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How much to feed free range layers

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by bock, May 1, 2011.

  1. bock

    bock Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 10, 2008
    Northern CA
    Hello! I am wondering how much food I should be feeding my free range chickens in order to lower feed costs, but still have healthy layers. Rights now, I have 4 standard and 6 bantam chickens eating Layena. I also have 24, 5 week old standard-sized chicks eating flock raiser. I was just filling up the feeder and leaving it in their coops, but they were wasting most of it and were really searching for other food sources. We have 4 acres of land that is covered in green grass right now, but they just hang out near their coop. I am thinking about feeding them 2X a day and leaving oyster shell out. I would make sure they all got some and were a healthy weight. I am just wondering about how much to feed them. I have some brown leghorns, red stars, and RIRs, but they are mostly dual-purpose breeds. We will also probably give some table scraps. I was also curious what you do to encourage your chickens to forage. Thanks! [​IMG]
  2. Ohhhdear

    Ohhhdear Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 15, 2010
    West Michigan
    I have a 3 gallon galvanized metal feeder that I hang from underneath the nest boxes of my coop. My girls are full grown hens now, but I started doing that when they were 3 months old and they began free ranging. Before the hanging feeder, I set their 1 quart feeders and waterers up on increasingly high bricks so they would peck at the food but not scratch it out of the feeder with their feet. A hanging feeder almost eliminates wasting food.

    I'm not sure I'd just feed twice a day. Your younger chickens are still growing and might not get the protein they need from free ranging if adequate chicken chow isn't available. If your chickens are regularly going to their coop at night, then try moving their feeder further away little by little to encourage them to wander over the 4 acres.

    I feed all sorts of table scraps. You can experiment as to what your chickens will or won't eat. Mine hate any citrus and pineapple and won't eat banana peels unless they're chopped up, but most everything else is yummy including coffee grounds and ripped open tea bags! Any meat, veggie, cheese, or noodle scraps are fought over!
  3. bock

    bock Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 10, 2008
    Northern CA
    Thank you! I wasn't going to limit the chicks' food right now, sorry I forgot to mention that. [​IMG] I have been researching it a bit, and I think I will put the feeders in a new place everyday, like you suggested.
    I feed my ducks twice a day right now, and it works great for them! I feed them in the morning when I let them out and in the evening when they return from the pond. It works great for us, they are a healthy weight ( the flock I had before had keels that would almost touch the ground!) and it encourages them to live off the land and return in the evening.
    It has just become very expensive since layena went up to $15.99 at TSC, and at the private feed store it is $18.99! But their well being always comes first around here!
    Thanks for the ideas, I will try it out soon!
  4. mons02035

    mons02035 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 4, 2010
    Carmel, Maine
    I would buy pellet feed and leave it out free choice for them. When my 5 RIR's are stuck inside due to bad weather they eat more, when they go outside in good weather they eat less. They will self regulate themselves. I have found on here that people who are using a lot of feed are feeding mash or crumbles or not raising up their feeders. My 5 RIR's go through a bag of layena pellets in about 6 weeks when they are "cooped up" during the winter. They go through crumbles in a about 3-4 weeks. I normally had to refill their 10lb feeder about every 4th day in the winter, now that they go outside, I get about 7 days and my run is just dirt and rocks now. They do get bugs and huge worms and I do throw down scratch mixed with BOSS once in a while and I also soak some alfalfa chunks about once or twice a week for them.

    My total expenses for my chickens this year starting January 1 has been $107.03. This cost includes feed, cartons, grit and oyster shells and shavings (thank you chicken trackin). So all in all my girls cost me about $25 a month (mostly winter months here in Maine) for 125-140 eggs per month. So I pay about $2.50 for a dozen farm fresh eggs.

    So, the point of my rambling here is that, to me, it is not worth risking a drop in production or health to make an attempt to save a couple dollars. By leaving free choice food, the chickens decide what is enough and also, your time is money so the time you take to move the feeders around the yard or to go outside and put out the feeder and then remove it and do this twice a day is more than likely costlier than the couple dollars you may or may not save. I for one consider my time to be worth at least $20 bucks an hour.

    Forgot to mention, Purina offers qaurterly coupons on 2 bags of feed. It saves me 1.50 per bag. Worth it to me.
  5. mdbokc

    mdbokc Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 22, 2009
    Oklahoma County, OK
    I always keep feed available in the coop 24/7. The girls eat how much they need when they need to. When there is good outdoor food available while free ranging, they eat little feed. In winter when bugs and grasses drop off, they eat more. I agree that trying save a few bucks but having other problems possibly arise is not a good trade-off.
    Last edited: May 2, 2011
  6. bock

    bock Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 10, 2008
    Northern CA
    Thanks everyone! I think I will put out 3 or so feeders out across the pasture.

