets are a high-calorie/high-protein formulation. They’ve got everything. What’s not to like? So the hens are chowing down on pellets. Since the pellets cost three times as much as the corn, this is a tragedy.
My fault. Chickens will mix and match in a predictable way only if you give them clear choices. A high-protein pellet really needs to be low-calorie, so the chickens eat it to satisfy protein cravings, but ignore it when they have the energy munchies.
This is the simplest thing in the world to fix. Traditional layer pellets are junked up with low-energy-density fillers like wheat bran. Our super-high-quality pellets aren’t. Buying off-the-shelf pellets oughta put things back on track.
If that works (and it always did before we went to custom feed), I’ll have to sit down and decide what kind of fillers I like best. On the whole, I suspect that alfalfa meal is more in keeping with the free-range mindset than random wheat-milling byproducts like bran. But I haven’t decided yet…