Ask the Expert: Feed & Treats

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Ask the Expert: Feed & Treats

Combining Flocks And Feed

I have a flock of hens just over three years old. I have a new flock of hens that are just over three months old. They are in separate coops, next to one another, and they share a pen that is divided by chicken wire so they can all see each other. My question is, since they are on different feed, can I combine the two groups yet? Should I be concerned about the younger hens venturing into the other coop and eating the food I’m feeding to the older hens (16% protein layer feed vs. 18% grower ration that they’re getting now)?

I look forward to each issue of your magazine! Thanks for your help.

Linda Anderson-Biella, Colorado

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Hi, Linda. It can be confusing to figure out what to do with chickens of all different ages! After doing a little research, I found that chicks need the most amount of protein since their bodies are growing and changing constantly. Layer feed contains less protein and includes calcium. Chicks younger than 18 weeks cannot be given layer feed because the calcium can cause major problems including damage to their kidneys and kidney stones. It can also decrease the amount of eggs they will lay in their lifetime. So I think you’ve got two options. One, you can combine the flocks when the “newbies” are almost as big as the older hens. In that case, switch the whole flock to the chick starter feed. That way no one is harmed and everyone is well fed. Or, you can keep the flocks separate until the 18-week mark and then combine them.

I hope this is helpful! Good luck with your flock.

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Grit Needed?

I have six new chicks about one week old. I am feeding Nutrena Chick feed. Do they need grit? When can I start to give them garden greens or other treats?

Bruce Danielson

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Hi Bruce,

A high-quality chick feed should form the basis of your chicks’ diet. It is specially formulated so that it’s easily digestible without the aid of grit. At this point, you can supplement with some chopped greens. They should be small pieces that the chicks can easily eat. But once your chicks start eating anything other than their chick feed, they should be given chick grit so they can digest their treats.

Good luck with your chicks!

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Are Pellets Worth It?

I usually feed my hens a mixture of cracked corn or scratch grains with laying pellets. I would like to know if I am wasting money buying the pellets. Does it help them lay more? Are they going to lay better with it? Is it even safe and healthy to feed them this manufactured feed?

Mike Sims

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Hi Mike,

We like to compare chicken nutrition to human nutrition, and we think that will help show the value of a commercial ration. Feeding the chickens corn, or scratch grains, is similar to a human who only eats bread (made mostly of flour, which is finely ground grain). There is nothing wrong with bread, but it’s not a complete diet, and eventually, you’ll likely notice some deficiencies. The pellets should contain all the different nutrients that we know are important for good health for a chicken (vitamins, minerals, adequate protein, etc.), so you could compare this to a human eating a variety of foods.

As a specific example, corn usually contains between 8-10% protein, which is pretty low for a hen. It is recommended that they should have 14-16% protein, so corn won’t really provide enough.

Depending on your goal for the chickens, we don’t think pellets are a waste of money. We guess if you only want them as pets, then pellets will cost more than grains. Assuming the hens are otherwise healthy, and fairly young, they should lay more eggs when fed pellets.

As part of the pelleting process, the feed is heated so any bacteria are usually destroyed. Pelleted feeds should be safe and healthy. There is always a chance of a problem, but there are molds, mycotoxins, etc. that can be on grains, too.

We’re assuming that this is their only feed source. If the chickens are free-ranging, and if they have a variety of insects, worms, and plants available, then the hens “might” be able to have a balanced diet and get all the nutrients they need. I’m not sure where you are located. Here in Wisconsin, bugs and worms are in pretty short supply this time of year!

So, unless the hens are able to range and subsidize their feed with other nutrients, we think they will be healthier with a complete diet. They should lay more eggs, too, though there are other factors that could influence this (including age, genetics and day length).

Good luck with the flock!

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A Feed And Diet Question

Thanks for a great magazine. Yes, I am new to you folks there! I have found a lot of great info and replies to many questions I have had. In your magazine’s February/March issue, I came across a feed mix suggested by Lisa Steele on page 43. I am very interested in trying it out on my chickens.

