We have raised chickens for about 5 years now. There have been wonderful benefits of doing this, but also lots of learning curves. What to feed the chickens and what not to feed them is something we are also learning about. Chickens are essentially garbage disposals. They will eat almost anything, even metal and plastic. We had to put a locked door on our pump house, because they decided to peck at the foam insulation on the inside walls. I have read stories of chickens eating tiny nails and screws that were lying around the ground. We have tried really hard to provide them with some much healthier options than metal bits. Here are some of the items we have found that they love and are good for them.
I have an abundance of sourdough starter at times when I choose not to bake. This is really good for them. Sourdough starter is full of what we like to call “good” bacteria. These bacteria called lactobacillus is great for our gut and for other animals. I like to dilute any leftover starter I have with a little water and then add scraps from cooking. They love to get our strawberry tops and carrot peelings.
In addition to starter we often give the chickens our scraps whenever we aren’t putting them in the compost. We try to avoid anything that is moldy, and we are careful not to give things like apple seeds or chocolate. Often if your dog can’t eat it, your chicken shouldn’t either. They tend to avoid citrus on their own, so we stopped offering any of it to them even though other articles say it is ok to eat. But as for other scraps, they will pretty much eat it all. They are omnivores. That means they eat everything! They don’t care if it is a vegetable, legume, starch, or meat. In fact, they will get cannibalistic at times. It kinda creeps me out, so I try not to give them chicken often, but I have randomly fed them in our scraps. But seriously, they need protein so don’t hold back on giving them different sources of protein. Protein helps to grow new feathers. It is especially important that they get extra protein during molting season. Ours tend to molt every year at the end of summer. They look awful during that time and stop laying eggs. I try to feed them extra scraps during this Phase, but I also add in other items.
That leads me to their feed. We let our chickens free range for at least a few hours daily or as much as we can. I try to wait until after their morning laying time, so that they don’t leave eggs in random places around the yard. We also keep a feeder with oyster shell for added calcium, fresh water, and a feeder with laying pellets. But I will randomly add extra goodies to that feeder. When I know it’s getting closer to our cold season I add in corn chops. This added fat helps them to stay warm when it drops to really cold temperatures. I also add black sunflower seeds to help with the protein needed for those healthy feathers. And sometimes we will get a scratch mix that has some other seeds mixed in with the layer pellets. A few times we have made our own mix adding in some oats and other grains.
We also like to vary their feed seasonally. In summer after my boys have had their fill, we place watermelon out for them to enjoy. This helps with their water intake and gives them a cool treat during the hot Florida heatwaves. As our garden grows and we get excess produce, we tend to throw out extras to the chickens. And in October they get a feast of squash from our leftover pumpkins and our friends pumpkins. This past year we let them carve Jimmy’s pumpkin. We scraped the initial eye and mouth shape, and then let them peck at it until they broke into the center. Once they hit the center, we took it back and carved out the top. We threw out to them the seeds and extra bits they couldn’t reach through the mouth. That was a fun moment as we watched them pecking away. Since that pumpkin was painted, we scraped off the paint after we used it for Halloween and then returned it to the yard for the chickens to finish.
Our chickens have been a great source for fresh eggs and have given us lots of entertainment through the past few years, so hopefully we can continue to feed them what they need to keep giving us healthy eggs in return.