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Food for chickens | The river reporter

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By KRISTIN WHITE

Hey, chicken fillets! It’s Kristin from the Chicken Librarian here to tell you all about feeding these beautiful birds. If you surprised us in the last Our County Home, you learned all about how to start raising chickens. This time, let’s take a look at how to feed your birds. You would think it was pretty straightforward, and it is, but there are a few things you need to know.

First of all, you bring these babies home and ask yourself, “What are they eating? It’s quite simple. Start them on “starter feed for chicks”. They will be on this starter diet until they are about 6 weeks old. This food is high in protein (look for a food with at least 20 percent protein) which helps babies start life on the right foot.

Then you will feed these growing babies “growth foods”. This food will contain less calcium and protein, which they need. Too much protein and calcium can cause kidney and liver problems. But let’s not waste it here. If you have any leftover starter food, you can mix it with the growth food until it is gone. It is also a good idea not to make the change too quickly but rather gradually. Stir a little of the culture mix at a time until you’ve changed them completely. Give them growth food until they are about to lay, at around 20 weeks.

Now you are on “diaper feeding” and you know what that means, don’t you? You guessed it! These babies are about to be adults and lay eggs for you. Some hens may take longer to lay, but you should start to see signs by the age of 20 weeks. Of course, their nutritional needs are also different now. At this point, they need less protein and more calcium. Calcium is the key when it comes to layers. So, do the same as you did to go from starter to grower: phase out growth food until you are completely on a layer diet.

And once you get that first egg, start delivering some extra calcium. I hang a rabbit feeder on the wall of the chicken coop with crushed oyster shells (it’s a great source of calcium that you can buy at your local grocery store). However, there are many ways to provide calcium. A quick internet search will give you more ideas than you ever need.

Once you’ve switched the chickens to layer feed, that’s all they’ll need from there. And if you have roosters in your flock, they will eat exactly what the hens eat – no need to give them something different. Easy, right?

There are a few other things you should know about feeding chickens. First off, I would advise not giving them anything other than chick starter for the first two weeks of life.

But, wait a minute: if they are brooded by a hen and raised by Mama Hen, don’t they start eating “treats” right away? They do. But there are several reasons why it is different when you are raising them indoors. The first reason, and this is my theory, is that the birds (most likely) came from a hatchery where they don’t live a natural life. They are in production mode and are not grazing. Thus, chicks that hatch in the hatchery need more time to understand what food and treats are. Believe me, it takes them time. You have to teach them the things they need to know, like you are Mama Hen, well, because you are Mama Hen!

On a related note, if they are hatched in your chicken coop by Mama Hen, they will follow in her footsteps. So she will teach them where to eat, what to eat, how to eat and all that follows. So, I let them find out where the food and water are, and then after a week or two, I start adding some extra treats. And when you add treats, now is the time to start adding grain. They need gravel to crush their food. Chickens have no teeth; they have cultures where food and water are going to be crushed and passed through their system. And they need this grain to grind the food.

Where to find food

Where do you find food, gravel and calcium? You can find ready-made foods at your local food store, like Agway, Tractor Supply, or Cochecton Mills. They have a wide variety of foods, supplements, and additives, including organic products. You can also buy food online and have it shipped to you through companies like Chewy. It’s amazing what you can get shipped.

You can also make your own food. It takes a lot of research to make sure you are getting a correct formula, but in the end it will be money saving. Whichever route you take, make sure the chicken feed is kept in a clean, dry container with a tight-fitting lid.

But you might be wondering if it’s okay to give them kitchen scraps: yes! By all means, give them your trash and leftovers. I mean, that’s one of the main reasons we have chickens. They can eat just about anything, including meat. They love meat. But let’s leave the leftover chicken for other uses, okay?


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