Feeding chickens enough but not too much

Chicken with autumn leaves

Hungry chickensI wrote that one of the advantages
of free range chickens

is that you can feed them much less…and the next day it seemed like
our young pullets and cockerels started wanting more to eat.  I
suspect the frosts that wiped out the last tomatoes also killed off
some of their favorite foods, but regardless of the reason, I suddenly
felt like I was starving the poor little things.  Time to increase
their rations back up to recommended levels.

There’s a fine line
between feeding your chickens little enough that they want to forage
and so little that you stunt their growth, and I think I might have
stepped over the line briefly.  I won’t really know until I pluck
them and put them on the scales, but I figure if these broilers weigh
less than the previous batches, it will be my fault.

Foraging chickensMeanwhile, I’m slowly coming
up with some helpful tricks.  There’s the
crop technique
I’ve mentioned previously, but as chickens get
bigger, it’s tougher to tell how full their crops are through all those
feathers.  One idea is to decrease your chickens’ rations by no
more than 30% to 40% and watch to see how fast they eat the food
up.  If there’s any food left on the ground fifteen minutes after
the morning feeding, you can probably cut back a bit — they’re
getting plenty of forage.  On the other hand, if the food is gone
in a heartbeat and the chickens start obsessing over clover (a moderate
quality food), then they might not be getting enough to eat.

I feed our adult
chickens only once a day, but I’ve found that it’s easier to keep rigid
control over broiler rations while not under-feeding them if I give the
chickens a second snack at nightfall.  If the day has been cold
and rainy and the chickens don’t look as well nourished as usual, I can
increase their dinner without impacting their urge to forage.

Do you have any tricks
for feeding your chickens just enough storebought feed while making
sure they forage as much as possible?

Our chicken waterer keeps our broilers healthy
with clean water.

Leave a Reply