I have been raising chickens and goats outside of Philly for five years. My three questions are as follows:

1) My chickens get in and around my goats and eat their goat feed and sweet feed, any problems with this? They are all great layers and are quick and active all the time!

2) I feed extra corn (cracked) during winter season, as I understand it helps to produce body heat in the chickens (and other animals) during the winter.

3) Feeding layer pellets or crumbles, all the time, doesn’t burn out the chicken for laying eggs does it? Reason why I ask this is because I feed the pellets every now and then (egg laying), not every day.

I hope you can help out with a reply or two. Many thanks!

William Smith

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Hi William,

We’re glad that you are enjoying the magazine. You bring up some interesting questions.

First, there shouldn’t be a problem with the chickens eating the goat feed. It’s probably not completely balanced for chickens, since goats are ruminants, so their dietary needs are a bit different, but it shouldn’t be harmful for the chickens. Ruminants depend on microbial digestion of a lot of plant fibers, and they then use the byproducts of those microbes for some of their nutrients (including some amino acids and vitamins). Because of this, they can do well on what would be a low-quality diet for non-ruminants (such as chickens, pigs, humans, etc.). As long as the chickens have other feeds as well, it shouldn’t be a problem. If the chickens are physically in the goat feeders, there could be an increased risk of bacterial transfer from their droppings (which will likely also be in the goat feeder). Some bacteria, especially Salmonella, can spread between chickens and goats, so that could be a concern.

Cracked corn does provide a lot of calories of energy, so it can help the birds stay warm. Corn tends to be low in protein (about 8-9%) so feeding a lot of it can dilute out the protein (and other vitamins and minerals) in a balanced ration. In some cases, excess energy and low protein can increase the chances of pecking and cannibalism. If they aren’t using the calories for heat, they will store them as fat, too, so that can be a problem. As long as the birds are doing well, it’s generally not bad to add corn in cold weather. Again, we’d suggest that they have a balanced ration available to them.

Finally, we don’t believe there is any evidence that feeding layer pellets or crumbles will “burn out” the hens. These diets are formulated to meet all known dietary requirements for chickens, and are a good diet for hens. There is a thought that hens that don’t lay very well will continue to lay longer in life. I’ve never seen data to prove this. Since layer pellets or crumbles usually contain 3-4% calcium, they could be a problem for a non-laying hen (or rooster), since they contain more calcium than is needed. This amount is necessary for a hen that is producing eggshells, but is excessive for a chicken that is not laying eggs. In that case, this diet could be a problem, though it’s unlikely that you’ll see a lot of problems.

Good luck with the flock!

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Chicken Treats

What kinds of treats can I feed my chicks?

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While your chicks’ diet should be mostly comprised of chick feed, which is balanced for optimal health, adding a few nutritious treats won’t hurt them. If you watch a mother hen outside with her chicks, she will point out bugs, worms, seeds, berries and weeds to the chicks, so I like to keep chick treats along those same lines. Chopped grass and fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, sage and oregano are especially nutritious, as are small seeds like sesame or sunflower seeds. Just be sure to chop anything you give to your chicks into small pieces and provide grit for them. (Since chickens don’t have teeth, they need small stones or coarse dirt — grit — to help them grind up and digest what they eat. A small dish of coarse dirt will suffice for your chicks, or if they spend time outside with the mother hen, they’ll pick up enough small gravel and pebbles on their own.) Scrambled eggs or oatmeal are also healthy treats for baby chicks. As an added bonus a bit of raw rolled oats can help clear up pasty butt, which is an ailment that can affect chicks, especially those that have been shipped from hatcheries.

Lisa Steele

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Scratch Feed in Summer

I really enjoy reading your magazine and always find helpful information to use.

In an article I read recently, it stated that scratch feed is given in the winter months when chickens need more feed to keep warm. If the chickens are free-range then they only need laying feed in the summer, not scratch feed.

Is this correct? Our flock does free-range in the warmer weather.

Thank you.

