Free ranging vs. Feed

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by hansolo, Mar 31, 2011.

  1. hansolo

    hansolo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    hi I am new. My girls are getting to 8 weeks old. I started them as layers but they are getting to become my pets, but I still need answers from people.
    They started running around our backyard when they were 4-5 weeks and I just moved them to the coop as of yesterday.
    I am confused about feed. We have starter feed, which I used when they were young to make sure they had no nutrient deficiency, but i also supplemented a lot of other food ever since they were very young, say 1-2 weeks, millets, sesame, corn grits, brown rice, oatmeal, fresh corn, grapes, eggs, nuts, tomatos etc. and they really don't eat that much of the starter feed. Here are my questions:

    What exactly are the ingredients in starter/grower/layer feed? Why do they contain the "complete" nutrients?
    If I let the girls run around our side yard, which is not very big, is that considered "free-ranging"?
    If they free-range (grass, bugs) and eat other whole foods (oatmeal, rice, vegetables), will they get enough nutrients or do they still need feeder food?
    People say chickens that are free-ranging and eating table scrapes do not lay as well, why is that?

    Thanks!
     
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    The three basic feeds are Starter, Grower, and Layer. There are others out there, but lets keep it simple. Each feed is for a different stage in their life. The main difference is that Starter has higher protein levels than the others to get them started well and Layer has higher calcium that they need for their egg shells once they start laying. Younger chicks don't need much calcium as it can cause bone deformation or kidney problems in growing chicks.

    Each feed is balanced to provide the best amounts of protein, minerals, calories, vitamins and such if that feed is all they are eating. A key word is balanced and a key concept is that that is all the food they are eating. When you feed them something else other than just that feed, you upset that balance. It is for prime efficiency, basically what the commercial operations do. Efficiency means different things to a commercial operation with 5 houses with 5,000 laying hens in each versus us with a few backyard chickens that are usually as much pets as egg layers. The usual recommendation is that you only give them as many treats (things other than their regular feed) as they can clean up in 10 to 20 minutes or you are upsetting that balance. I assure you, many of us violate that every day. If you free-range, you lose control over that anyway. For some purists, free range means no fences, but if yours are getting bugs and green stuff, they are doing great.

    You have no idea of the controversy you can get started with "If they free range, do they get enough nutrients?" I get in trouble with people on this forum all the time with my answer. If they have enough varied terrain to forage from and the weather (in winter especially) does not limit them too much, yes they can do OK without supplemental food. They are not going to be obese chickens suffering from fat diseases like gout and diabetes, they are not going to lay as many eggs and the eggs will not be as big, and they will not grow as fast, but yes, they can do OK. But I still think it is a good idea to have feed available to them. They may not eat as much of the feed when they free range, but it does get eaten.

    Why don't they lay as well? Their diet is not as balanced and is probably not as high in protein if they forage versus eating feed that is formulated to get them to lay a maximum number of Grade A Large eggs if that feed is all they eat.

    Hope that helps a bit.
     
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  3. Fred's Hens

    Fred's Hens Chicken Obsessed Premium Member

    Free range 8 week old chickens should have grower pellets waiting for them when they return. 20 week old pullets should have layer pellets waiting for them when they come home. They'll eat upon their return, or in the morning before and after laying, before being turned out.
     
  4. hansolo

    hansolo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Quote:Very helpful reply. I read it three times. Thank you!
     
  5. hansolo

    hansolo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    So what exactly goes in the feed? A mixture of grains and beans, plus multivitamines and minerals?
    The brand I bought, I believe does not have animal proteins in it.

    I don't want to offend people, but I spoil the chickens:
    This morning after letting them out, I fed them cooked brown rice, sesame seeds, walnuts, sunflower seeds and some left-over sun-dried tomatos.
    In the evening I sometimes feed them pasta and eggs and corn and such.
    I know whole foods supposed to be better than their starter feed but I cannot ensure the "balanced" and "complete" part.
    They do have access to the feed all the time, just like water.
    We don't have varied terrain, just a small backyard here in urban California setting. There are grass and a ton of worms. They are welcome to my vegetables but they dont seem to be too interested in them yet.

    Another beginner question: why do chickens like grass? can they digest the stuff? does grass provide any nutrients?
     
  6. hansolo

    hansolo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    yeah problem is before i go to work or upon my return, I will feed them rice, corn, pasta etc. so they are not that into the feed...
    during the day when no one is home, they eat some of the feed (we noticed less feed left).

    Fred's Hens :

    Free range 8 week old chickens should have grower pellets waiting for them when they return. 20 week old pullets should have layer pellets waiting for them when they come home. They'll eat upon their return, or in the morning before and after laying, before being turned out.​
     
  7. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    Different feeds have different things in it. Generally they are mostly mixed grains but with various vitamins and minerals added. Different grains have different nutrients in them, so they mix them to find the less expensive mix that gives them the amount of protein and other nutrients they are shooting for. It should have a tag on it that gives the analysis (% of various things in it like protein, calcium, fat)) and a list of ingredients (corn, soy meal, vitamin B-12 supplement, and many other things).

