No matter what kind of animal you are talking about, nutrition is both numbingly complex and startlingly simple. On the simple side, animals need food for fuel. On the complex side, there are questions about the best balance of nutrients, which nutrients are essential and which are useless, how often the animal should eat and in what quantity, and even whether or not improper nutrition can lead to infertility or disease. These are serious questions, for human or fowl.
If you are raising chickens because you want more control over your family’s food supply, you are concerned about what your chickens consume. You might even be mixing your own chicken feed, or paying big bucks for a special organic blend. Chicken nutrition is a highly studied subject, and there are many books on the subject available. The information in this post is elementary, at best, and should be considered only as a brief introduction to the topic.
Dispelling A Couple of Myths
“Commercially produced feed is loaded with hormones.”
The feed that you can buy at your local feed store does not contain hormones. Fifty or sixty years ago it might have, but not now. So, you can lay aside any fears that you will be encouraging early physical maturity in your children if your chickens eat feed you can conveniently purchase.
“Unless it’s marked organic, commercially produced feed is full of chemicals and medications.”
Again, this is just not true. You can purchase medicated feed, but it will clearly be marked “medicated.” Sometimes, medicated feed is appropriate and the best choice. However, if you don’t want to buy feed with medicines added to it, simply don’t buy the stuff marked “medicated.”
As far as other chemicals go, none are added to chicken feed. Of course, the corn in the feed might have been treated with fertilizer or pesticides, but probably no more than the corn available for human consumption in grocery stores and supermarkets.
“Chickens will feed themselves by foraging, so they don’t need any supplemental food.”
If you have no more than two chickens per acre of pasture, that might be true – during the summer months. Otherwise, chickens needs supplemental food. They will forage and eat only what they need of the supplement, but most of us simply don’t have the space for chickens to be healthy with only forage available.
A Few Tips
- Read about chicken nutrition. You don’t need to earn a PhD in animal husbandry, but it is useful to know a little about what your birds need, and why.
- Don’t buy the cheapest available feed. It’s usually not quality stuff.
- Read the ingredients on the feed you do buy.
- Talk to people and ask lots of questions. There are helpful online forums, we are happy to answer questions, the folks at your local feed store will probably be glad to talk, there are swaps and classes at agricultural extension offices, and plenty of other place you can get answers.
The more informed you are, the better able you are to make the best decision for your flock and your family. Some things will depend on why you have chickens in the first place, your schedule, and personal preference. Have you had any big discoveries when it comes to feed? Is there one tip you’d offer a beginner? Do you have a particularly helpful book or source of information?