Farmer Dan knows about chickens and lives in California
Chickens are a “bottomless pit” when it comes to chow. I have seen, on many occasions, chickens with their craws near bursting but continuing to eat voraciously at the feeder or bugs and weeds as if they have not had a meal in days! Their breasts have large swellings from their constant binging and they appear to have a large tumor which almost causes them to list to one side. Chickens will eat just about anything. Even you if you were unfortunate enough to trip and fall in the coup they would eat you up. Remember they are omnivores. Their varied diet includes bugs, feed pellets, scratch, weeds, fruit, vegetables, and sometimes even parts of other chickens. Last Summer I watched, with some amusement, a four foot long gopher snake wandered into the chicken yard thinking he was after a little easy chow. He realized when he had only invaded about two feet of the chicken compound that a hungry hoard was after him in short order. He would try to make it to the nest boxes only to be jumped on by our big rooster. It soon became apparent to me that they wanted to eat him but they just were not able to get a hold on him. He slithered and crawled at a frenzied pace looking for any route of escape with the hens in hot pursuit.
I do not usually feed snake, or any other living or dead animal for that matter, to them as I do not think that is what they need. I like to feed the girls some sort of “laying feed” as this has the appropriate amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates needed to keep the girls healthy and keep the eggs rolling on out. Laying feed comes in three forms being lay mash, lay crumbles, and lay pellets. I prefer to use lay pellets as the chickens waste less feed when I use them. Crumbles and mash are easily thrown out of the feeder to be trampled and wasted by the girls who are less than frugal eaters. I like lay pellets because I know that even if the hens knock the feed out of the feed trough it will be visible and will more than likely be eaten at some point.
As chicks start to need food, which begins two days after hatching, I like to grind up or wet down lay pellets to feed them. I know that people say that you need to start chicks out on chick starter or else they would have problems later on but I do not agree with that. I just take some pellets and mix them with a little water in the feed bowl and let them have it.
For Calcium supplementation I like to use crushed oyster shells. I am sure that this is not a new idea, using oyster shell with their chicken feed in order to strengthen egg shells and to prevent bone loss from laying eggs. I have read that if you place some oyster shell in the chicken water bowl with some vinegar that will bring the Calcium into solution making it easier for the hen to use. I also like to occasionally give the chickens something called “pigeon grit” which contains some things other than oyster shell. I like pigeon grit as it provides some trace minerals to the chickens to maintain their health.
Scratch is a mixture of several grains and usually a large amount of ground corn. I like to give them scratch as something to compliment the lay pellets in my hen’s diet. The girls like to dig and scratch at the seeds as this is in their nature. As the bags of scratch will tell you, scratch grains are not to be the only source of chicken chow as the grain is not supposed to be a complete diet. I have read several accounts of folks about 100 hundred years ago where they just fed some scratch grains to the hens and left the hens to fend for themselves in the barn yard. Chickens need all of these supplements and feeds because for the most part they are raised in barns or in rather tight coops.
Chickens need to get out and graze, this is the best way! I let them out when ever I can and they appear to be all the better for it. I know that I will lose the occasional bird to a fox, hawk, or coyote but it is so good for them and they really enjoy it. I see the hens roaming the yard filling their craws with grasses, seeds, and bugs and I realize that their egg yolks will stand up firm and will glow dark orange. I see my feed bill decrease dramatically as I put them out in the yard to free range. My hound dog kind of follows them around the yard slowly herding them in this direction and then another.
There are foods that I will not let my girls into or give them. I cannot go into the all the various things toxic to chickens so I have enclosed a great link at the end of the article. I do know that you should not feed things that are heavily moldy to them or that may contain any questionable materials. Potato sprouts and Night shade leaves are also toxic and celery will upset their digestive tracks. Again for a better list visit the below site as it is much more through. Poultry Help