Sharron Ball, Fairmont

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Hi Sharron,

While scratch is delicious to chickens (which is why they go nuts over it), the main benefit of this high-corn mix is additional calories. Have you heard the fallacy that chickens shouldn’t eat corn in the summer because it will overheat them? First of all, that’s false. Second, the “heat” created is actually the scientific definition of heat, meaning it’s the energy that calories create. This fuels a chicken’s metabolism in the winter so they can stay warmer, but all it does in summer is provide empty calories. Layer feed and free-ranging are just fine in the summer, as long as fresh, cool water is always available. If you provide anything additional during hot months, I would follow Rebecca Sanderson’s guidelines: extra protein because they tend to eat less when hot, plus you could give them cool and high-moisture treats such as watermelon.

Good luck this summer!

Marissa

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Chicken Diets 

In the June/July 2019 issue, on page 69, there was an article by Rebecca Sanderson titled “Balance Your Chicken’s Diet at All Ages.Two specific blocks, “What Laying Hens Need” and “What Roosters Need,” show that laying hens and roosters require two totally different types of diets. In fact, the Rooster block makes special mention to “Avoid layer feed, as roosters do not need extra calcium.” I feel the need to ask, what recourse is there to feed the laying hens and roosters separately? 

Thank you, 

— Spider Clement 

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Hi Spider, 

I deal with this issue myself since I run a mixed flock. I encounter a similar issue when allowing mother hens to raise chicks along actively laying hens. My solution has been to provide a grower, which has protein high enough for chicks plus low calcium. I then provide oyster shell or crushed eggshells separately and free-choice so the laying hens can still consume all the calcium they need. Regarding roosters’ low protein requirements, offering a plant-based treat such as melon or fresh greens can help them consume other vital nutrients while eating grower feed to obtain their protein. 

I hope this helps answer your question. 

Marissa  

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Chickens Pecking Rust?

It’s quite cold up here in New Hampshire, and my chickens have been hanging around in my garage where I have an old car. The other day I heard some pecking noise coming from under the car, and when I looked there were pieces of rust on the floor where they had picked them off from the rusting chassis.

It doesn’t seem that they ingested any, but why would they be doing that?  Doesn’t sound as if it’s good for them.

Bob Patenaude, New Hampshire

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Hi Bob,

I knew a chicken expert that said, “My belief that chickens would only eat what was good for them stopped when I saw them pecking out bits of my Styrofoam insulation.” Your chickens could be doing this for several reasons, and most have nothing to do with the iron content in the metal.

First off, I’m going to guess boredom, because they’re in an environment where they can’t roam and scratch in the dirt. Second, that rust is kind of reddish and red is a chicken’s favorite color. A great way to alleviate this, until it warms up enough to put them back outside, is to purchase or make toys. The old “cabbage on a string” trick works great and provides nutrition. You can buy chick treats that hang from strings, but mature birds will consume those fast and it can get expensive. For sheer boredom, you can buy red beads large enough that they won’t fit in a hen’s beak and attach to a thick string or a thin metal chain, hanging in a place where chickens can see and reach them. Other fun ideas are mirrors and kids’ xylophones.

Good luck, and I hope it warms up soon!

Marissa Ames

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Chickens and Tomatoes

McKinley and I started with ducks for Easter. Five ducks and 25 chickens later … we found the more we learn the less we know. My concern: I saw a video of a lady making her own food, plus fruit and vegetables. So I gave tomatoes to them. They loved the plant and the fruit. Last week I read it is bad for them. Please help us out. McKinley loves feeding all our feathered friends. She is 18 months old and tries to crow like our Rooster Brooster. Thank You.

Debby & McKinley S., Missouri

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Hi Debby and McKinley,

There are lots of lists of foods that may or may not be bad for chickens! Some are probably valid, but I think some are pretty extreme.

That being said, the tomato fruits should not be harmful at all. The green plant parts can contain some substances called glycoalkaloids. These can be toxic to animals (including humans) though their absorption from the gut is limited. To be safe, it’s probably best not to give the chickens green tomato plants. If they do happen to ingest small amounts of it, it likely won’t cause a problem.

