Why are my birds starving, while surrounded with FOOD!! Help!


11 Years
Aug 4, 2008
New Durham NH
Ok. I have a big flock of free range chickens. Every breed imaginable, from RIR's to Splash Marans. I have lots of little Bantams as well, and Three broody hens running around with thier chicks. I live on 8 wooded acres, with a creek readily available. We have 3 coops, that all the birds sort them selves into at night, they are heated, with adequate ventalation, perches, and food and water in each. Cooping at night is an orderly progression, there is no squabbling over space, everyone just files in and lights out. I have 2 big Roosters, and 3 small d'uccle Roos, and a couple banty cochin Roos, all young.

I have checked for lice and mites. We did have a few lice, so I dusted everyone, and bombed the coops, and set up a DE dust bath in one of the covered outside areas. (we use green house plastic to cover all of our runs, so they have dry areas on rainy days)

I have 3, 5 gallon feed bins, one in each coop, and one 3 gallon waterer in each coop as well. We also have recently set up an outdoor feeding station, and watering station, trying to solve this issue.

We feed Blue Seal feeds. Right now, coop one has egg maker crumbles, coop two and 3 have unmedicated game bird starter crumbles. We are feeding unmedicated starter in that house, as it has birds from 5 weeks to 4 months primarily.

I did pick up a chesty cough from a bird we bought at a swap. We are running a second course of Duramycin in the water now. This time for 14 days, as the first 7 day course seemed to work, but then the cough came back in one of the birds, so I just medicate all the waterers. So, unmedicated food, but medicated water.

Now, heres the problem; most of my young birds are painfully thin! Thier keel bone is sticking out, and they are so light! They are not coughing, they are active and ranging, thier crops are full! I have one young spitzhauben right now who is DYING! Just laying there under the heat light dying! Her crop is full, her keel is protuding and she is dying! One of the hens lost a chick the other day, I picked him up, and same thing! full crop, bony and dead!

I have been inspecting the birds for at least 2 weeks now, trying to solve this riddle. My oldest hens (5 year old RIR and Ameracaunas) are so FAT that thier cheeks are bulging. They dont even lay any more they are so fat. But my younger birds are starving. My middle of the road aged birds seem to be holding thier own, and are laying, but out of 20 laying age hens, I only get 12 eggs a day, but Ido have ornamentals, and cochins, so I am not sweating that, YET.

Any one have any idea, why young birds in a yard full of food, are dying of starvation? I am at my wits end?

Here is the daily routine;
early Am, when I hear them up and about on the baby monitors, I go out, and release all the coops into the yard, everyone mills around. I then get a one gallon scoop of scratch (corn, and seed mix) and spread that single gallon in the same places so everyone gets a little (1 gallon to 125 birds) I then fill all the feeders, and clean and fill the waterers.
4:00 in the afternoon, we distribute 2 loaves of bread as treats to everyone, and look everyone over, give cuddles and hugs. Our birds are spoiled, and most are named.
Dark, they all go in, and we close the doors.

They free range all day thru the woods with our dogs watching over them.

What is going on? Please, any ideas or advice?
The scratch and the bread don't have nutrinal value. I would switch to throwing their feed on the ground and not do the bread and see if that helps.
Try keeping them in to make them eat the chicken food. Bread has little to no nutritional value for the chickens - I would stop feeding it - they may be eating too many treats (scratch and bread) and ignoring the nutritional feed you have for them. It's also possible they may have worms - use the search bar up there on the right to find more information about worms and solutions. Someone with more knowledge than I have about this will come along soon with other suggestions. Good luck!
Thank you, I wondered about worms, but only the young birds, (under one year) seem to be in trouble, arent they a little young to be having worm issues! and why wouldnt the older girls have a problem?

Also, I thought about the treat thing, but it seems to me that one gallon of scratch to 125 birds, is not much, and the bread is also just 2 loaves to 125 birds, and they each dont get very much! I can try knocking off the bread, but they may mutiny and carry me off into the bushes for some brutal chicken ritual..... torches and drums..... hmmmm.
Oh, yes, they have an oyster shell dispenser in each coop, I forgot about that, and I get really strong egg shells.

Free range birds dont tend to need too much supplemental grit do they?
I wouldn't worry about grit since they free range.

We free range our girls and they stay in 1/2 the day. Two reasons why- eggs get layed in the coop then
and they eat their feed and the free range is their treat

Another thought is maybe you don't have enough feeders and the chickens on the low end of the pecking order, aren't able to eat as much as they want?

Good Luck and I'm sure the chickens won't carry you off for not feeding the bread! LOL
The younger the animal the more susceptible they are to worms, just like puppies and kittens. Your older birds probably have them too, but don't show it as much b/c they're more mature and better able to handle it. You need to deworm them all. Ivomec works great.
I noticed you said each coop had oyster shell. I am not sure if I read that incorrectly, so if I did just disregard the next comment. I was told not to give oyster shell to young birds not laying it adds too much calcium and can damage the liver or something like that. Could this be the problem? Just throwing that in. Maybe someone with more experience can help with this. I know I was told my young ones wouldn't eat the oyster shell if it was in a separate dish, that only the chickens that needed it would take it. But of course, my young ones tried to eat it so I had to do something else. Maybe yours are eating to much and getting super high levels of calcium they cannot handle. Hope this helps.
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