Chickens are wonderful! They take your kitchen scraps and turn them into eggs! Feeding laying hens is not difficult at all. Here’s what you need to know.
Chickens are little feathered garbage disposals. Feeding laying hens is easier than you might think!
They will eat practically anything. If you have laying hens and a compost bin or pile, you will throw away very little from your kitchen.
First, chickens need protein.
While they can be fed practically anything from your kitchen, including meat scraps, they still need a good balanced chicken feed. This is especially true if you keep your chickens confined.
Feeding Confined Chickens vs Non-Confined Chickens
Chicken allowed to roam your property or live in a mobile coop get more variety in their diet because they are eating bugs, various seeds, worms, and anything else they can find while exploring.
Chickens kept in a run get less variety in their diet because they’re totally dependent on you for their food.
I used to allow my chickens to roam my property. But we have cattle and chickens are carriers for coccidiosis, a deadly disease for cattle. And since the first place my chickens would run to scrounge up goodies is the feed bunks where the cattle eat and leave behind undigested grain in their manure, we decided it’s best to keep the chickens and cattle completely separated.
Chickens allowed to roam need about half the feed from the store. They’re getting their protein from roaming. Just keep a feeder with some commercial chicken feed in it available for the chickens to eat when they want. They won’t overfeed.
Confined chickens need to be fed regularly. I use a basic 20% protein laying hen feed from the farm and home store. These feeds come in crumbles and pellet shapes. My laying hens don’t care what form the food comes in as long as it comes.
I have 5 Salmon Favoralle hens and feed them 2-3 cups of feed per day plus any kitchen scraps that are available.
What Kitchen Scraps to Feed Chickens
It’s easier to share what not to feed chickens.
I’ve had several flocks over the years, and one thing they have in common is that they don’t care for citrus, onions, or peppers.
I’ve fed them meat scraps – one time accidentally including chicken. They ate it all and I felt terrible.
No hens developed Mad Chicken Disease (this isn’t real – I’m making it up) or seems worse for the wear for their accidental cannibalism. But on merit, I don’t feed chicken to my chickens.
A favorite treat for chicken is melon rinds. Any kind of rind will do. Cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew…they’ll devour it with glee.
Corn cobs leftover from fresh summer sweet corn you had for dinner are a real treat!
You can use eggshells as a source of calcium for laying hens. Just be sure to crush them before giving them to the hens. Given eggshell halves intact teaches your laying hens to eat their own eggs.
You don’t want that.
Feeding Garden Pests to Your Chickens
Tomato hornworms are the WORST.
They’re horrible, big green worms that get on your tomatoes and can destroy them within hours.
Break off the branch where the tomato hornworm is sitting and toss it to the chickens. Then look away. The way the chickens “disassemble” the hornworms is awful.
But the chickens have a wonderful time!
Chickens allowed to roam will eat ticks, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, and more.
They will also eat any garden produce within reach, so keep this in mind when deciding if your chickens will be allowed to roam.
They will also poop everywhere.
Feeding Garden Debris to Chickens
Chickens are great helpers for cleaning out the garden!
My chickens LOVE sweet potato vines, leftover kale and lettuce, beets and beet tops, misshapen or overgrown cucumbers, squash, melons.
Basically, other than onions, garlic, citrus, or peppers, if you can’t eat it, the chickens will.
Do you have some fruits or vegetables infested with bugs? Feed them to the chickens. They’ll love it.
When fruit falls to the ground in my orchard, I pick it up and put it in the chicken run. If it’s buggy, all the better for the chickens.
Feeding Laying Hens Isn’t Rocket Science
They need good sources of protein, a source of calcium either through oyster shells or crushed egg shells.
Protein can come from commercial feeds and from safely ranging around. If you prefer to keep them confined as I do, add variety to their diet by giving them kitchen scraps and garden pests and debris.
And of course, fresh clean water is a must.
If you provide your laying hens with a good varied diet, they’ll provide you with wonderful fresh eggs for years.
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