Chicken Nutrition

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by Jrose, Feb 23, 2015.

  1. Jrose

    Jrose Songster

    Jun 6, 2013
    Forgive me if this has been addressed; I'm sure it has. There's a lot of very long posts and endless threads with similar questions I've browsed but have not found what I'm looking for.

    What differentiates 'scratch' from 'feed' if the protein content is the same? Everyone talks in terms of protein. Percentage of protein in the feed. But what about nutrition? Actual nutrition; vitamins, minerals, bacterias? Why are layer pellets, at 17% protein, containing processed, cooked grain byproduct, wheat, corn, and soy, somehow better than a 17% whole-grain scratch of the same raw ingredients?

    Backstory of how I'm feeding and why I'm asking, not a mandatory read in relation to the question:
    I've shied away from bagged feed in the last year. The less big-box feed I fed, the less health issues I had in the birds, that much was apparent. I progressed from big-brand feeds to a local brand starter and feed in the spring/summer. It is cheaper but I didn't notice much change in the birds, and my April 2014 chicks still weren't laying come fall. I tried formulating my own mix over the winter but it was too costly.
    In January I decided to try a local feed of ground (but whole, unprocessed) non-gmo corn, wheat, and peas at 17% protein mix. I've been feeding this for about 6 weeks. I soak overnight and feed a hydrated slop once or twice a day. They're a healthy weight, laying, and seem happy. One little girl in particular, a factory rescue, had gone almost 2 years without molting and looked absolutely horrid (she was in this state when I picked her up; skeletal feathers, bald in places, and complaining all the time). Within 3 weeks of this new feed she molted almost overnight and looks fabulous now. Their yolks are a rich "Home Depot Orange" as I like to call it, unlike a tasteless pale yellow when feeding big-box feed. Overall I'm happy with it, and at $19/100lb it's the best deal i've found yet, I'm getting eggs, feathers are shiny, birds are happy. But this mix might be considered 'scratch', which has me thinkin'...
  2. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe Free Ranging

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    Chickens are omnivores so unless you live where there's 12 months with pristine forage and lots of animal protein, a grain mix won't do it.

    The protein isn't the same. There is no such thing as a 17% whole grain scratch. Scratch is usually corn, wheat, mile, etc. All of which are between 8 and 12% protein. But even if there were a grain mix that high in crude protein, the problem would still be limiting amino acids. Vegetable sources of protein are woefully low in methionine and lysine.
    Methionine is vitally important and not only needed for growth but is indicated for feathering and performance in poultry. It is the primary limiting amino acid in all ages of poultry. It is also essential in immune cell production, egg production and maintaining body weight. Diets deficient in methionine will induce feather eating and can turn to cannibalism.
    To make a complete chicken feed with grains and legumes, they still have to add synthetic methionine and lysine to supplement what's missing in those seeds.
    Also, many vitamins and minerals chickens need will also be missing in the grain.
    Additionally you can't feed raw legumes, they're dangerous to poultry and have to be cooked.


    Look up the nutrients in the 'scratch' and see which of the following nutrients are missing.

    Another problem with scratch is that it's made up of whatever the mill has that's the cheapest at the time so the ratios will vary. That means there is no guaranteed analysis.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2015
  3. Jrose

    Jrose Songster

    Jun 6, 2013
    My birds do have access to fresh meat pretty regularly. Gotta keep the miniature dinosaurs happy! Their diet is heavily supplemented with compost, forage, meat, almost year-round green grass, The Feast Of 1,000 Worms every time I cultivate the garden plot, etc, etc. which is always a bonus.

    What I'm feeding right now is whole milled grains and peas, mixed by a local bird breeder at 17% protein, not by a mill.

    So the difference between a "scratch" and "feed", outside of protein content, is that the feed has supplements added?

    Why are raw legumes dangerous to poultry?
  4. triplepurpose

    triplepurpose Songster

    Oct 13, 2008

    Right, scratch is just the grains, but complete feeds will include supplemental vitamins, plus amino acids missing from the grains, etc. these are intended to be the sole feed rations, for birds raised in confinement.

    Not sure why raw legumes in genrral would be considered harmful--mine will happily eat many kinds of legumes raw, and many feeds contain raw legumes. It may depend a lot on the kind of bean or pea. Some, like Lima beans and soy, definitely aren't good raw, but to my knowledge cowpeas and some other peas are fine. Whether grass grains OR legumes are optimally digestible, especially whole, is another thing--part of the reason some people (including myself) ferment feed.

    What you've got sounds great to me. The complete proteins you're feeding them, plus the acess to forage, scraps etc ought to make up for any deficiencies in the grain/legume mix--complete feeds become less important as diets become more diverse.

    The first sign of inadequate nutrients would be things like cessation of laying and feather loss and if sounds like that's not a problem at all from the picture you paint!

    I don't see any problem. In fact I kind of envy you--all I have to work with here (besides what if grow myself) is layer, starter, and scratch, prebagged--and it's all expensive.... :)
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2015
  5. Jrose

    Jrose Songster

    Jun 6, 2013
    My birds love many things like raw tomatoes, peas, beans, potatoes, rice, etc that people warn are dangerous or inedible. They infiltrate the garden and seek these out, especially potatoes! I can't keep the darn featherbags from digging my potato mounds up! [​IMG] I've never noticed any health set back from this. The green peas in the feed I'm using are partially ground. There are a few splits but no whole peas. I soak the food before feeding to avoid waste, but this does hydrate it a bit. But their feces has been very low in smell/ammonia, it's nice and firm, small, and if I could use "robust" to describe a turd, I would like to do so!

    I definitely have no feather eating, weird molting, or cannibalism (and never have, really). I've got 7 or 8 girls out of 20 laying with the weird warm weather, hoping even more will join in soon.
  6. Chris09

    Chris09 Circle (M) Ranch

    Jun 1, 2009
    It sounds like what your feeding is a 17% pigeon breeder feed.
    The Green "peas" could be either Austrian Peas or Mung Bean.

    If it is a pigeon feed there going to need some type of mineral mix, pigeon raisers use either a mineral mix in a bowl or a picking block but your going to need a mineral mix for chickens.

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