Feed station & food questions for small flock

Sarahs Hens

Songster
Mar 14, 2017
45
120
109
Saratoga NY
I am getting three full grown hens from my friend's flock this weekend and have some questions about the feed/water/grit/oyster shell station setup.

I have seen some wonderful setups on this site with porthole buckets, PVC tubes, troughs etc. But, given the small number of chickens I was wondering if I'd be better off just using a big dog bowl? My thought was the big gravity feeders might not stay as fresh. My run is covered so rain wouldn't be an issue. Are there any drawbacks to this? Would they kick it over?

Second, for the oyster shell and grit... How much of this do they typically eat? Could I get use of those small, dual compartment dishes and leave it full? Or does it need to be changed out? Since they're essentially minerals, I'm assuming it would be okay if it got a little wet from blowing rain, correct?

Finally, for the food, I'm noticing most feed comes in 50lb bags. I've read that freshness is really important so I intend to check mill dates. My concern is - will 3 chickens go through that much feed before the nutritional quality starts to degrade? What do others do for small flocks?
 

Lady of McCamley

Free Ranging
10 Years
Mar 19, 2011
7,468
5,471
502
NW Oregon
For feeders, use whatever is convenient for you and can't be kicked over or cause too much scratch pillage. In my small broody run, I simply use a big old metal kitchen pot (like a pot roast pot). It's heavy enough to not tip over and sides high enough so that can't easily scratch it out and spill a bunch. For my main flock, I have one of the typical gravity feeders, but I also have a cubbyhole built into the coop for those who like to coop feed (I don't recommend coop feeding as it makes a mess in the coop, but I have it for my broody hens that flock brood).

I would try to get a 25 lb bag for best results. You usually can get a 25lb bag of chick feed, though I prefer pellets as there is a lot less waste. Flock Raiser would work for that, though I find layer best for laying hens. It will take you a long time to go through 50lbs. Unless kept really dry, and depending upon your climate, chances are it will mold before it's used. I personally, in my wet Oregon, try to use up feed within a month. Most literature says it can last as long as 4 months if kept in air tight, dry, low humid conditions. (I go through a 50lb bag every 2 weeks with my flock of about 15 to 18, so that isn't a problem for me). So, with 3 chickens, at about 1/4 lb a day, do the math and assess your environment conditions.

Oyster shell should be set out in a bowl and fed at choice. A 5 lb bag would go a long ways with 3 hens. Ditto for the grit.

Good luck with your little flock, and please keep us posted on its progress.

LofMc
 

GC-Raptor

Free Ranging
Jul 26, 2016
5,031
9,238
621
Connecticut, USA
When I have less than 4 Chickens, I buy a 25 lb bag of feed.
I don't feed a layers feed, I feed pullets and hens a Non-Medicated Starter-Grower or a All-Flock crumble.
I buy feed at my local TSC and they carry this in a 25 lb bag. 20200512_164835_resized.jpg . So this doesn't have enough Calcium for layers. I offer Oyster Shells for that, and Poultry Grit for digestion, each in separate containers.
Of course they carry small bags of many brands and types of feed including layers, non-GMO and Organic.

I keep feed and water in my well ventilated and when pop door is closed, rodent proof coops.
20190430_090843.jpg

Shells and Grit are in 40 ounce pails with 3/32" holes to drain moisture.
20190422_091804-2_kindlephoto-5207539.jpg

I also keep water outside when temps are above freezing in 60 ounce pails. Feeder, waterer and pails are available at TSC. I use a heated base to keep inside waterer from freezing, not needed in June😃.
Second, for the oyster shell and grit... How much of this do they typically eat?
For 3 hens a 5 lb bag of each should last awhile, Oyster Shells will go quicker if you don't feed a layers feed.
My first Flock of 5 Golden Comets fed a Layers feed their first year of Laying went through a 5 lb bag of Oyster Shells in 11 months. Estimates when I switched to a non-Layer feed is 5 lbs lasts 4 months. GC
 

NatJ

Free Ranging
Mar 20, 2017
6,018
11,474
596
USA
But, given the small number of chickens I was wondering if I'd be better off just using a big dog bowl? My thought was the big gravity feeders might not stay as fresh. My run is covered so rain wouldn't be an issue. Are there any drawbacks to this? Would they kick it over?

It might work fine. Or they might kick it over, they might perch on the edge and knock it over, they might scratch bedding into it. They might also eat the feed off the floor after they spill it, or the spilled feed might be lost/wasted.

You could do that.
You could get some of the cups that hang on the side of bird cages and dog kennels.
You could get one of those feeders that are sold for rabbits: a trough at the bottom, and a high back that holds more feed.
You could get a big gravity feeder and only fill it partway full.
You could get a gallon milk jug, cut holes for their heads, and hang it on the side of the coop as a feeder. (Nuisance to fill, but doesn't get kicked over.)
Lots of options!

Finally, for the food, I'm noticing most feed comes in 50lb bags. I've read that freshness is really important so I intend to check mill dates. My concern is - will 3 chickens go through that much feed before the nutritional quality starts to degrade? What do others do for small flocks?

A common estimate is that each hen will eat about 1/4 pound of food each day.
Time three hens is 3/4 pound, or .75 pounds each day.
50 pounds divided by .75 pounds per day is almost 65 days, which is just over two months.

So a 50 pound bag might last you two months if there is not much wastage (some feeding setups allow the hens to waste a lot of food, and then you end up buying more.)

I would probably buy the 50 pound bag and just be careful where it gets stored, but you might choose a smaller bag. (The smaller bags often cost almost as much as the larger bags, in case that matters to you.)
 

Sarahs Hens

Songster
Mar 14, 2017
45
120
109
Saratoga NY
Thank you everyone for your thorough replies! I ended up having to buy a 40lb bag because that's the only size the food she feeds them now comes in. I'm going to look for smaller bags when I switch their feed. For now I plan to keep the bag in our house in a big plastic tupperware container, then bring out big scoops each morning. Hopefully that will extend the shelf life too.

I *love* the big pot idea for a feeder! So long as it doesn't make them nervous! My friend gave me a gravity feeder for now and I'll just keep it partially full... no idea why this didn't occur to me before.. too focused on hardware cloth-ing every square inch of the run I guess!

For the grit/oyster shell, I got the 5lb bag of each. I ended up finding a set of heavy ceramic bowls at Target for $1.50 each So funny that in the pet section, the same thing was like $12... I will drill some small holes as GC-Raptor suggested.

Wow that's a big difference in oyster shell consumption between the foods! It's so neat that they know what their bodies need. I wish I could get mine to naturally crave kale over potato chips 🙄

Here are the girls the first day in the coop. They went bonkers for banana.
20200614_144017.jpg
 

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