Feeding Instruction

Feeding InstructionsTime-tested methods, along with modern innovations, in the feeding of chickens 
(NOTE: In the USA where this website is written,
"CORN" means "MAIZE"; in England, "CORN" means all edible grains)

How Much Do Chickens Eat?

A normally-maturing chick (i.e., breeds which mature in about 6 months, such as egg-layers) will eat about 2 pounds of starter feed in its first 6 weeks of life. A Cornish-cross breed, however, which is used for meat, will need about 8 pounds of starter feed in its first 6 weeks of life. (These breeds are bred to grow extremely rapidly, and are harvested at 2 months of age.)

Adult laying chickens consume vastly different amounts of feed. Factors influencing feed consumption include, but are not limited to, breed type, how much they exercise, climate (including variations in temperature, wind, humidity and precipitation), the caloric and nutritional density of the feed, and how much natural feed supplementation they obtain. Also, rodents and wild birds can greatly reduce the feed supply. This can be reduced by removing or sealing off the feed at night.

It is important, and enjoyable, to determine how much feed your flock is consuming. Begin keeping records of amount, type and price of all feed you purchase, the day you receive your first chicks. Be sure to record both the measured amount of feed as well as its weight. Include the number and ages of chickens you have, right in the same page as the feed records.

Feeding Instructions from
The Family Poultry Flock

(Everything is quoted accurately from the book, unless it is in square brackets "[ ]" in which case it is an entry by the ChickenFeed website.)

Feed management

To maintain healthy birds, keep fresh feed available at all times. Limit the amount of feed in feeders to the extent necessary to avoid waste. It is a good practice to fill hanging feeders only three-fourths full, and trough feeders only two-thirds full. For efficient feeding, keep the lip of the feeder pan in a hanging tube-type feeder at the level of the birds' backs.

Fill non-automatic trough feeders in the early morning, and during the day whenever feed supplies get low. If leftover feed is not clean and palatable, remove it before refilling feeders. Never put moldy or contaminated feed in feeders. Clean feeders as needed.

Keep a close check on birds' weight and their feed consumption. A drop in feed intake usually is the first indication of trouble --- a disease outbreak, molt, stress, or poor management. If the reason for the drop in feed consumption is not readily apparent, consult a poultry specialist.

Keep feed as fresh as possible. Order for frequent delivery --- if possible, every two weeks.

Store feed carefully, in a dry, rat- and mouse-proof place, where it will not be subject to damage from moisture or losses from rodents. A large galvanized garbage can with a tight lid makes an excellent sotrage container for your feed.

Use a growing ration

Your feed supply store can provide you with a growing ration that contains everything your chicks need to grow into productive hens. It may cost more than mixing yourself [!], but bagged feed mixed at a mill has many advantages. From six to 14 weeks, the ration should contain 17 percent protein. From 15 to 20 weeks, 14 percent protein is sufficient. [See PROTEIN CALCULATION Section for instructions in blending feeds to a specific protein content.]

You can supplement the mash with grain. This will reduce the overall cost, particularly near the end of the rearing phase.

Pullets may begin to receive grain as soon as they start eating growing mash. Corn, wheat, barley, oats, millet, grain sorghum, or combinations of these may be used.

Begin with 10 pounds of grain for each 100 pounds of mash. Increase grain until pullets are getting equal parts of mash and grain. Put grain and mash in separate hoppers.

when pullets are 18 to 20 weeks old, gradually withdraw the growing mash and replace with laying mash over two weeks.

Feeding birds on range

Range cannot provide a complete diet for birds. Pullets that get the green feed of the range need the additional nutrients of a growing ration. Mash or pellets usually are fed in one hopper and grain is fed in another.

Some poultrymen use pellets for range feeding, because the larger particles are less subject to blowing out of feeders.

You need about four inches of feeder space per bird. Plan to have enough so all birds (of any age) can eat at the same time. Feeders and waterers should be raised as the birds get older. The top of the feeder side should be raised to at least the level of the bird's back as it stands (in a normal position) on the floor. The birds should have to reach up and over the edge of the feeder. This will help prevent feed wastage.

Set a good table for your layers

It takes a quality balanced ration to keep layers in shape to be high producers. We recommend that your basic ration be a mixed feed purchased at a poultry feed store. Laying hens need a mixture with a 15 percent protein level. [Again, see PROTEIN Section.] Vitamins and minerals usually are blended into the commercial feed to round out the diet of your birds.

