Do you have chickens and want to keep them as healthy as possible, so they provide nourishing eggs for your fam? Me too!
After sharing our latest YouTube episode on How We Raise Pastured Chickens, I was flooded with questions around the type of supplementary feed we give our chook girls.
Although I mention brand names throughout, it's important not to skip over the foundation considerations when keeping your chicken girls happy and healthy.
Now, I'm no chicken expert, but I'm certainly learning along the way through experience (yes, we've made mistakes and lost some of our beloved girls early on). I also regularly check in with my family who own Adams Eggs on Kangaroo Island- they are a wealth of knowledge in the area of regenerative farming and nourishing their 2000+ chickens.
Here are some important points to consider when choosing the right feed and creating a nurturing coop environment for your chickens:
Let's start with the mistakes we made early on. As I wasn't prepared properly before we went on our adventure to collect our flock of 30 ex-layers, I gave them a shared water source. Just a simple bucket of water which I cleaned and refilled daily, but I'll admit, it did get dirty with chicken poo and dust.
When we suddenly noticed a couple of girls were going quiet and sadly passed over night, I was very confused as to what we were doing wrong. After asking my chicken expert sources, it appeared that the dirty water was a culprit.
We immediately invested in a nipple feeding style watering system, which they simply peck and out flows the water when they're thirsty. You can see our set up in this YouTube video.
If possible, offer them time to scratch and peck through grass and dirt to find insects and worms for their protein needs and to help create healthy soil through high intensity impact and poo (when moved on regularly and the area is allowed to rest). If you don't have a movable pen, you could at least let them free range on areas of grass or garden throughout the day.
Giving them access to grass will also help to improve the bright orange coloured yolks and the omega 3 and vitamin A profile of their eggs. Happy chickens and healthy eggs.
Just like us, chooks also need to soak up some rays of sunshine, to balance their circadian rhythm and boost their vitamin D levels. This vitamin D helps to strengthen their bones, encourages healthy growth, strong egg shells and improves their reproduction.1
It is also important to give chickens a shaded area where they can keep cool in the heat and protection from stormy weather.
Although you want to avoid encouraging your chickens to eat their own eggs, if you can disguise their eggshells by grinding them before feeding to them, this will provide them with a beneficial source of calcium and you will notice stronger egg shells in return.
Other sources of calcium for chickens are shell grit, or do as my Naturopath friend Sally recommends and ask your butcher for bone dust for your flock.
It goes without saying, your chickens will LOVE gobbling up the remnants of your plate. But be mindful to have leftovers in small enough pieces so they can peck at and swallow them. Food scraps like fruit skins, vegetable peel and stems and best left out of the chook scraps as they wont be able to physically eat them. I keep these in a separate container to throw straight into our compost.
Note that chickens shouldn’t eat avocado skins and seeds, dried beans, raw green potato skins, rhubarb or tomato plants, chocolate, apple seeds and apricot seeds as they are poisonous to them. Also onions, wild mushrooms, foods that have gone mouldy and lawn mower clippings are best left out of their feed. Citrus fruits may impact their egg production, so keep them out too.
If you watch your chickens, they will go for bugs, insects and worms over greens. They naturally consume animal protein, which needs to make up an important part of their diet. If they miss out on either scratching free range, having access to meat scraps or an additional protein source through supplementary feed (containing 16%-18% protein), you may notice their egg laying drops off. That's a sign right there that they're missing something nutritionally.
The days after feeding my chickens either eggs (broken ones from my toddler), or meat scraps such as the remnants from making up my gut healing chicken stock, they always lay better and the eggshells are markedly strong.
Now comes the important chat about how to source a feed that provides your chickens with adequate protein, in the healthiest way possible. Your chickens will need approximately 100gm per chicken per day of this on top of fresh grass and extra food scraps if you're aiming for the healthiest birds and best laying from your girls.
What to leave out of the feed:
These are found in many pelletised and grain mix versions of feeds, so it'll take some ringing around (and reading labels) to find one without this.
An optimal choice would be to source an organic cereal, seed and/or lupin mix which in a ratio of approximately 80% cereal eg. wheat and 20% legume eg.lupins - note these are best digested for your chickens if they are crushed, or soaked to improve digestibility.
I've been experimenting with offering my chicken girls both a soaked feed mix (soaked in water overnight in a small bucket) along with their usual dry feed and my chickens will devour the soaked option before touching the dry feed. Another step, but if it means healthier girls, I'm happy to do this.
If organic is not an option for you, the next best, would be to feed your chickens a soy and GMO free mix. Remember in SA, crops that have been approved for GMO growing includes safflower, cotton seed and canola.
For additional calcium, it s beneficial to have additional shell grit, super fine limestone (or feed back your crushed egg shells).
Some brand options include:
Other organic chicken feed options (delivery available interstate):
Chickens do LOVE a dust bath, to keep themselves 'clean' from lice, mites, fleas or any other biting parasite, so although it can make a mess in your yard, be comforted to that your chickens are working on their mental and physical health.
Throwing your chickens springs of wormwood and fresh thyme leaves as feed can also help provide anti parasitic properties for your flock. I also throw some fresh thyme sprigs into their coop every few days.
it's also important to boost your girls nutrition and offer ongoing natural protection against worms, lice and mites. We do this here using the finely ground fossilised algae- Diatomaceous Earth (DE). This is a natural source of silica, which has powerful detoxifying properties as well as an array of vitamins and minerals to optimise your chickens nutritional intake and health.
"This happens because the diatoms are essentially very fine, sharp and abrasive particles that eliminate parasites by drying out the natural oils and fats on their exoskeletons, which causes them to shrivel up and perish relatively quickly." As explained by Kassandra Cooper across at Backyard Chicken Coops.
Experts recommended DE make up around 5-15% of your chickens diet. I personally add around 1/4 cup per 5 cups of their feed with an additional topical dusting of their nests, roost and home, every 1-2 weeks.Remember we move our girls daily (along with adding fresh straw), so if this isn't happening for your chickens, you may gain benefit in sprinkling DE in and around your chicken coop daily. It actually helps to absorb chicken poop smells too. Bonus!
You can also use DE to treat an infestation of mice or lice, by dusting your chickens topically (and rubbing it in) along with their coop and causing them to dry up and die. Mother Nature providing us with the solution, I love it.
To keep your chicken girls happy and healthy, consider all aspects of their diet and living conditions. Encourage access to grass and dirt; give them your food scraps and a calcium source such as shell grit, ground egg shells or bone dust and take into account the quality and protein content of additional feed. Consider GMO and soy free for your chickens feed and add Diatomaceous Earth for boosting nutritional intake and as natural pest prevention.
To keep their living conditions odour, mite and lice free, add fresh straw regularly, dust your girls in and sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth into their coop regularly.
Lastly, if your girls go on laying strike, or you don't have the room right now for your own chickens, you can source ethically raised regeneratively farmed eggs in this 'How To Source Quality Animal products' post.
Just as you want to give your flock the best feed, also consider the importance of fuelling your body with optimal nutrition.Find age appropriate gut healing meal ideas in my baby health guide, Thriving Bubba; nutrition guidance in my preconception guide Path To Conscious Conception and pregnancy nourishment within my online program, Path To Glowing Mumma.
Now, I'm off to collect the eggs!