Feeding Chickens for Health and the Best Eggs

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Most people raising chickens for the first time over-complicate their needs…wasting money on fancy gadgets and equipment they don’t need.

Backyard chicken farming is relatively simple. Your birds’ only needs are food, shelter, and water. While poultry waterers and feeders are nice, they aren’t necessary; anything deep enough to avoid tipping and the chickens walking through the feed and water works.

Don’t solely rely on commercial chicken feed when feeding your chickens. Besides being the least healthy food, a green diet is better for them. Those beautiful, large orange yolks, synonymous with fresh eggs, don’t come from a grain-based diet. You need healthy chickens to eat a healthy diet to produce healthy chicken meat and eggs. I only feed my chickens commercial food during the winter if the natural source is scarce.

Chickens are natural foragers, hunting insects, worms, and greens. Even if you can’t let your chickens forage on their own, you can supply them with the varied diet they need by feeding them leftover scraps from the kitchen.

5 Essential Dietary Ingredients

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Meat Protein – Protein is essential to egg production. I do not recommend feeding your chickens meat as this tends to turn your chickens cannibalistic. When chickens forage, they eat worms and bugs, which are high in protein. Raising free-range chickens is not always an option, especially in the winter. Because of this, I provide them with a culinary delight of various types of insects. I pick tomato worms in the summer and give them to my flock. They are crazy for these fat green worms and run around the pen, delightfully squealing. In the winter, I buy mealy worms and crickets. I also provide them with fish oil and fish meal throughout the year. They not only love it, but it’s also good for them.

Grass and Hay – I know this sounds strange, but believe me, it’s a win-win situation. I have a large pen
for my small flock and my compost pile in one corner. Why do the backbreaking work of turning your compost? It takes almost a year before you can use the compost this way. With chickens, your compost will be ready in about 4-6 months, and your fertilizer will be mixed in. Chickens make fast work
of a compost pile, plus it’s good for them.

Dried whole Corn and Grains – I use this sparingly, but it is an excellent supplement to their diet and contributes to the richness of the yolk.

Greens – The secret to nutrient-rich, delicious eggs is greens. This includes lettuce, beet greens, kale, or whatever green scraps you have in your kitchen. I’m a dumpster diver, so whenever I see the markets and stores throwing away vegetables, I gather them for my girls. I also beg scraps from my neighbors; I’m known as the “vegetable bag lady.”

Calcium—Calcium is essential for chicken health and egg quality. No…I don’t put calcium pills down their throats; I feed them eggshells. If you talk to other backyard chicken farmers, you will find many different opinions about this. However, everyone agrees that laying hens need lots of calcium. A lack of calcium is terrible for your hens and causes thin-shell eggs.

Water – I find it interesting that what is the most critical feeding aspect for a flock is rarely discussed. You can provide your chickens with all the high-priced, fancy food you want, but if enough fresh water is unavailable, your chickens won’t eat. This results in egg production loss since half the egg is made of water. Make sure fresh water is always available. In the winter, place water inside the coop to avoid freezing, and increase your water monitoring in the summer. Birds quickly dehydrate without enough water.

Many people will tell you grit is a necessary part of your chicken’s diet. We don’t buy grit because the chickens get all they need from the soil. If you want to feed your chickens grit, go ahead, but it isn’t necessary.

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Farm Fresh Breakfast Burrito

What better way to use fresh eggs than in our Farm Fresh Breakfast Burrito? Stuffed full of fresh eggs, beans, and gooey cheese, this delicious dish will please the entire family.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Course Breakfast
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 1 small can Refried beans
  • 1 small can Black beans drained
  • 2 teaspoons Taco seasoning
  • pound Ground sausage cooked
  • 4 large Flour tortillas
  • 6 Eggs
  • 2 tablespoons Milk
  • ½ teaspoon Ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Olive oil
  • 1 cup Mexican blend cheese grated
  • ½ cup Salsa optional

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 300° F.
  • Stack tortillas then wrap in foil and place in oven. Let heat for 10 minutes.
  • While tortillas are heating, in small pan, stir together black and refried beans. Add taco seasoning and mix well.
  • Heat bean mixture on low heat until beans are warm and slightly bubbly. You may need to add some water to get the desired consistency.
  • With wire whisk, beat eggs with milk and salt and pepper.
  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add eggs and scramble until cooked and fluffy.
  • Sprinkle cheese on each tortilla. Layer on ½ cup bean mixture and scrambled egg. Top with 2-3 teaspoons of salsa or salsa to taste.
  • Roll up the burrito and serve hot. If you like your burritos cheesy, top them with extra cheese and place them in the oven just until the cheese melts.

