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Nutrition in free range food

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by Slotred, Aug 9, 2011.

  1. Slotred

    Slotred In the Brooder

    Feb 11, 2011
    My four Australorp hens would rather free range than stay in their $2,000 run and coop. They would rather scratch in the bushes along the lot line than grace the 10,000 square foot lawn I've worked to maintain for them. My question is this: Is there enough nutrition in the stuff they are scratching up to match the Purina Chick Starter? Now that they are out of the coop for at least an hour a day they have cut way down on the amount of feed in the run they eat, even though food is available for them all day long.
    I did have some feed get wet about a month ago, and they resist eating from that feeder, even though I cleaned it thoroughly. Here's the real question: Am I making a mistake with my feeding arrangements? The girls look healthy--maybe a bit slim, but they are just three months old.
    I'd appreciate any comments you may have. Thanks very much.

  2. Alethea

    Alethea Songster

    May 23, 2011
    They may not get a balanced diet on the range. You might consider keeping them in (getting a different feeder?) for a few hours until you know they've had some feed, then let them out.
  3. janinepeters

    janinepeters Songster

    Jun 9, 2009
    I am sure others will offer contrary opinions, but I personally would not worry about the nutrition of free ranging birds who have a diversity of plants available to them, such as both grassy and shrubby areas as you describe. Diversity of plant life begets diversity of insect life, and chickens enjoy a wide variety of both. And they will be much happier with that, than with the same old boring feed mix all the time. They may stay a bit slimmer than their confined counterparts, and possibly lay slightly fewer eggs, but that is because they will be using a lot of their calories running around having fun. A healthier and happier existence, in my opinion. Just be sure to always keep feed and clean water available to them, so they will never go hungry or thirsty.

    If you continue to free range, though, your biggest problem will be predators. I have found that a compromise works best. Mine have a 1/3 acre area which is fenced in and situated in a way that deters predators. We have had minimal problems with predators in 3-4 years with this system, and the birds still get to have fun and forage for some of their own food.
  4. swampcat

    swampcat Songster

    Apr 18, 2011
    Brooklyn, CT
    My ladies always have feed available to them in their coop, but free range on our 3 acres 75% of the day. I go through maybe a cup and a half of feed every 3 days for 8 birds. They, too look a little thin, but I know they are getting the nutrients they need. Grasshoppers, grubs, butterflies, grass, plus treats like grapes, raisins, scrambled eggs. They know what their body needs and will forage for it.

    Predation is a huge issue with free ranging, but I only let them free range with either me in the yard, or the dog in the yard and some loud NPR going. I do have a pen for days like today when it is rainy and I don't care to sit out there with them, but in their pen they have veggie and fruit scraps from what the kids and I ate today.
  5. vclark321

    vclark321 Chirping

    Jul 30, 2011
    Bonney Lake
    Greetings~ I put about a cup of feed in the run when I first let the 3 girls out in the morning. After about 1/2 hour when they finish I let them out to play their chicken games and free range. They seem to be doing fine. I find whenever I go to the shed I have the girls right behind me waiting for a treat, so I give them a handful of cracked corn. If I have worked the night before I will chop up spinich, carrots and throw in some bread heels and supplement thier diet since they can't get out and free range while I sleep. They love thier yogurt too.

    My girls are maybe a little leaner than if they were penned up. They are a heavy breed, but I have 6 weeks til they start laying eggs. They seem healthy and happy and I too have wondered if they were getting enough to eat. I give them a little supplemental food at the end of the day. I hope this helps. Good luck with your girls. I did buy some live meal worms for some fun treats they love!
  6. sonew123

    sonew123 Poultry Snuggie

    Mar 16, 2009
    onchiota NY

    I completely agree with you...Chickens know what they want and if they want to forage for everything outside and leave their food inside alone...they are fine. If they are hungry when they do come home to roost they will eat some of their feed, then roost. I would not worry about their nutrition at this point.
  7. kstaven

    kstaven Crowing Premium Member

    Jan 26, 2007
    BC, Washington Border
    I tend to agree. [​IMG]

  8. debid

    debid Crowing

    Jan 20, 2011
    middle TN
    I'm not convinced that a vitamin-enriched diet of ground grains is more healthful for a chicken than the greens, bugs, and seeds they find in a rich and diverse ranging environment. A typical city lawn is not a rich and diverse range but with my chickens splitting their time between forest, compost pile, weedy lawn, and gone-wild pasture, I don't worry about how much feed they are eating (or not eating). So far, so good for me.

    I also want to point out that it could be that your chickens weren't eating anywhere near the amount of feed you thought they were. Bored chickens are more likely to scratch feed out of their feeders and much of that may be lost in the litter. Chickens popping in to eat for a bit between adventures get down to the business of eating and get back to running about as soon as they finish.

    I worried a lot about predators at first but having our male dog present and marking all around the chickens' ranging area on a regular basis seems to be an effective daytime repellent. I lock them up at night.

    And yes, I'm sure my opinion will change for a while after I lose a bird to an especially brave or hungry predator but after watching them exploring and sampling everything, I can tell they are so much happier for it.
  9. ninabeast

    ninabeast Songster

    Apr 10, 2011
    Upstate New York
    I'm so pleased to have found this thread. When we first got our chicks, we were all, "In the run, all the time! Predators! PREDATORS!!!". Our chicks are now 17 weeks, and we have completely changed our tune. They are SO much happier outside, and they look shiny, fluffy, healthy, energetic and are great foragers. I'm not worried about their nutritional needs being met, and relieved to hear that repeated here.

    I can't believe their natural diet from a rich environment (assuming good foraging) could possibly be less nutritious for them than a man made feed, but I am a rank noob.
  10. I free range my chickens. When I get up I let them out and at night lock them up. They have a feeder in the run and will go in there randomly during the day and nibble. I give the free choice and they don't eat near as much feed as when I keep them penned up.

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