    You don't offend me but you are probably not doing your chickens any favors. When a hen lays an egg, that egg is around 2% to 3% of her body weight. A hen laying an egg every day is roughly equivalent to a woman giving birth once a week. The hen needs to eat enough of the right stuff to replace that. I'm not a good enough nutritionist to be able to tell you how much of each of what you feed them would balance out their various requirements. That's basically why that 10 to 20 minutes to clean up the treats rule of thumb is there. And yours are just chicks. At 8 weeks, they do not need a tremendous amount of protein and such. You will notice a big drop in the percent of protein in Grower versus Starter. That is because after the good boost they got when starting out, their body now needs to mature as it grows, so you don't want them growing too fast.

    Another problem is that chickens prefer foods high in energy. Let's use corn as an example. It is a popular one on this forum. Corn has protein, fats, and other things that all grain has. But it is lower in protein and higher in the fats than many other grains. If given a choice, chickens will fill up on corn instead of their regular feed, much like a child can fill up with candy and not want its supper. It is not that some corn is bad for chickens. Some corn can be very good for chickens, but too much is not. First, if they fill up on corn, they are not getting as much protein as they need. Even worse, they are getting too much energy-type nutrients. A chicken is like a human. If they eat more calories than they burn, it gets stored as fat. So if you overfeed the chickens with corn, they do not get the varied nutrients they need plus they get fat. Chickens die from being too fat. Google "fatty liver syndrome" if you don't believe me. One the other hand, if chickens eat too much protein, they can develop medical problems too, such as gout or liver problems. This is not a real fine balance. There is a lot of leeway in their nutrient requirements and the possible medical problems. It is not something you should over-obsess about, but you should aim toward the target area.

    When chickens forage, they get a lot of different vitamins, minerals and protein from the things they eat. Grass has vitamins and minerals. Grass seeds can have protein, sometimes a lot and sometimes not a lot, depending on the type of grass. Same for weed seeds. Different things have different nutrients and different levels of those nutrients. It sounds like yours are not getting a tremendous amount of variety in their foraging, just grass and some creepy crawlies. It sounds like they are not getting a lot of various greens from different varieties of weeds and are probably not getting many grass or weed seeds if all they have is a manicured lawn.

    Don't get me wrong. I think it is tremendous that they have access to green stuff and creepy crawlies, but yours are only 8 weeks old. If they have a restricted area, they will most likely eat and scratch until all the green stuff is gone. How bad that is depends on how much area they have and how many chickens you have. I assure you, they will also do tremendous damage to your garden when they get bigger, both from what they eat and their scratching. Plus any place they can get to that has organic mulch, like maybe a landscaping bed, will be scratched bare.

    I really suggest you cut back on all the extra stuff you are feeding them and let them rely some more on that feed so they are getting a more balanced diet. But do give them some treats and do let them roam and get the fresh vitamins and such from their foraging. As I said in the earlier post, many of us violate the 10 to 20 minute rule of thumb, but we normally don't abuse it. It is a reasonable target. And the percentages of the different things they need are not really as tight and controlled as many people think. The recommended percentages are based on utmost efficiency in commercial operations, not too much and not too little of the various nutrients to ensure a Grade A large egg at minimal costs, yet keep the chickens healthy. They are good targets to aim for, but you can use a shotgun, not a high precision sniper rifle. We are not commercial operations.
     
  8. WoodlandWoman

    WoodlandWoman Overrun With Chickens

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    Feed has protein with balanced amino acids, especially methionine, carbohydrates, fat, many vitamins, especially vitamin A and many minerals, especially extra calcium in layer formulas. It provides most of what a chicken needs. One thing it doesn't have are all the phytonutrients that are contained in fruits and vegetables. The natural compounds in plants that we have just begun to understand fight cancer, viruses, etc. I personally feel that chickens are healthier if they eat a wider range of foods that contain these phytonutrients. Eggs from free range chickens with access to pasture have also been tested to contain more of the good omega fatty acids and more vitamins. They're better for you. At the same time, an unbalanced diet can be very bad for a chicken.

    The sesame and sunflower seeds you're feeding are helping to balance what you're feeding by giving them more and better protein. So are the eggs. If you're giving the type of sunflower seed that people eat, rather than an oil type sunflower seed, they have much higher levels of protein. I think the hulled of that type are 22-23 percent protein. Sesame seeds are really high in protein, I just can't remember how high. 30 something maybe? I need more coffee! They're two of the best plant sources of methionine.