Notes

These burritos are great frozen and then reheated. Just wrap them in foil and freeze. To reheat, place foil-wrapped burritos in a preheated 350° F oven for 20 minutes. Don’t microwave, as this changes the texture and taste.
Keyword breakfast, Breakfast Burrito, eggs

 Feeding Your Hens Eggshells

Because your hens use a lot of calcium to lay eggs, it’s important to add calcium to their diet. Most local and online feed stores carry oyster shell as a calcium supplement. But, if you’re like me, you prefer sustainable living, which includes caring for your chickens naturally. This is why I use eggshells instead of buying calcium supplements.

Feeding chickens eggshells is a practice dating back a few hundred years. Most premixed feed rations contain added calcium. However, if much of their food is table scraps and foraging finds, then you
need to add calcium to their diet.

Some people fear feeding their flock eggshells will turn them into egg eaters. In my 20+ years of raising chickens, I’ve only had two egg eaters that I can remember, and I don’t think it was because of feeding them eggshells. If that were true, all my hens would be egg eaters.

Usually, chickens eat their eggs because they lack calcium. But, as a disclaimer, anything is possible, and some chickens may have the “mad egg-eating” disease. However, I think that is unlikely.

The feeding process is as simple as tossing the used shells in your scrap bucket with their other goodies. I prefer a different method, but it’s whatever works best for you.

My process:

I collect the shells as I use the eggs, smashing them down and storing them in a bucket I leave in the pantry.

Once the bucket is halfway full, I spread the half-crushed shells on a baking sheet and bake at 350° F for 8 minutes. While baking kills any lingering bacteria, I bake the shells because toasting them dries out the membrane, making them easier to crush into tiny pieces. If I’m in a hurry, I skip this step.

Once cooled, crush the toasted shells into tiny chicken “bite-sized” pieces. You don’t want a powder, just pieces about the size of small glitter (that’s the best way I know how to describe the size). I want them small enough that they are not recognizable as eggs. Chickens will go after any egg-shaped object, so crushing the shells stops them from thinking they can eat eggs. Again, this may not be necessary with your flock, but I would rather not put the temptation out there.

Mix your eggshells with their feed rations or place them in a separate feeder. I keep the eggshells separate from their feed. Chickens know when their body is craving calcium and will eat from your eggshell feeder. If you mix it with their regular food, they pick it out if they don’t need the calcium, and all those eggshells go to waste.

The amount you feed your hens depends on their need for calcium. It’s like any other feed; note how much is left in the feeder. The eggshells won’t go bad, so you can keep them indefinitely. Initially, you may not have enough eggshells and will need to spend the extra money on some oyster shell or a calcium-enriched feed. The people who use my eggs save their shells for me, so I always have a ready supply of calcium.

I never use store-bought eggshells. This is a personal preference and strictly your decision; however, with the unknown factor of the chicken’s health and what they were fed, I don’t want my backyard chickens eating them.

Importance of Quality Feed

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Good-quality feed is essential for chicken health and maximum egg yield. I never use cheap feed; I use only feed containing all the nutrition my girls need.

Your feed should never contain mold or dust, as chicken lungs are delicate and susceptible to disease. Dust and mold stress the chickens’ lungs, making any food containing these inadequate. Always inspect your feed as soon as you get home. If the chicken feed is moldy, call your supplier, who will usually exchange it.

Once your chickens are regularly laying, stay with the same food brand. Brands vary, and a difference in egg quality and yield is possible. However, if the chickens aren’t producing, you need to switch to a different brand. Talk with your feed supplier for suggestions.

