Guide written by:
Jean-Marie, Jardinier passionné & auteur, Auvergne
Your laying hens must have a varied and balanced diet. While grain will make up the bulk of their feed, it's important not to overlook various nutrients. A mixture of vegetation, small animals or insects and kitchen scraps will provide the rich and diverse diet your hens need to stay in great shape.
- Feeding a laying hen
- Kitchen scraps
- Complete foods
- Feeding chicks
What to feed your laying hens
It's long been known that the quality of your hens' eggs is directly tied to their diet. Of course, we all know that chickens don't have teeth – but that doesn't stop them from being omnivores! In addition to wheat and other grains, chickens are perfectly capable of gobbling down insects, worms, snails, vegetation and grass. Chickens need a variety of foodstuffs to stay in good health and a good diet is particularly important for laying hens.
Each day, a chicken will consume about 150 g of food. Of course, this depends on the season, as well as the size and breed of your chickens as some eat less than others. Your hens' diet should be made up of around 70% energy-intensive foods (primarily grains) and about 30% protein.
These foodstuffs must also provide all necessary vitamins and micronutrients.
Animal protein is essential for good health and chickens are able to digest this better than most plant-based proteins. Ideally, you should feed your chickens at set times each day. For example, you could feed in the morning when your hens leave the coop and in the evening to encourage them to return. You don't have to use a feeder to feed your hens.
Chickens love to peck so you can simply scatter grain over the ground, provided that the surface isn't too muddy or covered with droppings.
Different types of chicken feed
Complete chicken foods should be fed alone as they contain all the nutrients required by your hens. You can also find special mixes for different age groups or depending on what you are using your hens for (laying, meat, pets, etc.). These foods are made up of cereals, minerals, vitamins, micronutrients and various additives.
They can be used in chicken coops as the only food source and you'll need to provide around 130 g a day. A mix specially designed for laying hens can generally be given from 4 to 5 months of age.
Grains and oilseeds
Grains constitute the main food source for chickens. The majority of the energy required comes from grains such as wheat, corn, barley and oats and oilseeds, such as sunflower, flax and rapeseed. Plant-based protein comes from protein-rich grain legumes such as peas, broad beans and soybeans.
These foods can be given whole or podded. Be sure that your chickens have access to coarse sand or dirt, or small stones as these are used to break down food in the gizzard (as chickens don't have teeth).
Chickens are champions of recycling and will happily take care of most kitchen waste, including:
- salad leaves;
- cooked meat and chicken;
- cured meat;
- cheese rinds;
- they also love seafood shells and tails (especially prawns) and crushed up egg shells;
- they generally enjoy cooked foods such as vegetables, pasta, rice or potatoes;
- red meat should be given in moderation, especially if your chickens have access to small animals in their run.
With a little practice and observation, you will find out what your hens like to eat and what kinds of kitchen scraps they tend to leave. Some foodstuffs should never be given to chickens, either because they simply won't eat them or because they are toxic.
Toxic foods for chickens
The following foods should be left out of your hens' diet:
- foods that are too salty, sugary or spicy;
- leek leaves;
- onion, banana, citrus or kiwi peel;
- raw potatoes;
Crushed shells (particularly oyster shells) can provide a welcome dose of minerals and calcium, which is essential for forming egg shells. Some commercially sold chicken feed already contain crushed shells so it's important to read the ingredients carefully.
You probably won't have to feed supplements to chickens that are keep on grassy land. However, in the winter, you might want to add a few supplements or provide more generous portions as your hens will be burning more calories simply to battle the cold and moisture.
Quick tip: some chicken farmers like to prepare a basic soup for their chickens with potatoes or plain bread.
What do hens drink?
Hens drink... a lot! In fact, some can even get through a litre a day in the height of summer. But you should be aware that in warm weather, water can quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria!
Change the water every day as chickens will not drink dirty water. The water must be fresh and placed in the shade in summer.
How to feed chicks
Chicks are pretty independent and will manage to find everything they need to eat right from birth. However, you should start to feed them at some point over their first week of life offering special chick pellets or crumb.
Place the food on the ground and switch to a feeder a bit later on. You can also make a paste from bread crumbs and milk.
You can also add a few blades of grass to their food from one week onwards. From around six weeks, you can gradually start switching to chicken feed. For the first two or three months, chicks will need a protein-rich diet to encourage growth. Clean water must always be provided. It mustn't not be too cold (15 to 20°C will do) and it should be served in a specially designed water dispenser to prevent drowning.
Guide written by:
Jean-Marie, Jardinier passionné & auteur, Auvergne, 201 guides
Haut comme trois pommes, je travaillais déjà au jardin familial. C'est peut-être de là qu'est né mon intérêt pour les plantes et le jardinage. Il était donc logique pour moi de suivre des études à la fois en biologie végétale et en agronomie. Accédant à la demande de divers éditeurs, j'ai écrit en 25 ans de nombreux livres sur la thématique des plantes, des champignons (un sujet qui me tient à cœur), essentiellement des guides d'identification dans un premier temps, mais très vite aussi par la suite, sur le jardinage, renouant ainsi avec la première passion de mon enfance. J'ai aussi collaboré régulièrement à plusieurs magazines spécialisés dans le domaine du jardinage ou plus généralement de la nature. Comme il n'y a pas de jardinier sans jardin, c'est dans un petit coin de l'Auvergne que je cultive le mien depuis 30 ans et où je mets en pratique les méthodes de culture que je vous conseille.