Three backyard chickens free ranging in my backyard. Will they have enough to eat?

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by Phyllisrh, Jan 15, 2013.

  1. Phyllisrh

    Phyllisrh New Egg

    Sep 25, 2012
    I have had my 2 Austrolorps and 1 White Leghorn since they were pullets. When I bought them, they were on crumbles and so that is what I bought to feed them. I'm wanting them to be more free range natural eaters as opposed to feeding them "who knows what" in a bag. I began cutting back on their feed and adding veggie table scraps into their diet. Unfortunately, they seem totally disinterested in any type of scraps. (I had heard that they would eat anything you put in front of them!) I have noticed that they have become much more active and scratching the more I have cut back on their feed, which I deem as progress. While on the feed, they would eat and then lay around in the coop all day. question is, is my average sized backyard enough land to support three chickens on a free range only diet...or am I starving them??? This is obviously my first go around with chickens so I need advice. Thanks
  2. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    You'll eventually starve them. And where are you located? Where I live there is little forage right now and no bugs therefore little protein.
    You can tell what's in the chicken feed because the ingredients are on the tag. The bad is GMO and some preservatives. The good is that it is formulated for optimum poultry health, i.e. vitamins, minerals, protein, fats and trace elements.

    Unless the pasture/forage area is huge, pristine and the climate is mild, chickens will eventually eliminate everything worth eating there. They'll eat all the bugs first, eliminating the protein, then the seeds for carbs then the greenery leaving nothing.
    When you feed table scraps, unless it's soft like oatmeal or fruit you'll need to chop it up into bitesize pieces. They don't have teeth or hands so something like a celery or broccoli stalk will be ignored.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2013
  3. chfite

    chfite Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 7, 2011
    Taylors, SC
    There's not much to find foraging in the winter, unless you have planted a winter feeding garden for them. They might manage to survive, but likely won't be much for laying or prospering.

    The average backyard might be a few hundred square feet, a rather meaningless term for us to consider. My chickens forage in my backyard, but it is 30,000 square feet.

    Why not just feed your chickens, and let them augment their diet from foraging?

  4. satay

    satay oz-e-chick

    Sep 2, 2008
    Esk Qld Australia
    I agree. They will not be healthy if you just let them forage only.
  5. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    You were clearly misinformed. They might be able to live but to provide eggs and remain healthy - that's a different story.
    Chickens wake up in the morning, fill their crop, dust bathe and loll around, they then forage intermittently during the day and try to fill their crop again before dusk. If there isn't high quality forage, primarily bugs and seeds, they will go downhill healthwise.
  6. mdbtalon

    mdbtalon Out Of The Brooder

    Jan 14, 2013
    If you stop feeding them there is no doubt you will likely see them scratching in the dirt for longer periods of time and more voraciously. I am not sure I would consider that "progress" though. If your only hope is to see them more active then at least in the short term that is progress. If you want them to live long/healthy lives that is probably not the progress you are hoping for it just means they are hungry.

    I know there is a pushback against processed and commercial foods by many people (and I agree to a large extent). On the other hand a whole lot of science has gone into creating the optimal feed for these chickens and for the most part that is what you are going to get in the commercial food (a good healthy/balanced diet) A purely natural "free range only diet" many argue is better because it is natural and the way chickens have survived hundreds and thousands of years. Keep in mind though that many/most of the chickens kept today were bred for specific environments and not for a 100% free range lifestyle.

    Off my soapbox now and more to address your specific question of will they be ok in your average sized yard you would have to give a lot more information about the environment of where you live for anyone to give an accurate answer.
  7. cafarmgirl

    cafarmgirl Overrun With Chickens

    They are going to be active and scratching a lot more because they are HUNGRY! I personally see nothing wrong with commercial chicken feed. It's mostly grains with added vitamins and minerals. If you want to go organic or gmo free you have those options as well though a little harder to find and more expensive. But one way or another your chickens do need some kind of good, balanced food as the basis of their diet, especially in winter.
  8. TennesseeChicken

    TennesseeChicken Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 26, 2011
    Ethridge, TN
    See the Fodder thread...lots of inexpensive, great ideas for feeding in the winter.
  9. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    Measures I go by as to whether birds are successfully finding enough eats are crop fill shortly after they go on to roost and muscle mass of breast. Both can be determined without removing bird from roost. Simply feel them up as they sit on roost. Egg production should falter before before muscle mass declines. If crop fill high but muscle mass poor, then forage quality could be poor or a health issue like worms could be involved. I seldom have birds make living solely by foraging, even small amounts of feed or scratch can make so birds easier to manage and can provide something forage base lacks.

    Acreage and and apparent forage quality are variables OP should have estimated in first post.
  10. ChickensAreSweet

    ChickensAreSweet Heavenly Grains for Hens

    They need:

    calcium source like oystershell
    protein source like roasted soybean meal or meat scraps
    greens like grass
    grains like wheat, oats, barley, corn, millet
    seeds are good, like split peas, black oil sunflower seeds

    No one grain by itself is sufficient for good health, and they would get enough protein in the yard only if there were numerous bugs.

    I like to buy organic chick starter with starts out as 20% protein and cut it with grains/seeds with grass year-round for vitamins. This lowers the cost somewhat. They do sell Flock Raiser which is 20% protein and you can buy some other grain to use as scratch (or just buy scratch) to lower the cost of the feed. It is vital that they have greens for vitamins if you do this, as you also dilute the vitamins in the feed this way. Some people do this to control costs. Don't go under 15 or 16% protein if you cut the FLock Raiser.

    You do need to buy oyster shell from the feed store when feeding Flock Raiser, as it doesn't have sufficient calcium for laying hens.

    If your grass turns brown part of the year, I'd not cut the feed at all with anything unless you can provide some green forage or a steady supply of fruits and vegetables.

    Addendum: Of course if you are buying a commercial poultry feed then you don't have to buy anything else except I always recommend a little oyster shell on the side just in case.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2013

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