Connect with Us!

Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge

Chicken nutrition, super simplified


chooks at the buffet

We will take a simplified approach to chicken nutrition, as this subject has been covered extensively in half a hundred other books on keeping the home poultry flock. We also operate from two core assumptions: one, that mimicking a chicken’s evolutionarily appropriate diet is the clearest path to success, and two, that chickens are not stupid, if allowed, they will self select their best diet.

Chickens evolved from subtropical jungle birds of southeast Asia. They ranged throughout the forest scratching through leaves and the under story eating seeds and insects. The closer we mimic a similar living situation for them, the happier and healthier they will be, the more productive they will be with fewer inputs, and the closer our hobby will move us towards a sustainable food system.

Chickens can self select the diet that is best for them if they have free choice of a wide range of foods: access to grass, seeds, and multiple protein sources (read: bugs). When chickens are free to range, they choose what they want to eat when they want to eat it. They will generally ignore store bought rations. (They will still come a running to a corn scratch however, especially if you have trained them to it with a specific sound, such as when you’re shaking the corn scratch in a yoghurt container. You’ll want to continue that habit, as you’ll want them to run after you or come to you at times, very helpful when you need to put them away.)

Chickens need the same food we need, only in different forms and proportions. They need carbohydrates, protein, fat, and minerals. In the store bought feed program, corn, millet and a few other grains provide the carbohydrates and a little protein, and ground soybeans or field peas provide the majority of the  protein and some carbs. Minerals and vitamins are often added as supplements to the rations. It is also recommended to add oyster shell to help add calcium for strong shells. If the chickens don’t have access to the outdoors you’ll need to add grit in some form so they can grind and digest grains in their crop. 

Most books on chicken nutrition have long chapters on how to design a custom feed mix, arrive at the precise ratio of protein in your mix, change your mix for pullets (adolescent hens) and for adult layers, etc. The premise under these complex plans however is that the chickens are confined. If the chickens are unable to roam outside and forage for at least some of their nutrition then you will have to provide all of it for them, and you will need to ensure sufficient protein to keep them laying. Andy Lee’s book Chicken Tractor: The Permaculture Guide to Happy Hens and Healthy Soil  is the first place I would recommend for an excellent discussion of feed rations, within the context of healthy chickens and a solid permaculture approach. 

Let us say a little more about the power of free choice. I (christopher) have watched chickens over many months, with free access to unlimited amounts of layer’s mash or pellets, roaming about the farm scratching and pecking, eating seeds and bugs and some grass, and eating very little of the processed feed. When a chicken has access to your yard or farm, can graze freely and find the fresh foods they prefer, they will eat very little of the processed mash from the feed store. The chickens will lay prolifically, they will look fat and happy, their feathers will look lustrous, the yolks of the eggs will be a deep orange and taste wonderful, and you will be able to give up cable TV from the pleasure of watching them scratch and cluck and enjoy themselves. Ana Stayton at Golden Nectar Farm calls it “chicken TV,” and there is nothing better.

5 comments to Chicken nutrition, super simplified

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>