In one end and out the other: just like us humans, it’s important to know that your hens are getting what they need from their chicken feed.
But what exactly goes into it, and how do you know if you’ve got a good one? Selecting the best chicken feed for your hens is important in making sure they’re getting all the right nutrients.
We know labelling can be a bit of a mystery sometimes, so here we break down what’s in your chicken feed and why it’s important.
The most important part of your hens’ diet is making sure they have a good source of protein. This bodybuilding material is essential for everyday health, including egg laying. A diet containing 16% protein is usually adequate enough to keep your hens healthy. Laying hens that are not receiving sufficient protein in their diet will usually stop laying or try to get the extra protein they need by starting to feather pick since feathers contain protein, so bear this in mind if your hens start displaying this behaviour.
Oils and fats
These are concentrated sources of energy and a source of essential fatty acids. Fats improve digestibility of some protein rich feeds and improve palatability. Types of oils used include sunflower, rapeseed, olive and soybean. Fats are generally sourced from feed grade animal fats.
In hens, fibre is mostly for bulk and to help the passage of feed through the intestinal tract. It is a mix of complex carbohydrate and is of very little nutritional value to most hens. Getting a good balance of fibre to protein in your hens’ diet can be tricky when buying manufactured feed as they tend to have a poor amino-acid balance. The best thing to do is to find a chicken feed that is natural, like the Small Holder Range Feed which has natural ingredients such as grass and non-GM maize, drug-free, and does not contain any animal bi-products.
Vitamins and minerals
Ash makes up the mineral part of chicken feed. Hens need calcium, cobalt, iron, chlorine, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, sulphur and zinc in their diet. Ash is vital for maintaining strong bones and eggshell quality and can actually help reduce the smell of your hen’s droppings as well as extend her laying period.
You can also use ash in your hen’s dust bath. Here’s a guide to creating your own at home.
As well as a balanced chicken feed, you should mix a little grit in with this too. Most hens who are allowed to free range and scratch at the ground will pick up some grit, but it never hurts to provide a little extra as it’s vital for breaking down and digesting food. Remember, hens don’t have teeth!
You can find out more in our grit guide.
Should I give my hens treats?
So long as you give your chickens a high-quality layers feed, this will provide them with all the nutrition they need. However, as with humans, we all like a little treat from time to time.
In this case we would recommend offering corn in the afternoons, as ideally most hens will have eaten about 80% of their daily feed by midday, so this avoids them bulking up on treats which can lead to obesity.
Only offer mixed one egg cupful of corn per hen in the winter as it is very heating, and try scattering it as this encourages foraging and exercise.
What about kitchen scraps?
It’s been well documented that feeding kitchen scraps to your pet hens is technically illegal. This is to avoid cross-contamination and potential spread of disease such as foot and mouth.
We know that many people who rehome our hens are also green-fingered and have enviable fruit and veg patches – there’s absolutely no reason why your hens can’t enjoy some fresh produce straight from the garden, if you have some going spare. Just beware, once they get a taste for it there’ll be no stopping them!
The bottom line on chicken feed
You should by now have good insight into what makes up a healthy diet for your hens. Newly rehomed hens can be started on a layers crumb, as this is the feed type they are most used to in the commercial system. It’s then up to you whether you move them onto layers pellets, which some rehomers find more convenient and results in less mess.
As mentioned, a decent layers feed will offer your hens everything they need, and you can find feed bundles on our online shop, with proceeds directly supporting our work.
If you need any advice regarding chicken feed please call our Hen Helpline on 01884 860084.