“What do you feed your chickens?” Many people that I talk to about my farm ask that, often followed by “Is it true that you feed your chickens antibiotics and hormones?”. Well, today I’m here to tell you all about what I feed my chickens. From previous blog posts, I’ve explained that I not only have layers, but that I also raise chicks until they mature and are sold to other commercial layer farms. That means that I use a variety of feed rations, each one specifically designed for the nutritional requirements for the different ages and breeds.
Chicks, pullets and laying hens all need different types of feed. When the chicks arrive, we need to provide a very dense food (nutritionally), so we purchase chickstarter that has very high protein for energy. For the first couple of weeks we also have a product called Amprol added to the ration. This helps the chicks avoid a condition called coccidiosis, where there they develop severe diarrhea, which can cause high death rates. Chickens like to peck at everything, from feed to feces, so the Amprol is added as a preventative measure.
As the chicks grow for the next several months, we supply a growing ration—not quite as dense, but still higher in protein. Shortly before they mature, we change the ration again to a pre-layer ration with calcium and amino acids to help build their calcium levels in preparation for egg-laying.
Then when the hens start laying, we switch to a full layer ration. This ration meets the hens’ protein, energy and fibre requirements, but we also add in more calcium, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes; like a vitamin pill, but geared to chickens.
The feed is delivered within a day, barring snow storms like last week. Feed is one of the most important cornerstones of my farm. Our feed company really is a partner in our farm—they supply expertise from the nutritionist down to the truck driver, quality ingredients and help ensure that the birds stay healthy!
Farmers mostly use grain that is grown locally, since buying grain from close to home means less freight costs. A lot of wheat, barley and canola is grown in our area, so our rations are wheat and barley based. We occasionally use corn, which comes in from southern Alberta or other parts of the country. Our rations also include canola meal and meat meal (chickens are omnivores).
Here are a few photos of some of the ingredients that we use. Clockwise from the top: wheat, barley, corn and a complete layer feed.
Throughout the laying cycle, we adjust feed rations to make sure that egg size doesn’t get too big. If that happens the shell quality becomes poor, and no one wants cracked eggs.
Antibiotics, if ever needed, require the prescription of a poultry veterinarian. There are very strict government regulations that would require the eggs to be destroyed. Our job is to make sure that the birds stay healthy but if there is a problem with the health of the birds, I would want to administer antibiotics. Biosecurity and vaccinations are also a big part of keeping the birds healthy and reducing disease risk.
Another day I’ll talk about yolk color, which is another feed related issue. For now, I know that our high-quality feed ensures that I have high-quality eggs that are tasty, tasty, tasty! Try some for breakfast, lunch of dinner soon!