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, with your birds’ only needs being 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.
When feeding your chickens, don’t solely rely on commercial chicken feed. Besides being the least healthy food to feed them, 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
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. Since I don’t let my chickens free-range, 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 I have 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 – This I use 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’s health and egg quality. No…I don’t put calcium pills down their throat; 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.
Farm Fresh Breakfast Burrito
- 1 small can Refried beans
- 1 small can Black beans drained
- 2 teaspoons Taco seasoning
- ⅓ 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
- 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.
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 of a lack of 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.
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.
As for the amount to feed your hens, this depends on their need for calcium. It’s like with any other feed; note how much is left in the feeder. The eggshells won’t go bad so that you can keep them indefinitely.
Initially, you may not have enough eggshells and will need to spend the extra money for 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
Good quality feed is essential for chicken health and maximum egg yield. I never use cheap feed; 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.