    A meat or fish based feed should have adequate methionine in it, but a plant based feed will need methionine added to have the correct amino acid balance. This will be synthetic methionine. They only other way is to use really expensive plant foods. Otherwise, the chickens either need to eat more of the feed or the feed has to have a higher protein level to satisfy their nutritional needs. Either way, some of the excess protein is wasted and the feed is not as cost effective. It adds more waste to the coop and run, too. Plus, if they need to overeat feed to get enough of an amino acid that's too low, they're eating too much carbohydrate and fat to get it. They can end up too fat. Or they may just not overeat as much, not get enough protein and not lay as well.

    Most people overestimate how much protein is available to their chickens. They can pick a yard clean in a fairly short time. It takes a lot of protein to build and maintain a chicken. On top of that, they need enough extra protein and other nutrients every day to form an egg. If they don't get all that, they have to eat enough days to finally get enough excess nutrients to finally form an egg.

    If you can walk through your grass and have lots of bugs, preferably including some good sized ones, popping up, that's plenty of protein. If you have a lot of leaf litter and you can go out and scratch through it and find a handfuls of worms and bugs every day, that's a lot of protein. Most people don't have that. Most people don't have that in the winter. Free range works better in a lot of the south, because they have a LOT of bugs there. An annoying amount, bigger than many other areas and for more of the year. It also helps if you have livestock, because then you usually have a pasture with legumes, spilled grain, and manure to scratch through. Free range also works better on larger acreage, with a more diverse and plentiful forage base. What I mean is if you are trying to feed your chickens mainly by free ranging them. If you are supplying a balanced feed, you can free range anywhere.

    Chickens eat and get nutrients from grass. The also enjoy a wide variety of dark leafy greens. Favorites are chard, kale, collards, beet, spinach, turnip, dark leaf lettuce and any others that you would grow for yourself. They get the same health benefits from greens that people do. They will also eat the leaves of legumes like clover and alfalfa, that can provide more protein. A lot of different vegetables and fruits are good for them, for the same reasons that they are for people. Dark green, orange and red foods ensure that the chickens are getting vitamin A. Without it, chickens are more susceptible to upper respiratory infections. When it comes to diseases in poultry, that's a big deal. It's also traditionally one of the biggest killers of pet birds on a seed only diet.

    Chickens have a lot of the same nutritional needs that people do. They do need more protein when molting, to grow feathers. During the time they're growing and maturing, they're constantly growing new feathers, as well as their body growing, so they need good quality protein. I think mine feather out better with more sunflower seed added to their diet. Any type of complete protein work well, too. They will often catch and eat mice, lizards, small birds or anything else that doesn't eat them first. They have no problem eating meat and if you kill it for them, they would probably eat any sized mammal down to the bone. The eggs you feed them are great protein.

    It sounds like you're giving them a lot of good foods. I would just make sure that you don't give too many carbs all at once, especially the high calorie starchy type, give enough protein and don't forget to give them free choice calcium. Most people give oyster shell. Do you know what a good balanced meal looks like for a person? That's kind of what a good balanced meal looks like for a chicken. Not all pasta, corn and rice at a meal. It would have some beans or meat/fish/eggs and some dark green or orange vegetables with it. The sesame and sunflower are a nice addition, especially if you are feeding legumes in place of meat/fish/egg. If you keep what you add to the diet more limited in volume, you don't need to worry as much how balanced or nutritious it is. If what you are giving is a major portion of what they are eating, then it should be a balanced diet.
     
  9. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Overrun With Chickens

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    Your "treats" really should not encompass more than 10% of their daily feed. It sounds as if your going way over that which is'nt doing your chickens any favors. They need the protien and balanced diet that purchased feed provides. They forage for a balanced intake, combined with commercial feed availible at all times and only up to 10% of treats will grow healthy and lay at top of their ability.
     
  10. schellie69

    schellie69 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 8, 2009
    Kansas
    I have free choice layer feed (my girls are hens) I give them weeds from garden, grass clippings. I also give them veggies I do give them some left over veggies from the kitchen and some times some left over rice pasta just a little bit I do give some scratch and Boss. I will only be free range a few house a day this summer they cleared out all the grass from the back yard last summer so we are replanting. I did find a chicken prairie grass that I will be putting in the grass boxes in the run with chicken wire on top of the grass so they can't dig it all up this prairie grass has a bunch of things that are really great for healthy chickens. I am also going to try my hand at growing meal worms why since earth worms due carry tapeworms I would rather have my girls eat meal worms. I also feed them crushed egg shells about once a week and some yogurt mixed with scrambled eggs or leftovers.

    Also they need protein to grow really nice feathers I found that when mine started pulling feathers from each other their protein level was to low since I was free ranging them I bough some game bird which is higher protein and feather pulling stopped and they started to lay again so they need lots of protein.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2011

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