Layer feed/scratch/treat ratio for hens who free range for an 1+ daily & have access to grass/bugs i

Discussion in 'Nutrition - Sponsored by Purina Poultry' started by momesq, Oct 25, 2015.

  1. momesq

    momesq Just Hatched

    Aug 9, 2015
    Folks -

    So, I am little confused about the ratio of layer feed to everything else for hens who have some free range time?

    My 3 ladies get layer feed mixed w/ a little scratch (20:1) on demand, supplemented w/ a poultry conditioner (it was on sale at Tractor Supply, so I figured what the heck). Their coop is mobile, w/ a mesh bottom, so they get grass and bugs all the time, and they get to roam around for a least an hour a day. I haven't supplement w/ calcium, because the eggshells are fine and I didn't think I needed to w/ the ranging time they had. (let me know if you disagree!)

    They get a diverse assortment of table scraps, lately that means squash "guts"/seeds, in the summer it meant tomatoes. Today it was a sweet potato and some kale at dinnertime, and squash at lunch.

    The Ag. Extension folk imply that everything other than layer feed is "diluting the nutritional density of feeding plan, reducing the efficiency of your feeding plan" and just messing with the carefully calibrated ratios of the layer feed, thus limiting my egg production. That seems pretty contrary to approach most people take on BYC, and I am curious what people think. Am I missing something here?

    When folks say to limit treats, what exactly do they mean? is that scratch? non-veggie table scraps? all table scraps? are treats everything not layer feed?

    Egg production has dropped, but I figured that was b/c of the shorter days, not a feed issue - we were getting 5/6 a week from each of the Golden Comets this summer, lately we're looking at 3/4 a week.


    Also - I am planning out my garden, and was thinking about growing marigolds to dry and supplementing their feed with them in the winter when I image their diet might lead to some wan-looking yolks. Thoughts?
  2. Free Spirit

    Free Spirit The Chiarian

    Oct 21, 2015
    You sound like a person who really wants the best care for your birds.

    I wouldn't mix the scratch with the feed. A handful of scratched should just be tossed onto the ground to encourage "scratching" for other goodies they can find. It really has low nutritional value and it's not good for them to have too much. A handful tossed out each morning is sufficient.

    Always provide a good layer feed and it sounds like you're already doing that. Even though it may not appear that you need calcium I would still provide some oyster shells in a separate dish "free choice" so they can get it if they need it. I didn't see anything about grit. Though they can get their own grit from foraging I would provide a bowl of that too for them to take what they need. I found a small heavy ceramic dog food dish (so it can't tip over) at TSC (the kind with the side by side trough for water and food). I put oyster shell on one side and grit on the other for my birds to make things simple.

    Table scraps anytime is fine. When I used to free range my birds they would spend a good portion of the day in the gardens compost heap. Table scraps will also help you save a bit on the feed bill. Chickens are great foragers. Don't feed them meat scraps. They should only get their protein from bugs and vegetation. If they need a bump in protein then you can feed them mashed boiled or scrambled eggs.

    Treats are OK in moderation, a few here and there because it's fun or to try and coax a chicken to do what you want (if that's even possible). I consider "treats" as mealworms, grubs, or the stuff you can buy at TSC labeled as poultry treats. I love catching grasshoppers and tossing to my chickens and watch them take off with it. My pump house has crickets living in it so I set up traps and empty that into my chicken run when I manage to catch any.

    I don't think that marigolds are really necessary. If you want to do that I don't see any harm. But if you wanted to grow other herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage that can benefit them as they have anti-bacterial properties in them that can help when/if you encounter a sick bird to add to any modern medical treatments.

    It sounds like you are doing fine and are keeping your birds very happy.
  3. TalkALittle

    TalkALittle Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 15, 2014
    Free Spirit, I'm curious why no meat scraps? Who says they should only get protein from plants and bugs? My birds eat frogs, mice, and would peck at a deer carcass or even a fallen flock mate if given the opportunity. I don't think they would benefit from a juicy steak every day, but if left to their own devices, free ranging birds will eat meat if they happen upon it. Therefore I don't think the occasional leftover pork chop I toss them is at all detrimental.

    The nutritional value of "scratch" can vary drastically depending on what's in it. If it's mostly cracked corn, then yes it's going to have a negative effect on their diet. If it's a 7 or 10 grain scratch primarily composed of more nutrient rich grains like wheat, barley, and oats then the effect won't be as detrimental. Toss in stuff like BOSS, quinoa, amaran th, and dried peas and the scratch becomes far more nutrient dense. Even the best scratch will be lacking in some essential nutrients, but to call it a treat or liken it to candy as some do is to disregard it's potential as a valuable supplement to your chickens' diet. It is good advice to offer it after they've had their fill of pellets though. If you are mixing it with the food you are missing out on the physical and mental enrichment that it can serve to offer your birds. Instead, toss it on the ground so they can scratch and hunt for it. I give a couple fistfuls at midday when I gather eggs and a couple more in the evening for my 8 hens.

    As for marigolds, I grew them in containers and flower beds this year. My girls paid them no mind at all. When I cleaned out the beds and tossed them in the run they just got scratched into the litter, not eaten. Your girls might have different taste than mine, but I'd probably toss in some kale or grow some fodder if I wanted to offer them something to keep the yolks dark. Any dark leafy green will do it. FWIW, I didn't notice much change in the color of my girls winter eggs vs their summer eggs. I did toss them some kale about once a week during winter.
  4. Free Spirit

    Free Spirit The Chiarian

    Oct 21, 2015
    I probably should have been more clear as you have made a very valid point. Meats are ok (although personally I just can't toss chicken meat to a chicken, right or wrong that creeps my out). All other meats, slaughter scraps, blood, are fine. One of the considerations can be in leftovers from human cooking. Be cautious that you don't have seasonings, oils, etc that might be harmful to a chicken still on them. 99% of the time it's probably fine. The other thing to consider is spoilage. I can't bring myself to risk giving meat that may have some spoilage. In my restaurant days if the meat sat at room temperature for more than 3 hours - throw it out. Also, if they don't clean it all up fairly quickly you could have flies and the scent can attract predators.

    This is simply my personal opinion to be taken with a grain of salt [​IMG] . But thank you TalkALittle you have made an excellent point [​IMG].
  5. shortgrass

    shortgrass Overrun With Chickens

    Mar 14, 2015
    Northern Colorado
    Mine get meat... But not ROTTEN meat... They've even had some boiled coon lol :p

    But I pretty much go with, "if I wouldn't eat it, I won't feed it to them."

    I mix my own feed, so grain is all there is to offer, really. (Well, some alfalfa pellets in there, and I do add oyster shell, but they leave it sometimes). They get their pans filled in the morning, and spend the rest of the day in the garden and roaming the place.

    They get leftover everything; tomatoes, squash, beans.. They're especially fond of wonderberries and strawberries ;) They won't eat the marigolds, but I pop the tops off and mix in the flower heads for added xanthophylls for the yolks (good catch, there, btw).. They get more from beet tops and spinach, kale, etc than the marigolds, but they have other phytochemicals that aid in other areas ;)

    They fill up with their rationed feed before heading out for the day, and then I give them kitchen scraps at days end as well; dinner leftovers, scraps, peels, coffee grounds... Maybe some pie :D

    As long as they get proper balance of nutrients daily, they can afford some treats, and IMHO, some if the "treats" can be better for them than their feed choices, especially when we are talking the difference between commercial bagged feed for commercial meat or eggs, and organic layers for the most nutritious eggs.

    And you can even give them a good dose of chives and have chivey tasting eggs for omelets ;)

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