I’m a little surprised that your chickens ate the plants, as they tend to have a bitter taste, and chickens generally seem to avoid bitter tastes.

On a side note, I would suggest that you use human foods as occasional treats for the chickens, but keep a commercially balanced ration for their base diet. It can be difficult to provide all the necessary nutrients when home-mixing a diet.

Enjoy your flock!

Ron

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Feeding Show Chickens

I have Old English Game bantams. I would like to know the best regimen of feeding for the best plumage possible. I would like to raise birds to show. Thank you very much.

Patricia Beard

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Hi Patricia,

Feeding show birds is pretty much the same as feeding your backyard flock. They need a good all-purpose chicken feed — laying feed for the hens and general feed for the roosters if kept separately. Nutrena does make a good feather fixer feed that helps promote feather growth during molt and can be used throughout the year. This may be something you’d like to explore.

All-purpose feed should comprise 90 percent of a chicken’s diet. Healthy treats should comprise the other 10 percent. The treats are where many people that show birds have a secret sauce. Most folks have something they feed that they swear helps with better feathers. Many feed their chickens black oil sunflower seed and say it helps the feathers to be shiny. Black oil sunflower seed, in general, is a great chicken treat, so there’s nothing wrong with seeing if it makes a difference in the feathers.

We recently printed a series on poultry show birds that you may find interesting. The links are below.

Good luck with your birds!

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Feeding Calcium to Non-Layers

Since feeding calcium-enriched feed to non-laying chicks and pullets can damage kidneys, does the same thinking apply to hens when they cease laying? If they should not be fed an egg-laying feed, what kind of feed would be best for them in their “senior” years? My first batch of five hens lived four years and I now wonder if I shortened their lives and caused kidney problems by continuing to feed an egg-laying ration since I have read that chickens can live seven years. My second flock is now one year old and I want to give them the best chance to live out a long life.

Ronna Brown, Indianapolis, Indiana

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Hi Ronna,

Feeding a “maintenance” diet is probably optimal for “senior” hens. Whether or not it makes a large difference is debatable. There is a fairly wide range of ages for chickens. Usually, average age for chickens is somewhere around five years, though others have suggested longer. Just like with humans, some live to be 100, but the average in the United States is closer to 75. So, don’t worry too much if your hens lived to four. That being said, if you want to feed them differently, you could use a chick grower diet, and then provide oyster shell as an optional calcium source for them. They can then eat more calcium if they need it.

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Switching Starter to Layer Feed

My girls love their crumble growth feed. They are nearing laying age. How can I introduce new feed into the program? They now refuse the layer pellet, push it aside.

Walter Sterling

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Hi Walter,

When you switch from starter crumbles to layer feed, you have the choice between pellets and crumbles. Many people report their flocks don’t like pellets. So you can feed them layer crumbles and your birds will be happy and healthy.

If you’ve got starter crumbles left at the time of the switch, that’s actually a good thing. It’s hard on chickens to suddenly switch from one food to another. So, gradually mix some of the layer feed with the starter crumbles, increasing this quantity over a week or so. This will use up the last of your starter crumbles and will gently introduce your flock to the new feed.

Good luck with your flock!

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Poisonous Plants

Ask the Expert – February/March 2018

I inherited eight hens when we bought our house. We also inherited a beautiful garden with a variety of plants. The hens have free range of the yard and when the wisteria bloomed they would peck at the flowers and eat the petals. The other day I was reading up on wisteria and the article said it’s toxic to hens. All of my hens are perfectly fine though! We are in the process of building a new coop with a larger run and a garden along the outside edge of it. Since they enjoyed the wisteria so much I decided to plant one with the added bonus of giving them shade once it’s established. Should I remove it? Do you have any recommendations for some hen-friendly vines, preferably a perennial?

Courtney Burgam

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Hi Courtney,

Poisonous plants can be a tough subject for chicken owners. Of course, everyone wants to keep their chickens safe and healthy. But if you survey chicken owners, you’ll likely find many of them have plants that are listed as poisonous to chickens right where their existing flock roams. If you look up lists of poisonous plants for chickens, wisteria is on some and not others. This leaves a lot of room for ambiguity and uncertainty.