    I have always fed Layena pellets, since they used to waste a ton on crumbles. Unfortunately, the flock raiser only comes in crumbles around here.

    I was also wondering about scratch. I realize it doesn't have much nutritional value, but do you guys add some to their feed?
  7. Ohhhdear

    Ohhhdear Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 15, 2010
    West Michigan
    Quote:I use Kent Extra Egg crumbles and have been very happy with it; it's available from our local feed store for $14.50/bag and lasts about a month. I use scratch as a treat and usually mix it with reconstituted alfalfa pellets (mixed 1 quart pellets to 1 gallon hot water + 2 cups scratch). The hot water swells the scratch grains and the girls love it.
    The problem with scratch is the poultry fill their crops with it and then don't eat as much of the good chicken chow. If they don't get enough protein they don't grow right, get fat, or won't lay well.

    I also supplement with kitchen scraps, weeds from my garden, and freezer-burned meat. We bought a butchered pig and asked for all the offal (head, feet, organ meat, cutting scraps). Doled out in small portions, it's an awesome addition to the girl's diet! I've noticed an increase in both size and number of eggs a couple days after giving the girls lots of meat protein.
  8. bock

    bock Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 10, 2008
    Northern CA
    Yeah, I would be careful not to overdo the scratch. [​IMG] I have never thought of giving them alfalfa pellets, that's a good idea! Meat is also probably a great supplement. If I ever switch the dogs from TOTW back to raw, there should be lots of extra! [​IMG]
  9. WoodlandWoman

    WoodlandWoman Overrun With Chickens

    May 8, 2007
    I free feed. The feeder is elevated to prevent scratching food out. It also has those spokes in the tray, to prevent billing out. So, wasted feed hasn't been a big problem. We also don't mix anything like scratch into the feed, so they aren't picking through it, looking for some better bits. Other foods are fed separately from the commercial feed. I don't know if any of that would help with your food waste problem. Some people also feed two meals a day, after chickens are done growing.

    My chickens get better at foraging the more experience they have with it. Foraging is a natural instinct, but it's also a learned skill. In an established flock, the chicks learn this from their mother and the other chickens in the flock. Chicks raised in a brooder have to learn by trial and error, unless you help them. Bolder, more confident chicks take more risks than shyer chicks.

    Part of it is that they need to experiment, to see what is good and what is safe to eat. They only way to learn that is for at least one of them to be brave enough to try something. The more foods they try and like, the more they'll be encouraged to try.

    The other part is that they're frightened in new environments, being prey that is eaten by so many predators. Chickens normally stay closer to the coop when they first start free ranging and go farther away as they gain confidence. If they don't have any cover and are exposed in an open area, they're more fearful than if they have cover, like shrubs or some type of man-made structure that they can take cover under.

    I take chicks out as soon as the daytime temperatures are similar to the brooder temperature. I get them on grass and let them run around and nibble in a protected area. I have a grow-out chicken tractor now, but before that I used a patio table with hardware cloth wrapped around it and just watched over them. It gets them used to the outdoors and the property early.

    When they're older and a little larger, I start free ranging them. I take them for walks. With me standing around with them, they feel safe enough to come out of their enclosure and start wandering around. Even doing this just once or twice seems to really help. Once they've visited different areas, they get more comfortable there.

    My property has particular areas that are good for foraging and I take the chickens there. I turn over the leaf litter to expose insects. I show them the pile of insects under the bug zapper. I take them over to the area with dark leafy greens growing. You can toss some bits of seed or grain lightly in an area, to start them foraging in a new area, too.

    If there's a particular area you want them to spend time foraging in, try walking them over there. Toss a little seed or grain over there, to get them started. If your chickens don't naturally follow you as you walk over there, try scattering a bit of seed or grain as you go. The basic bread crumb trail method usually works.

    You might want to think about different foods you could plant for them, too. Legumes help with protein, as do insects and worms. There are lots of threads about this.
  10. DAFox

    DAFox Chillin' With My Peeps

    Nov 7, 2009
    SW MO in Vernon Co
    This is what I do. I check the time of year with the availability of forage (plant and insect) and weather forcast for the day. I give them anywhere between 2oz of feed each to free choice all depending on what is available for them to forage. I want them to rustle up most of their own food.
    I use a higher protein feed, also.
    In the early spring there is abundant plant life but not insects and toward the end of summer abundant insects and all the vegetable and fruit they can eat. I just gage what they need from me by that.
    I stopped using scratch awhile back.
    No matter what I feed them, every time I walk out the door, they come running like they are starving.

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