Use a good laying ration and keep it in front of the birds at all times. Feed is the biggest expense of egg production, running at about 60 percent of total cost. To prevent waste don't fill the hoppers more than one-half full. Commercial poultry rations normally contain enough calcium (3.0 to 3.5 percent) so that oyster shell or other calcium supplements are not needed. No grit is necessary with present-day laying rations.

If grain is low-priced, you may want to use it to cut the cost of purchased feed. However, feeding too much grain will make your hens overly fat. When a complete 15 percent protein laying feed is used, do not feed more than one-half pound of grain per 10 hens daily. A 20 to 22 percent protein laying feed can be used with grain fed free-choice in separate feeders or spread on the ground (1 and 1/4 pounds of grain for every 10 hens daily). Supplementing the complete ration with grain is most economical when low cost local grain is available.

Feeding whole grain by spreading it on the litter induces hens to scratch in the litter and maintain it in good condition. [Dry leaves make great litter. Deep litter --- 6 inches or more --- makes hens happy!]

The form of the mash makes little difference. Pellets often are offered for laying rations. Crumbles are another form frequently used for younger birds. These may cost a little more than mash but have only a small advantage. They may reduce waste or wind loss, are less dusty and will not separate during handling.

[ChickenFeed and Friends, of course, encourage everyone to try blending at least some portion of your own feed. At the very least, check the ingredients labels and ask the feed store if there are any feeds that do not have sludge additives or other things you don't want in your food chain.]

Table scraps, garden products and surplus milk can be useful feed supplements to reduce costs. Feeding should be limited to amounts which your birds will eat in 10 to 20 minutes. Peelings, stale bread, and leafy vegetables such as cabbege, cauliflower, turnips, are useful. Avoid strong materials such as onions unless you relish onion flavored eggs. Don't feed spoiled or moldy feeds or foods. Fresh or sour milk is a valuable feed. Put it in plastic, glass or enamel containers, as the lactic acid formed will rust galvanized containers.

If chickens are fed whole grain or green forage, they should also receive insoluble grit. Grit is available in chick or hen size. Continuous feeding is not necessary, but grit should be available free choice, two or three days per month. Fine gravel is an acceptable substitute for purchased grit. [NOTE: calcium, bone or seashells do NOT substitute for grit --- calcium sources dissolve in the birds' system, grit does not --- grit is used as "teeth" to grind up hard grains, etc., and should be granite or some other hard rock, and angular, not rounded from stream bottoms.]

Laying hens require large amounts of calcium for egg shells. An effective way to provide it is by free-choice feeding of oyster shell or calcium grit. Also, egg shells can be saved, washed, dried, crushed and fed back to the hens. Wet shells should not be fed because there is a danger of bacterial growth on the residual albumen. There is also the risk of induced egg eating.

Laying mashes containing 2.5 to 3 percent calcium supply enough calcium, if they constitute the entire ration (no pasture or grain). Growing chickens require only about 1.2 percent calcium in their feed. If you use the higher calcium laying feeds for growing chickens, kidney damage can result.

Feed loses its quality when stored too long. It is a good idea to buy a supply that will be used up in two or three weeks. This is particularly necessary in warm weather.

A 25-pound bag of feed should last 10 hens about 10 days, if waste is controlled and the feed is a good high-energy ration. Expect to use 80 to 90 pounds of feed per layer kept for a year.

Home-mixed feed will do

Home mixing of poultry feed for small flocks is discouraged. [BOOO! But remember, this was written when the "in" thing was to buy the up-market, factory-produced product.] Your hand mixed blend may not equal commercial feed in quality and it is usually easier and less expensive to buy feed from feed stores or mills. [In the long run, it is more expensive to compromise and erode one's health!] Large mills have lower production costs due to larger volume purchases of ingredients and efficient milling and mixing facilities. On the other hand, sacking and retailing costs are high, so those who have access to home-grown feedstuffs may be able to save money by home mixing. You may prefer your own mix regardless of the cost. To make a cost comparison, calculate the total ingredient cost of home-mixed feed. Be sure to add the value of any home-grown grains used. (Don't overlook the alternative of feeding grain with a high-protein laying feed.)