There’s so much hype around nutrition these days that it’s easy to lose track of the basics. I’ve heard of poultry farmers who wanted to feed their poultry “naturally” and did so by feeding them nothing but whole organic grain — and were surprised when their poultry (turkeys, in this case) started keeling over and dying. But chicken feed is easy, right? What went wrong?
Chicken Feeding Tips You Need To Know
So let’s review some practical chicken feeding tips, which will apply pretty well to ducks and turkeys as well:
- Practical chicken feed — chicken feed that results in excellent health and high production, with no supplemental feeds — has been available since the Fifties. Name-brand chicken feeds — Purina, Land O’ Lakes, Nutrena, Diarygold, etc. — the kind available in your local feed store, are all okay. Buy a competently formulated chicken feed, and you’ll never have nutritional problems.
- There are different kinds of chicken feed. Buy chick feed for baby chicks, layer feed for layers, and so on. Roosters do fine on layer feed.
- Never lose sight of the fundamentals: vitamins, minerals, protein, energy levels. Nobody with a bad case of scurvy is going to get any better by eating organic bread. What they need is Vitamin C! Only after the fundamentals are satisfied does anything else matter.
- Pasture and foraging will not provide the raw materials to correct your feeding errors. Always provide a nutritionally complete feed, even for free-range chickens.
- The nutritional value of forage varies enormously from season to season, and even from day to day. Frankly, our ancestors kept chickens that were half-starved much of the time. Don’t do that! Always provide as much nutritionally complete feed as the chickens want. They’ll still forage, and foraging will improve the flavor of the meat and eggs.
- As long as the chickens have a nutritionally complete chicken feed to fall back on, you can try feeding them just about anything: kitchen scraps, outdated bread, surplus fruits and vegetables, grains. If the chickens don’t like it or it’s bad for them, they won’t eat it. It’s hard to poison a chicken unless it’s starving. Onions and garlic in large quantities apparently can make eggs taste bad; otherwise you can feed just about anything that seems edible.
- Chickens, like most creatures, have “nutritional wisdom”: if they’re short on protein, they’ll seek out protein-rich feeds at the expense of protein-poor feeds, and the same is true for calcium and other nutrients. This is why they will always thrive if you give them a balanced chicken feed to fall back on.
- It’s possible to create a better chicken feed than you can buy in the feed store, mostly by allowing yourself a higher ingredient budget than the major providers use, but it’s probably not worth the effort for most people. You have to learn how to formulate nutritionally complete poultry rations and judge the quality of the various ingredients.
- Sometimes people go into the feed business without learning the basics, and the results can be pretty bad. Don’t buy solely on the basis of a good-sounding label.
- In general, the way to pick a feed supplier is to ask successful local flock owners who the best supplier is, and buy from them. By successful, I mean people who seem to be doing well, whose flocks look healthy, and who have been in business for four years or more. (Few people who are doing it wrong last more than three years.)
- If you’re interested in doing feed formulation, or learning more about the topic, I recommend Heuser’s Feeding Poultry, which is an edition new enough to contain information about the difficult nutrients like vitamin B12 and methionine, but is old enough to remember how to put the nutrients into the feed without buying a commercial vitamin-mineral premix, making it the only book in print that shows you how to create a balance poultry diet from scratch. It also has a lot of practical small-farm feeding advice.