The problem with poisonous plants usually comes in with chickens that are not well fed and not allowed to roam freely. If they are fed leaves and fruits from poisonous plants, they know no better and they will likely eat them. Chickens that are allowed to roam freely learn quickly not to eat poisonous plants. They are much more backyard savvy.

It’s a personal decision to remove the wisteria or not. If you decide to remove it and plant something else, this list should give you some ideas — climbing roses, morning glory, grapevines, nasturtium, squash, passionflower, honeysuckle, and hops. There are both annuals and perennials here in case you’d like to do a little experimenting.

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Eating Diatomaceous Earth

I feed Diatomaceous Earth (DE) free choice to my poultry with enough water to make it a mud-like consistency, and also separately free choice, granite grit, and calcium grit. They like DE quite well except for the Red Lake DE (OMRI listed) which they refuse to eat, which you have advertised in your magazine. Have any of your readers that feed DE separately free choice had this same problem with Red Lake?

Also, I found out that OMRI does not require a lab analysis for mined products fed to animals, but does if the mined product is sold for use as a fertilizer. Being they don’t require a lab analysis, there could be anything in it; which begs the question, “what good is an OMRI seal on a mined product sold for animal use?”

Robert Peterson

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Hi Mr. Peterson,

Thank you for purchasing our Red Lake Earth® Diatomaceous Earth with Calcium Bentonite. We are sorry to hear that your chickens do not like the way it has been provided to them as free choice. Our Red Lake Earth® Diatomaceous Earth with Calcium Bentonite is for use in feeds as an anticaking agent or pelleting aid for further manufacturing in feed, in an amount not to exceed two percent of the total diet. We would suggest adding the product to feed as indicated on the label as that is the registered use of our Red Lake Earth® Diatomaceous Earth with Calcium Bentonite products. We have many customers who add it to feed in an amount ranging from .5%-2% of the total diet and have great success!

Our Red Lake Earth® Diatomaceous Earth with Calcium Bentonite is OMRI Listed for use in organic production.

OMRI is a voluntary program that offers manufacturers an independent and confidential review of their products to assure compliance with the National Organic Programs organic standards. The OMRI review includes ingredient verification and evaluation of the manufacturing process to ensure that OMRI Listed products are made without prohibited substances that are not allowed for use in organic production. As a result, farmers and producers recognize and rely on OMRI and the OMRI seal to help protect the integrity of their organic systems.

We hope you will continue to use our Red Lake Earth® Diatomaceous Earth with Calcium Bentonite.

Red Lake Earth®

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Starter Feed vs. Layer Feed for a Mixed Age Flock

Integrating younger hens with an established flock always presents challenges. My pullets were ready to join the main flock, but still too young for the diet of layer pellets the older hens eat. I put out two separate feeding stations in the hen house to accommodate this. One filled with layer pellets, the other filled with grower mash. My 13 laying hens considered the growing mash a big treat and gobbled down the growing mash, forgetting all about their layer pellets.

I didn’t want their egg production to go down and I knew the high protein level in the grower mash wasn’t the best for them. What to do?

After giving it several days thought, I came up with the idea to buy layer mash and put it in the trough usually designated for the grower mash. I then put the grower mash in the trough normally used for the layer pellets. The hens fell for it. They took to the trough with layer mash and have left the grower mash alone. I do mix some of the pellets in with the mash and it’s working out fine.

It’s nice to know I’m smarter than a chicken!

Debby Waddell, New York

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Hi Debby,

Thanks for your advice! You’re kind of playing that game “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” just with your chickens!

As you integrate more flocks in the future, it’s good to know that you can absolutely feed adult laying hens and your younger birds all starter feed at the same time. You’re right. The older hens will love it. Your younger hens will also benefit from staying healthy. If you feed younger hens laying feed, that can be harmful to their health. But starter feed for all doesn’t have negative consequences. You can put out some oyster shell or eggshells for your older hens to enjoy and that will take care of their calcium requirements until the new birds are able to start on laying feed too.