Winter is a crucial time for quality food. Green grass is gone, and nature’s table is void of the summer gourmet feast of bugs and vegetation. A high-protein feed with a proper balance of vitamins and minerals is necessary for your flock’s health. While you still feed your hens table scraps, this is not enough without supplementing their diet with commercial feed.

Treats are Nice

As with any pet, chickens love treats. I keep a bag of mixed corn on hand for this purpose. The chickens love it. Scatter a couple of handfuls around the chicken yard. The chickens love scratching the ground and digging out those golden kernels. It’s also great for getting your chickens to go to bed. I scatter a path up the chicken, run into the coop, and the birds follow.

In closing, remember that your chicken’s diet dictates their overall health and their egg production. Never skimp on feeding your flock. Keep their food clean, dry, and vermin-free by storing it in sealed containers. And finally, fresh water is as important as quality food.

14 thoughts on “Feeding Chickens for Health and the Best Eggs”

    • My chickens love watermelon. I buy the big, cheap ones they have at Walmart as soon as they become available. It is their weekly treat.

      Reply
  1. I honestly appreciate this article it’s really helping I have started keeping girls for eggs and I believe following this article I’ll archive alot thanks .

    Reply
    • Thank you, Ezra! I love raising chickens, and getting fresh eggs is a huge benefit. Good luck with your girls, I know you will be pleased with the results for raising laying hens.

      Reply
  2. Hello, I am having issues with my fussy chickens. I like going to the fruit & vegie markets and getting free scraps for the chickens but they will not eat certain things which are suppose to be health for them. Things like cabbage leaves, watermelon, beans, carrots etc… They love lettuce & tomato But some one told me not to feed tomatos is this correct?

    Is there a list a foods you can feed everyday, sometimes & never? I have tried to look on the web but cannot find one.

    Are my chickens just too well feed that they have become fussy?

    Reply
    • Hi Wendy,

      I feed my girls all kinds of things, including tomatoes. When I can stewed tomatoes, I give them the leftover skins and have been for many years. About the only thing you shouldn’t give your chickens are sweets, like chocolate, anything with meat in it, no dairy products, no eggs, or any food that is rotting or moldy.

      They do have individualized tastes. My girls love watermelon, but hate cabbage and potatoes.

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
  3. I was thinking of taking greens from zucchini,turnips,kohlrabi,beets,cucumbers & dehydrating then rehydrate to feed during winter – your thoughts? Thx

    Reply
    • Actually, I think that would be a good idea. I never thought about dehydrating greens, then rehydrating. It would keep all the nutrients and the chickens would love them. Great idea!

      Reply
  4. I have a hen that is just laying in the hen house all the time. She is not laying on a egg. I have been making her get out. She eats and drinks. This is just a different behavior for her. I am concerned. Should I be?

    Reply
    • I would keep an eye on her. It could be the heat or it could be other things. One sign of illness is their combs may change color and start drooping. Also there is a concern of being egg bound. Not to scare you, but if she is not setting on eggs, then that is not normal behavior. There are so many different things that could be causing it. We lost one of our hens to the heat this week and depending on where you are at, that is a possibility.

      Reply
  5. I am thinking about getting some chickens and want them to have the most natural diet. I am confused as to whether you feed your a manufactured feed or the diet you mention at the beginning of your article; grasses, shells, bugs and greens scraps.
    Any suggestion would be much appreciated. Thanks.

    Reply
    • I feed my chickens scraps grasses, bugs, etc. I supplement that with feed, especially in winter. I use an organic feed. It’s considerably more expensive, but I prefer the organic. If you don’t want to go with organic, then I recommend a good layer pellets. If you have layers, I think they need more than just scraps and grasses. I also mix a little scratch in with the pellets. I have a few of my girls that like diversity in their diet.

      Reply
  6. Hey would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working with?
    I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your layout seems
    different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique.
    P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

    Reply
    • I use WordPress. They have a lot of themes that are free or you can purchase custom themes. WordPress is fairly easy to use and I like the looks of it.

      Reply

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