Wondering if your chickens need oyster shell in their diet? Watch the video below to learn why Nutrena Poultry Consultant Twain Lockhart advises, “When in doubt, put it out.”
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As a poultry owner, I love the feeling I get when I feed a treat to my flock. They see me coming with grapes, blueberries, or grain and they come at a high speed run (well, as fast as that waddle/wiggle/chicken run can go). I feel like a hero, the chickens love me (at least while the goodies last), and we are all happy. It’s so much fun, I am always tempted to throw out just a little bit more… but the old adage “if a little bit is good, more is better” is something that’s not a good practice when feeding treats to your flock. In fact, you can seriously harm the production, health and well being of your birds by overfeeding treats.
First, let’s clarify. What exactly is a treat? For our purposes a treat is anything that you feed your birds that is not grit, oyster shell, or a commercial ration (layer feed, all flock, etc.). Note: As soon as your birds have access to anything other than pellets or crumbles you need to provide grit free choice. We don’t count oyster shell or grit as treats; these are additives that help with digestion (grit) and calcium supplementation (oyster shell). Anything else, however, should be considered a treat and fed appropriately. This includes scratch grains.
The commercial feed that our birds eat are formulated specifically to deliver the correct amount of protein, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and energy to our birds in perfect balance. Adding other things to their diet (like scratch, kitchen scraps, etc.) can throw off this delicate balance and result in deficiencies in the diet. Deficiencies can manifest themselves in many different ways in our flocks, including feather pecking, egg eating, decreased egg production and poor overall feed utilization and performance.
So how do you know how much to feed your birds when it comes to treats? There is a good method to follow that will keep the treat portion within the recommended 10 – 15% of your birds’ diet.
1. Pick your treat of the day and make it something your birds really enjoy! Mealworms, fruits, vegetables and insects are all good treats.
2. Give your birds only what they will clean up in 15 minutes. Do this one time a day to prevent unbalancing their diet.
3. Be a hero to your birds and enjoy your 15 minutes of fame!
4. Repeat daily.
Birds of a feather truly do stick together. That’s why it can be a challenging task to bring new birds into your established flock – new flock members often get picked on and harassed by hens who don’t want to share their territory. For a seamless integration of new birds into your flock, there are a couple of tricks that work well. All you need is patience – and some ninja-like moves.
To start with you want to make sure that your coop/run setup is large enough to accommodate the new birds that you are adding. Each adult bird will need 3-4 square feet of space. If bringing in birds from another flock, make sure they have been through a quarantine period of at least 30 days and are healthy.
You’ll want to introduce birds to each other gradually and let them interact without the opportunity of pecking or abuse. To do this, place your new birds inside the run or coop in an area where they can see and get to know each other but where they are still separated. A wire cage works well, but you can also put new birds into a dog crate or use chicken wire to fence off a portion of the area and make two separate spaces. If introducing new chicks to your flock, you’ll want to make sure they are fully feathered and acclimated to the coop temperature. You want to keep new birds in their own area and let everyone get to know each other for at least two weeks. Patience is key here, so don’t rush the “getting to know you” phase.
The ninja moves come into play when it is time to introduce the new birds into the existing flock. Wait until night, when it’s dark and all birds are sleeping comfortably. Moving quickly and quietly, you want to take the new birds from their resting spot and put them on the roosts next to your other sleeping birds. When the birds wake up in the morning they are next to another hen that they are familiar with (because they’ve been in close proximity, although separate areas, for several weeks) and they are often tricked into thinking that they’ve always been together. You’ll want to carefully monitor the everyone during the next week while the pecking order is reorganized, but this approach should give you a fairly seamless merging of your flock.
Timing is everything when it comes to feeding your laying hens. Ensuring they have the correct nutrition at just the right time is an important part of having a happy and healthy flock.
Hatch to approximately week 6: Provide free choice access to a quality chick starter ration and make fresh clean water available at all times. Proper nutrition in this critical growth stage will impact the performance of the chicken for their entire lifespan. Use a heat lamp to keep birds warm and provide 1 sq. foot per chick.
Approximately 6 weeks to 16 weeks: Continue to provide free choice access to chick starter and water. If you choose to feed treats (scratch grains, kitchen scraps, etc.), put out what birds will consume in about 15 minutes once per day. This a good guide to follow to make sure treats don’t exceed 15% of the total diet. Add treats only after week 6. If birds have access to anything other than a crumble or pellet, provide grit free choice in a seperate feeder.
16 weeks +: Now is the time to switch to layer feed! Provide layer pellets or layer crumbles and grit free choice along with access to fresh clean water at all times. Treats can be provided at no more than 15% of the diet. At this point it is also important to make oyster shell available free choice to provide supplemental calcium for hard-shelled eggs. Adult birds require approximately 3-4 sq. feet of space per bird in the coop; you also need to plan on one nesting box for every 4-5 hens.
Raising layer hens is an investment in fresh, wholesome eggs. Your hens will perform best if they have room to live and roam, nutritious feed, fresh water, and a safe, comfortable coop to nest and roost.
Your coop should have a minimum of four square feet of space per hen, and one perch and one nest box for every four or five hens. Spread a 6-inch layer of shavings or sawdust on the floor to absorb droppings and give the birds a place to take a dust bath. Chickens tolerate temperature extremes but will suffer in cold winter drafts or stifling summer heat. Make sure the coop is free of drafts during the winter and well ventilated in the summer.
Protect your chickens from predators by keeping them penned within good, sturdy fencing and closing the coop door each evening after your flock goes to roost.
Because hens rarely find enough nutrients on their own for a complete, balanced diet, your choice of feed is important. Select one with the protein, vitamins and minerals they need to meet their unique nutritional requirements. Keep feed and fresh, clean water available at all times. Give your hens oyster shell or coarse-ground limestone to help maintain their calcium levels and grit to help them digest their food. An occasional treat of scratch grains will satisfy their pecking instincts and keep them busy.