Hope this helps!

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Chicken Treats

We have some dried dates that have been in our refrigerator for awhile (nobody felt like eating them…) and they are not moldy.

I was wondering: Can chickens have dates? I couldn’t find anything online.

Thanks!

Clair Cardwell

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Hi Clair,

It’s funny, but dates aren’t usually included in the lists of what can chickens eat, but they’re also not included in the lists of what chickens can’t eat. After some research about pet birds eating dates, it’s clear this is a murky subject. Some say dates have high amounts of tannin and shouldn’t be given to pet birds. Others say the pit is poisonous and should be avoided. Still, others say dates are fine, but to remember they’re high in sugar and shouldn’t be given often; only as a treat.

A good rule of thumb, with a few exceptions, is that if it’s fine for humans to eat, it’s ok for your birds. But if you’re unsure, it’s probably best to air on the side of caution and not give them to your birds.

Hope this helps!

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Feeding Chickens

Can you over feed chickens, and would too much feed affect egg laying?

Linda Champlin

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 Hi Linda, 

Overfeeding chickens is possible; especially when they don’t get free range time to exercise or are given too many treats. Chickens can become overweight. This leads to health problems, just like it does in humans, and can result in fewer eggs being laid. It’s important to find a good, well-balanced commercial feed that’s given in feeders free choice. From there you can feed treats, but they should be nutritious and make up no more than 10 percent of a bird’s overall diet. Below are some links below that you may find helpful. 

https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/what-not-to-feed-your-chickens-so-they-stay-healthy/

https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/an-overview-of-what-to-feed-chickens/

https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/feeding-backyard-chickens-5-mistakes-to-avoid/

https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/what-to-feed-chickens-to-keep-them-healthy/ 

Enjoy your flock!

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Using Apple Cider Vinegar

How often do you use vinegar? How much vinegar per gallon of water?

Joe

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Hi Joe,

Apple cider vinegar can be used in water for chickens to discourage slime build-up and help your chickens stay healthy. It should be used at one tablespoon per gallon of water. If you have hard water you can double the apple cider vinegar. You can use it once or twice a week each week, or for one week straight per month.

You can use either the pasteurized apple cider vinegar or the organic raw vinegar with the “mother” in the bottle. If you use the raw vinegar, then make sure to store it in a cool, dry location with the lid tightly closed.

Hope this helps!

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Picky Chickens

Any suggestions on how to get picky chickens to eat anything other than fresh fruit and scratch grain? They will sometimes eat a LITTLE “all flock” crumbles. They refuse pellets of any formulation. The ducks are similar, but they forage — bugs, worms, flies, horse droppings, whatever came down the ditch, etc.

Jackie Bateman

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Hi Jackie,

Chickens can be picky from time to time, much like humans. But, if your hens are of laying age, then they need good nutrition to lay healthy eggs. The scratch grains and fruit are considered treat foods and should make up no more than 10 percent of your chicken’s overall diet. You may want to try some different commercial brands to see what they prefer. You might also try the pellet versions instead of the crumbles. The commercial brand should be a formulation for laying hens. This will ensure they’re getting the proper amount of calcium. You could also try mixing the commercial feed and scratch grains together. They may get a taste of the commercial feed and take it from there.

Good luck with your hens!

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Yogurt to Increase Egg Production?

Can you feed yogurt to layers to increase egg laying?

Mike Glassburn

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Hi Mike,

We’ve seen this advice floating around the internet. Feeding yogurt to layers can be a great source of probiotics for your chickens and help increase their overall gut health. It can also provide some extra calcium. But it’s doubtful it can increase egg-laying. The number of eggs a chicken lays has more to do with their genetics and their ability to fulfill that genetic destiny through proper health and nutrition etc.

It’s important to remember that dairy, such as yogurt, in small quantities is not bad for chickens. Chickens are not lactose intolerant. They can digest small amounts of dairy products. But, the effectiveness of probiotics can be reversed if you give your chickens too much dairy. Small quantities equal big happiness!

Hope this helps to clarify the ongoing yogurt debate!

