Chickens require fairly high levels of protein in their diet to stay healthy and grow as well as to produce feathers and eggs. Commercial, premixed chicken feeds contain the correct balance of nutrients required for each stage of the chicken’s life. Chick crumbs are fed from when the chicks hatch up to 5 weeks old. They typically contain 19% Protein. Growers mash or pellets are fed from 6 weeks to 18 weeks old and typically contains 15 to 16% Protein. Layers mash or pellets are fed from 18 weeks as they mature enough to lay eggs and typically contains 15 to 17% Protein. Mixed poultry grit should also be supplied. The grit contains small pieces of flint that aid digestion and broken oyster shells which provide extra calcium, to ensure strong shelled eggs.
Meal or mash can be placed into a self-feed hopper for larger chicken production systems as mash on the ground contaminates the food, encourages rodents and can also be wasteful. Each bird requires about 100g of feed per day, but this amount varies with temperature; hens eat more when cold. A hopper can be made from materials found around the home. For example remove the bottom from a well cleaned old washed paint can or oil drum and attach it tightly to a tray on the bottom leaving only enough space for feed to drop through and be held in the tray, whilst the hens peck at it.
Drinkers should be installed in front of the shed so that an overflow does not wet the litter. There are various types of drinkers available on the market if you do not wish to make one up yourself.
Greens (cabbages, cauliflower leaves, grass cuttings etc.) can also be provided to add variety to a chicken’s diet. Household food waste should not be fed to chickens that are going to eventually end up in the food chain. Washed, dried and crushed egg shells can be fed back to chickens as calcium helps to ensure all eggs have strong shells.
Mashes should be fed to the birds along with scratch grain. Whole grain (wheat, barley or oats) scattered over the litter once each day, encourages the hens to scratch and maintain the litter in good condition. The amount of grain should be limited to 10 g/bird/day if a complete 15% protein feed is being fed.
Feed used as treats can include the following: fruits including apples, bananas, pears, raisins any kind of berries, tomatoes vegetables including asparagus, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, beans, peas, pumpkins, turnips. Oatmeal (raw or cooked), corn, maize, rice, mealworms and crickets are also favourites.
A constant supply of fresh, clean water must always be available to your chickens. Water troughs must be kept clean and shaded from the sun. Adult hens will drink between 0.2 and 0.5 litres each day, depending on the temperature.