Hens at Feeder

How Your Feed Affects Your Chickens

In one end and out the other!  It is as important to know what you are putting in your hens, as it is to understand what is coming out the other end…

Selecting the best feed for your flock is very important when it comes to hens’ diets! You should always take time to top up their feeders with nutritious but delicious treats. Don’t overindulge them though!

This being said, food labels on hen feed can be a mystery, so what does it all mean? Here is a list of all the items to look out for:

Protein

The most important part of your hens’ diet is making sure they have a good source of protein. This bodybuilding material is essential for the formation of flesh, blood, feathers, skin, bone and even egg. A diet containing 16% protein is usually adequate enough to keep your hens healthy.

When do hens need additional protein?

Normally, hens don’t need a lot of high protein food. But there are times when a little more won’t hurt. When your hens are moulting during a hard winter or when they are under stress they may need more protein.

Ash

This is the mineral part of the diet. 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. Ash can actually help reduce the smell of your hen’s droppings as well as extend her laying period.

You can also use Ash for your hen’s dust baths. Here’s a great way to treat your hens using ash.

Oils and Fats

These are concentrated sources of energy and a source of essential fatty acids. Fats improve the 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.

Fibre

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 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.

We would recommend storing your feed in a dry vermin-proof place. This is because feeding damp or mouldy feed to your hens may cause them to get Sour Crop.

The Poo Talk

And when there’s feed involved, there is always hen droppings. The two go hand in hand and it is inevitable that you will have to do some poo picking and clearing up. The passage of food along the digestive tract is influenced by the age of the hen, environmental conditions such as temperature and the composition of the diet.  A mash feed will typically pass from beak to hen house floor in around 8 hours for laying hens (12 hours if the hen is broody).

Quantities of feed to give your hen also depends on many factors.  In general, a back yard hen should have ad lib access to food and water, but only enough feed for that one day should be put out to discourage vermin tucking into your spillage.  Hard grains will inevitably take longer to pass through.  Normal droppings are a mixture of faeces and urine.

Expect a laying hen to produce 100 – 150g of droppings every day.  Normal droppings should be well-formed dark brown with a white urate cap.  Most hens poop 12 – 16 times over a 24 hours period.  Remember that a normal healthy hen will produce a Caecal dropping once or twice daily – this looks rather like chocolate sauce and is completely normal.

 

If you’d like advice on your hen’s health, why not visit our Hen Health page, where we discuss important things to look for in your hen’s health, whether its personality or physical symptoms. Or, head to our Hen Examination Guidelines where we can show you where to find things like the crop or the wattle.

If you need to seek medical advice, click here to find your nearest Hen Friendly Vet.
You can also call Hen Central on 01884 860084 to speak to one of our rehoming assistants.

Giving a gift today helps fund our Hen Helpline. It helps support hen keepers, giving them the best advice on how to care for their hens. If you have found our advice helpful, please consider giving a gift towards the hen helpline here.

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