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Muscovies Eating Fire Ants

I have a question I’m hoping you can answer, I was reading your article about Muscovy ducks and I saw where you talked about them eating ants. Someone mentioned to me that they will eat fire ants too? I currently have free-range chickens and I would like to avoid using poison on my property to get rid of fire ants and was thinking about getting a couple of female Muscovy ducks but wanted to make sure that they do eat them before getting a couple. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks,

Elinor

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Hi Elinor,

This is a question we ran by one of our writers, Lisa Steele. She advises that Muscovies are “awesome” at bug control. Certainly better than ducks are. She feels that if anything would eat fire ants, it would be Muscovies. However, she wondered about putting a bunch of Diatomaceous Earth on the anthills. That would help control the fire ants without using harsh chemicals.

Hope this helps get rid of your fire ant problem!

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Medicated Feed or No?

We have a flock of 45 hens. Due to numerous predators in our area, they cannot free-range. They have ample space, but after last year’s record rainfall in spring and summer, we had an outbreak of coccidiosis. We actually lost three girls. We understand once chickens contract cocci, they more or less develop an immunity to it.

We have six chicks arriving later this spring, which will be added to the main flock after brooding. Here is our question: Do we feed the chicks medicated feed until integration? (They will not be vaccinated for it as the hatchery does not offer it.) It was suggested to us by a breeder to not feed medicated, but instead, add small amounts of soil from the adults’ run to the chicks’ brooder starting the day they arrive. That way they develop a slow and natural immunity. What is the best direction to go? We don’t want to lose our new little additions.

Dawn and Steve Klotz

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Hi Dawn and Steve,

We are sorry to hear about your coccidiosis problems last year and we are glad you were able to get things under control and minimize losses.

Your question about your chicks is a good one and brings up an area of some disagreement in the chicken-keeping community. Chicks are most susceptible to coccidiosis because their immune systems are not fully developed. Adult chickens usually develop immunities to coccidiosis, but there are several strains and adults can get sick too. (As you’ve found out.) It can be caused by wet, damp bedding and also passed on by wild birds.

Medicated chick feeds usually contain Amprolium, which is a coccidiostat that reduces the growth of the coccidia oocysts. This lets the chicks get past a vulnerable time and keeps the coccidia oocysts from overwhelming them as they grow into adults and develop their immunities.

Some folks are strongly against giving any type of medicine to their chicks. They prefer a natural approach and many say to use the technique you’ve suggested by adding soil from the run to the brooder. Many say that if you keep the brooder clean, there’s no need to worry. Others say no need to use preventative measures, but treat for the problem if it arises.

In our personal chicken-keeping, we fall somewhere in the middle. We try to keep medications at a minimum but recognize the need to keep our flock healthy. We love the idea of adding soil for the chicks to pick around in and dust bathe. We are a strong proponent of a clean brooder, but we usually do buy a medicated and a non-medicated chick feed and mix them together. After that all runs out, then we switch to non-medicated feed. Our chickens free-range, and we haven’t had any problems with coccidiosis so far. (Knock on wood!)

But your situation is different. You know coccidiosis has been a problem in your existing flock. We would not add soil from that run until our chicks were much older. And, if it were us, we would feed our chicks medicated feed exclusively. Our vote is not to borrow trouble that you already know you have.

We hope this helps and gives you some food for thought.

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How Much Apple Cider Vinegar?

I have 14 Bantam chickens. How much Bragg’s vinegar should I put in a gallon of water? I heard it was good for them. I love your magazine.

Sharon and Don Ramberg

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Hi Sharon and Don,

Apple cider vinegar should be given at one tablespoon per gallon of water about once a week. It’s great for killing the slime that can build up in chicken waterers. This is important because that slime is like a petri dish for germs.

Since you mentioned Bragg’s, then you’re likely using the apple cider vinegar with the “mother” in the bottle. Using this type of apple cider vinegar can increase a chicken’s immune system and helps with digestive health. So, all around, apple cider vinegar is great to use in your coop!

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Why is My Hen Not Eating Grain?

