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…
If you are a hen fanatic like me, you probably spend most of your day selecting the best feed for your flock, topping up their feeders and watching them greedily tucking in.
BUT food labels on hen feed can be a mystery, so what does it all mean?
Protein: The most important part of your hens’ diet this is a body building material essential for the formation of flesh, blood, feathers, skin, bone and egg. A diet containing 16% protein is usually adequate.
Ash: This is the mineral part of the diet. Hens need calcium, colbalt, iron, chlorine, copper, magnesium, manganbese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, sulphur and zinc – Ash is vital for maintaining strong bones and egg shell quality.
Oils and Fats: These are concentrated sources of energy.
Fibre: In hens this is mostly for bulk and to help the feed pass through, it is a mix of complex carbohydrate and of very little nutritional value to most hens.
I would recommend storing your feed in a dry vermin proof place, feeding damp of mouldy feed to your hen may cause them to get sour crop.
The down side to hen keeping is the inevitable poo picking and clearing up that very same feed when it reappears as droppings. 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). I am not going to suggest quantities of feed to give as this again 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 day should be put out to discourage vermin tucking in to 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 one 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 would like to ask Gaynor a hen health question please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Hen Central on 01884 860084.