For your backyard chickens to stay healthy, they need a diet that is complete and well balanced. So, what do backyard chickens eat? As an experienced chicken owner, I can proudly say that healthy, productive and happy chickens are as a result of what they feed on.
But the question is, what should you feed your backyard chicken on to keep them healthy? By nature, all chickens are omnivores. This means they eat or try to eat just about anything they can get into contact with in their search for food.
This is the case with backyard chickens, especially when ranging in your yard. These domestic birds spend a lot of time feeding on a cornucopia of vitamin and protein-rich food they can find on their own. These may include vegetation and seeds, insects, and grubs just to name but a few. At some point, backyard chickens may become fairly indiscriminate. No wonder you may stumble upon them sampling such yard fares like toads, skunks, or even small snakes in their quest to determine if their newfound delicacy falls within their taste.
Feeding Habits of Backyard Chickens
Backyard chickens have different feeding habits depending on the season across the year. In summer a substantial amount of their diet comes from foraging when they are free-ranging. Inasmuch as this could be a good source of their food, you should know that this practice is not the best for your backyard brood. It is likely that they may not enjoy a healthy and well-balanced diet out there.
During the warm or cold weather, the main source of food for your backyard chickens should come from the layer feeds. This is readily available in crumble form or pellet.
Normally the chicken feed comes when it is already formulated to provide layers with the right nutritional requirements. This type of chicken feed plays a crucial role in keeping your brood healthy as well as helping them to consistently produce eggs of very high quality.
Calcium and proteins are the key nutrients that you should provide to your chickens but commercial feeds can also play a very significant role in this regard. For instance, these feeds have all the essential minerals and vitamins to ensure that your chickens stay healthy throughout.
Also, you should think out of the box when feeding your flock of backyard chickens. And this is where the use of supplemental feeds comes into play. Supplementing their diet is a sound idea given that these domestic birds are reared primarily for their eggs or meat. So, you must supplement their diet with the required amount of nutrients to enhance their growth and productivity.
On the other hand, supplementing your backyard chickens is important especially in extremely cold weather. This is the time when their food intake should be higher. In this case, foraging does not play a role at all because of the weather conditions outside which does not allow them to free-range.
As such, you are advised to include vegetables, fruits, and grains in the main diet of your chickens to keep them happy, especially when it’s cold. All these types of food will also provide your flock with a nutritionally balanced diet that is essential for their well-being.
The best choice of food, however, should include cooked beans, leafy greens, non-sugary cereals and grains, corn, apples, berries, and vegetables as well as most other fruits.
Table food can be another good source of nutrients for your chickens. Foods such as rolled oats, wholemeal rice, bread, cooked pasta, and legumes are an alternative diet for your flock. For better results, you may feed them occasionally to ensure that they get all essential nutrients.
Chickens are very sensitive to the diet provided to them in the same way humans do. On that note take precautions when feeding them to avoid food poisoning and other health-related causes.
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Feeding Your Layers
The quality of eggs laid by your backyard chickens will depend largely on what they are eating. And when we say quality we simply mean the size, color, and flavor. So, ensure that you feed your layers with what is right for them.
Birds that lay large numbers of eggs deserve to be fed on high calcium supplements. These nutrients have been proven to be effective in layers. Therefore, their eggs will be characterized by hard-shelled eggs when fed on calcium-rich foods. In this case, you may provide them with dried eggshells that are ground to a powder form.
Add a substantial amount of these ground eggshells to their normal diet on a regular basis. You can give them laying mash that are already supplemented with calcium. Lack of calcium among layers will lead to the production of thin or soft-shelled eggs. Obviously, this is not the quality of eggs you are looking forward to.
Feeding Your Flock is a Group Exercise
Naturally, chickens are sociable birds. This means you must keep your flock in certain numbers such in twos or even more. Doing so makes it easier for you to feed them. While in groups you can easily monitor your birds to single out the dominant ones from the weaker or younger breeds. This is important such that you will separate them into groups and feed them individually. Should you notice any drastic changes in their eating behavior or appetite, consult with your local veterinarian to find the source of the problem and solve it.
Foods to Avoid Giving to Your Backyard Chickens
You know pretty well that backyard chickens have voracious appetites and willingness to consume almost anything given to them. This is to say that there are other types of food you should avoid feeding your chickens on.
- Citrus fruits
- Uncooked beans
- Green potato peels
These are a few of the foods that you should not give to your backyard chickens because some could be poisonous. The strong flavors from some vegetables such as garlic have adverse effects on the quality of eggs laid by chickens after consuming them. For that reason, you should avoid feeding your flock on such vegetables to maintain the quality of eggs laid.
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Some chicken keepers resort to saving their table scraps in a bid to feed their flock. This is one way of augmenting the diet of their backyard chickens. Therefore, cutting down on food waste, but it should not be encouraged.
Most of the food that you consume on a daily basis will appeal to your chicken’s palate. This includes some meat scraps. Just know it seems so wrong in any way you may think of. Obviously, any experienced chicken keepers won’t bring themselves to this level of feeding their birds on leftovers.
Avoid providing your chickens with high sugar treats, salty snacks, high-fat foods or spoiled food. It is clear that no one wants to discard leftovers because of the high cost of foodstuff. Doing so could be putting them at risk of many health-related complications that might come to haunt you sooner than you may think.
It is likely that your backyard chickens will go overboard once you factor them into the equation regarding leftovers as well as other treats. While this behavior can be moderated in humans, in chickens or other domestic animals it can prove an exercise in futility.
The best way of ensuring that your birds are taken care of is by providing them with a commercial layer feeds. This type of diet is important such that it will give your chickens the required basic nutrition for their health and productivity. For instance, small portions of treats lick the “a la carte” can have a positive impact on your flock.
Do you have to supply your chickens with water?
Yes! Chickens are just like other animals and need water for their well-being. Make sure that you provide them with clean water throughout. In the winter check for the iced waters also clear them every morning to pave way for a fresh supply.
How long can your backyard chickens go without food?
Chickens can go a whole day or even two without feed. In fact, they can stay longer while eating kitchen scraps without showing any side effects. In case of an emergency feed, you can hard boil eggs. Then chop them into tiny pieces before feeding them to your chickens.
Backyard chickens can forage while free-ranging but most significantly, you can provide them with commercial chicken feeds in all seasons. Alternatively, you may feed them on leftovers from your kitchen but ensure that they don’t contain harmful substances.