Newbie question about feeding my ladies

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by lgaumond, Dec 17, 2010.

  1. lgaumond

    lgaumond New Egg

    Dec 17, 2010
    I'm new to keeping a flock, so I apologize for the newbie question. First some background... I have six happy ladies (5 Ameraucanas and 1 Orpington) who have a converted cedar playhouse as a coop and 13 acres to free range. I brought them home mid-July when they were supposed to be 10-12 weeks. They're friendly, they seem happy and healthy, they're not laying yet but I attribute that to the cold and the short days right now here in Connecticut.

    My question is about the amount and type of food that I'm giving them.

    They ate starter feed until 18 weeks when I switched to layer, and I feed them from a hanging feeder that is always available in the coop. They mainly only eat from that in the morning before I come to let them out of the coop. We have very sandy soil--our house was built on a former gravel pit so it's very sandy--so I don't supplement with grit or oyster shells.

    I keep reading about giving chickens "only so much" food or only giving them what they will eat in 15 minutes and this completely baffles me. My ladies eat for 90% of their waking hours. They scratch and forage all day long. So what in the world does that "only feed them so much" mean? The ladies aren't huge, in fact the other day when it was pouring rain and they all got soaked, I cold see that they still look so little under all those feathers! I doing something wrong? Should I not free-feed them in the coop? Should I add grit? Should I be adding any supplements to their water (I keep reading about that, too)? Is there anything that I'm not doing that I should? I mean, they seem perfectly fine and healthy (except for not laying, but I'm trying to be patient about that) but since this is my first go around raising hens, I'm doubting myself.

    Thanks everyone, in advance, for your input!
  2. HEChicken

    HEChicken Overrun With Chickens

    Aug 12, 2009
    BuCo, KS
    My Coop
    First, [​IMG]

    Second, I'm not aware of many people recommending to limit food. I feed free choice and I think the majority of people here do too.

    Last, if they are free-ranging 13 acres, I bet some or all of them ARE laying - they've just found themselves a place they like out there on the acreage to leave their eggs!
  3. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon
    You'll still need to feed oyster shell, I don't think anything in the ground supplements calcuim for strong shells. I agree you don't need to give grit. I also agree you need to go on an egg hunt! Thirteen acres is a lot to cover, you might want to just keep them confined to the coop/run for a day or two, or try not letting them out until early afternoon. They usually lay in the am and that might get them used to laying int the coop. Do any of your girls have red combs? That's a good sign they're either ready to lay or laying.

    Maybe limiting food was about meat birds? But they need to eat more than fifteen minutes! I've never heard that anywhere........most everyone I know free feeds, like you.
  4. spartacus_63

    spartacus_63 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 21, 2009
    Central Iowa

    Fortunately for the chickens, there are no Rules that are absolute. Chickens are foragers and have a very high metabolism. Having feed available all day will not hurt them. They will not generally over eat, but if they are hanging out in the coop vs the range, you may want to encourage foraging to reduce feed costs. The only thing that may not have been best was switching them to layer feed at 18 weeks. Some will say you should leave them on starter until they start laying. I usually feed starter up to 32 weeks.
  5. HorizonSon

    HorizonSon Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 5, 2010
    Pacific NW
    We free range our birds and we have never, ever, given them supplemental calcium. Our eggshells have always been well formed and strong. There is a ton of calcium via bugs, plants and even water! NOT giving them municipal water would be at the top of my list as far as what to give, or not give, ANY of my livestock. Fortunately; we are on some yummy well water [​IMG]
  6. TajMahalChickens

    TajMahalChickens Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 22, 2010
    I give my hens as much feed as they want. They know when to stop (at least all mine do...)

    I haven't had a problem with thin egg shells, so I don't feed extra calcium. I also don't do any water supplement/ oyster shell/ vitamin supplement/salt supplement. Since mine free range (like yours) they are getting, in my opinion, much better stuff than any supplement can give then. As in humans, it is better to eat the real food than eat a vitamin pill.

    I do, however, some grit since I give them all types of food scraps and I want to make sure they can digest them all! Although I know that they can find their own grit if they are outside so I probably don't really need to.

    Agree with HEchicken - I would keep them inside or in an enclosed run until they get used to laying in the nestboxes. The worst thing is to get them into the habit of laying elsewhere - it is the hardest habit to break! I let my chicks get into that habit, so I had to keep them locked in for a week, and then only let them out at 3pm after most of them layed their eggs.

    Good luck!
  7. PunkinPeep

    PunkinPeep Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 31, 2009
    SouthEast Texas
    My girls free range, and i have never had to give them a calcium supplement, though i do feed their egg shells back to them, just for efficiency. I've also never given them grit.

    Also, i second the idea to confine them for a few days to make sure they know where they're supposed to lay their eggs. Once they realize what those boxes are for and use them once or twice, you probably won't have a problem unless someone goes broody and hides her clutch.

    Oh yeah!
  8. mkearsley

    mkearsley Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 19, 2010
    South-west Idaho
    One of my girls liked to lay eggs everywhere! I think its because she was ticked I kept stealing her babies. So I put a golf ball in the next box & haven't had a problem with her again. The golf ball (or I've also heard of easter eggs) gives her the idea that she's being a good mommy by still having an egg in her nest (at least that's what I think).

    I also give them free access to a full feeder of layer crumbles all day long. They free range, and will eat the crumbles every now & again, although now that there's less natural food, they're eating more crumbles. I do supplement with oyster shells, but that's the only supplement they get, at it, too is free choice, so if they want it, they can get it.

    Would the girls need grit if they eat mostly crumbles? Every now & again I give them some, but I don't know if they actually eat it, since they've got access to soil....
  9. PunkinPeep

    PunkinPeep Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 31, 2009
    SouthEast Texas
    Quote:It kind of depends on your particular soil. At my house, i know there are rocks, and i see the rocks sometimes in my chickens' poop, so i know they are getting something hard. Just soil won't take the place of grit. Remember, it needs to be hard enough to act as teeth. So if they are eating anything other than crumbles/pellets, they need something. I think for most country folks, there's no need to worry. But if the soil your chickens have access to is a nicely manicured lawn without rocks, etc., then they might not be getting everything they need.

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