by Melissa Caughey of Tilly’s Nest
Just like it is important to make sure that we are getting all of our dietary needs on a regular basis, it is the same with chickens. Did you know that there are a variety of supplements that you can use in your chicken’s diet to help promote their health? Keeping a flock of healthy chickens is important, vital to their longevity, and egg production. In this two part series of posts I will share with you what I have discovered over the past few years. Some of these products have gotten my flock through health scares, broodiness, issues with egg production, and egg quality. Maybe they will help you too! This first post will cover the basics.
First and foremost, be sure that your chickens are on the correct feed for their age. Roosters follow the hens’ diet. Hens approximately 20 weeks of age or older should be eating layer feed. Do not feed layer feed to younger chickens as it can negatively affect their growth. Raising chickens for meat will not be addressed in this article.
|Oyster shells are available in a separate dish for the flock to take as they need.|
These two items should be available to your flock at all times. They are imperative to their basic health. I can not tell you how many times I see people getting these two confused. They are two different products for two different biological requirements.
Calcium Source– (Oyster shells or recycled egg shells) Calcium is very important for the chickens to form nice thick eggshells on their eggs. Lack of calcium can cause thin shelled eggs. You should not feed your chickens calcium until they are 20 weeks old or laying eggs.
Grit– Grit is essential for proper digestion. Grit is comprised of tiny stone that help to break down tough fibrous foods that your chickens eat. Grit should be started when they are chicks if you are introducing food items other than their feed. Grit is especially necessary for chickens that eat feed other than their commercial feed, are fed scraps from the kitchen, and free-range.
|Apple Cider Vinegar with the “mother”|
Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth– Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is a natural way to add vitamins, minerals, and protect your flock from internal parasites. Try adding 2% volume of this wonderful powder to your flock’s feed. Click here for more information on food grade diatomaceous earth and some precautions.
Probiotics- Probiotics come in a powder form and are also available to your flock in plain yogurt with live and active cultures. Probiotics can be sprinkled on your flock’s feed or added to their water supply depending on the brand you purchase. Although feeding dairy to chickens can be a controversial subject among chicken keepers, 1 cup of plain (unflavored) yogurt per 8 chickens/per week can help supplement their digestive tract with beneficial bacteria. Milk, from which yogurt is made, has also been shown by the University of Florida to help decrease egg eating behavior in the flock.
Garlic Powder–Do NOT use garlic salt! Garlic is said to be a natural wormer and also helps to keep biting insects at bay. According to a study from Clemson University, garlic added to chicken feed helped with coop odors and also lowered the cholesterol level in eggs. I have seen the amount of garlic vary from flock to flock. Most people chose to add it to the feed with garlic powder or to the water with fresh cloves (see below). Clemson University added garlic powder to the feed at 3% of their feed. Most folks did not mind the taste of the eggs with the garlic, in fact-they preferred them!
|Garlic plants in my garden planted just for the chickens.|
Vitamins and Electrolytes– Available in a tablet or powder form, this is a great way to help boost a chicken’s immunity and help prevent depletion of valuable nutrients. It also helps during times of stress, illnesses, and is great for baby chicks. Try adding some to the flock’s water once per week to help during stressful hot summer days or during the cold winter months. Personally, I try to give my grown flock some once every one to two weeks in at least one of the waterers. On days when I add the vitamins and electrolytes, I skip adding the garlic and the apple cider vinegar.
Garlic Cloves– Some folks add a clove or two of fresh crushed garlic to the chickens’ drinking water. Take a peek above for the low down on the benefits of garlic.
Apple Cider Vinegar– Chickens, especially their crops, can be susceptible to fungal infections (yeast). Sour Crop and Vent Gleet are two such infections that can greatly affect the flock. One such way of promoting your flock’s digestive tract health is adding 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to their drinking water. I prefer to use the unfiltered variety with the “mother” in it. This helps to slightly acidify the digestive tract of the chicken makes their digestive tract less hospitable to infection causing organisms. Do not use apple cider vinegar in metal waterers. It will make them rust over time.
Click here for my next post where I share the best types of snacks and treats for your flock as well as supplements from the garden and commercially available health boosters for ill or compromised chickens.