My one and only Transylvanian Naked Neck doesn’t seem to eat any of the grain that the other hens do; she loves greens though and will eat some of the scraps we put in, so it seems as though she doesn’t eat enough.

We let the hens out to free-range for about an hour or two each afternoon and she pecks everywhere continually then, but because she doesn’t eat the grain that the others rush to, we wonder if she is getting enough food. She’s also forever going broody. She is very small but certainly very lively. The hens all feed together without any fights or pecking, so I believe they are happy and comfortable with each other. Any suggestions with broody hens, too?

Please advise.

Sylvia White

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Hi Sylvia,
Unless you’re noticing other signs that she’s not healthy, then we wouldn’t worry. Chickens definitely have food preferences just like humans. So as long as she’s getting a balanced layer feed and plenty of fresh water, then she should be fine. We’d just make sure that when you’re giving everyone treats, you include some of her favorites, too.

We had a Partridge Cochin who went broody several times a year. We made the decision to allow her to go broody each time. Here were our reasons. One, it’s really hard to break a broody hen. Sometimes it’s even impossible. Two, we had enough other laying hens that it didn’t hurt us to have fewer eggs. And three, she really didn’t interfere with any of our other hens. In the end, we accidentally got a rooster and our Cochin did get to hatch some eggs of her own. It was really cute!

It seems your hen is happy and healthy, so we wouldn’t worry too much about her. We would let her go ahead and choose what she wants to eat. And,  as long as her broodiness doesn’t interfere, we would let her go ahead with being broody.

Ultimately, though, the decision is up to you. You can try to break her broodiness and try to make her eat other food, but we are not sure how successful those attempts will be.

Good luck!

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Feed for Thought

I have six-month-old hens and I’m writing for advice on what to feed them during our Montana winter. Thanks for taking the time.

Sherman Oakes, Montana

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Hi Sherman,

Normal layer feed is well-balanced for year-round nutrition for your flock, but there are some treats you can offer to keep them warm and healthy. For our flocks, we like to mix a little scratch grain in their feed. It’s high in carbohydrates, which generate heat as they’re digested and keeps the chickens warm. We also like to hang a cabbage from the coop ceiling, high enough so the chickens have to work to get it, but not too high so it’s impossible. This alleviates boredom and provides some good nutrition. Also, don’t forget about making sure they have fresh water in freezing temperatures.

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Are Rose Petals Healthy?

I have recently discovered that my hens love to eat rose petals. I assume they are OK to eat. I don’t mind giving them all the spent ones, but I wonder if it would give an off flavor to the eggs. Thank you!

Marla Bentien, California

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Hi, Marla. Thanks for your question about your chickens eating rose petals. You are right; it’s okay for the chickens to eat rose petals. In fact, many humans do too! In my experience, chickens are really good at knowing what’s okay to eat and what’s not. Toxic plants usually don’t taste good and aren’t tempting.

With that said, I would be careful about rose petals in general because many people spray their roses for pests. I honestly don’t know if the eggs will taste like roses and couldn’t find any research about that. I do know, however, that eggs do take on a more robust flavor as chickens free range and eat a variety of greens and bugs.

Good luck with your roses and your chickens.

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Is Angelica Safe?

Is the herb angelica safe for chickens to eat?

Martha Lynn, South Carolina

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Hi, Martha. Thanks for your question about whether angelica is safe for chickens to eat. To answer this question, I turned to Gail Damerow’s book, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens. The following is an excerpt concerning poisonous plants:

“Some weeds found in a pasture can be toxic, but should not be a problem if your flock has plenty of other good stuff to eat. Most toxic plants don’t taste good and therefore are not tempting to eat, except to a starving bird. … Since birds peck here and there to get a variety in their diet, if they do get a bite or two of a toxic leaf or seed, it’s unlikely to create a problem. Even if a bird does get a potentially toxic dose, the effect depends on the bird’s age and state of health. And whether or not a specific plant is toxic at any given time often varies with its state of maturity, growing conditions (such as drought), and other environmental factors.” I hope this is helpful!

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Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.

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