About the Author: Melissa Caughey is a backyard chicken keeper, beekeeper, gardener, and cook who pens the award winning blog, Tilly’s Nest. She lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with her family of four and her Miniature Schnauzer. She regularly writes for HGTV Gardens, Community Chickens, Grit magazine, and contributes to Country Living Magazine. Melissa is currently working on a backyard chicken book with Storey Publishing to be released this upcoming year.
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I like to use the Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth and add it to the soil in their pen. When they go dusting, it works into the feathers and skin and helps with any parasites and mites. Works good too. Whenever I make a salad, I give to my Plymouth Barred Rock’s the leftover scraps like the peelings from the cucumber, scraps of lettuce and small pieces of tomatoes.
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Great information but I have found that some hens will JUST NOT eat oyster shell!!!!! No matter what, they just refuse. So, the only thing that works for them is just crushed clean dried egg shells. Much cheaper as well. Enjoy your posts.
We want omega-3 eggs, so are interested in adding flax seed to their feed ration. What ratio should we be aiming for?
I add calcium to the waterer by crushing clean eggshells and putting them in the toe of a new knee-hi stocking, forming a 2 inch ball. Tie 2 knots and cut it between. I get 3 balls per knee-hi. Throw it in the waterer and it lasts about a month. I massage and rinse the ball when cleaning the waterer(and the shells get thicker)
Great information. I use Apple Cider vinegar with my quail as well. I checked out your site because I decide this year to add chickens to my small urban farm.
I always find your posts so informative. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge about chickens. I have used many of the things you mentioned her, except garlic. I might just try to incorporate a bit of garlic in my chickens feed starting this week.
We have a chicken that lays a broken open, leathery egg…is it because she is lacking calcium?
It certainly could be.
To anonymous – wherever you buy your feed should also carry packaged grit. I get mine from Tractor Supply
Where can I get grit from?
Grit is available at most feed stores, Tractor Supply and online as well.
I just read another article about heat stress that said add APV to the water. In this article she says she doesn’t add APV when adding homemade electrolytes. Is it bad to do both at the same time? Thanks
I always have more than one waterer from my flock. I keep ACV in both. When I do add vitamins and electrolytes to the water, I only do it to one of the waterers and I omit the ACV. This is my own personal practice that works for me.
I have 2 waterers also but one is a small trough outside for them to have easier access while free ranging. The outside one I change everyday but the one in the coop I change every few days. Should I just rotate ACV and electrolytes on the inside waterer? I really don’t want to add anything to the outside one.
It sounds like that might just work. I say give it a try.
We recently began growing our own Milk Kefir for our own health. The kefir grains multiply quickly. We threw about 1/2 a cup of excess grains to the chickens and they went crazy for them. You would have thought we had thrown grub worms out there. Anyway, kefir has way more probiotics than yogurt and if you like kefir your chickens will gladly eat all the excess grains that you can’t use.
Wonderful! Thank you for sharing this. I love learning about new things 🙂
You say to add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to the water, but do not say if it is a one gallon, five gallon or seven gallon waterer…what proportions do you recommend?
One tablespoon per gallon
Thanks, Andrew is right. 1 tablespoon per gallon.
Where do you find probiotic powder for chickens?
I love Merricks Blue Ribbon Poultry Pack. It has vitamins, electrolytes and also probiotics. http://www.merricks.com/ProductDetail.aspx?id=58
Make your own by soaking their feed in water and add some apple cider vinegar (a little goes a long way) or kombucha or kefir. There are posts about this elsewhere, search around! This makes a probiotic fermented feed that they love and they get some probiotics naturally.
Animal Health Solutions Inc. makes probiotics specific for all types of animals.
They make two that are specific for all types of foul.
Chick Boost, which is a Probiotic, Vitamin and Electrolyte product that you can mix in the water, or sprinkle on the feed.
Egg Boost, which is a Probiotic, Vitamin, Electroyte, and digestive enzyme product that mixes in water or on the feed.
True probiotics are proven to boost the animals immune system and push out non desirable bacteria.
If you live in the west most feed stores carry the product or check them out at animalhealthsolutionsinc.com
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