By Jennifer Sartell
Our chicks from this spring are beginning to lay eggs!
Our Leghorns were born on March 1st. It took 162 days from birth to laying hen. You can see the new layer’s egg (right) isn’t quite as big as a 2 year-old hen (left).
The French Black Copper Marans that I hatched out on March 28th started laying September 6th. So 190 days from chick to laying hen. (approximately 6 months) These first eggs are small but they will get larger as the hen matures.
Going into winter, I want to give these chickens everything they need to continue to lay throughout the season. And though it may seem counter intuitive, this is precisely why we don’t feed scratch grains.
Scratch the Treats
Scratch grains are essentially chicken junk food. They are equivalent to feeding your dogs a biscuit, or your children a handful of potato chips. Will it hurt them? Of course not… not in moderation. In fact your chickens will probably really enjoy the added treat. Scratch is a great way to encourage foraging-like behavior in confined birds and is a good boredom buster.
Our chickens, for the most part, are free range. Although, recently, we’ve been opening our farm up to the public so the chickens have spent more time in their coop and secure run. But as the public season comes to an end, they will resume their much appreciated foraging time around our property.
In addition to their balanced feed, our chickens also enjoy weeds, bugs and whatever treasures they can find and kitchen scraps.
A chicken (on average) eats around 100 grams of food a day. That’s a little over ½ cup. If a chicken is strictly on a layer feed their protein consumption is 16% of that half cup, which works out to be around 3 tsp. This is a good amount of daily protein for a chicken to produce an egg each day (or at her maximum capacity for that breed, etc.)
According to most feed companies, scratch, kitchen scraps and treats should be fed at only 10% of the chicken’s diet in order to keep up with egg production. That works out to be around a 2 tsp. serving size of scratch.
It’s easy to see how that 2 tsp. can be used up quickly. If you keep 6 chickens or less, if you toss in left over pasta and a handful of scratch in your run, your chickens are already overdoing it with the treats.
If you can imagine an egg as a vessel, and think of the daily ½ cup of food that the chicken is eating as filling up the requirements in order to make that egg, it’s easy to see how scratch essentially dilutes a chicken’s diet.
Scratch only contains about 8% protein, which is about half the amount in a good layer feed.
It’s An Additional Expense
In addition to scratch being a dietary non-essential, it’s an additional expense. I’d much rather put kitchen scraps to good use then buy another manufactured feed. There’s also the task of storing a 50lb bag safe from the weather, rodents and our curious goats.
Nutritional Imbalances Can Cause Problems
Lack of protein in a chicken’s diet can cause behavior problems like egg eating, feather plucking and even cannibalism in extreme cases. Essentially, a chicken knows what it needs to eat to be healthy, and if we, as care givers don’t provide that, they will find it in eggs, feathers or other chickens.
I’ve witnessed this in friend’s and reader’s flocks. Eliminating scratch and treats and upping the protein content in their flock’s diet usually fixes the problem.
Are Your Chickens Bored?
If you think your chickens are bored, toss them some protein rich meal worms, cooked eggs or even some of their layer in pelleted form.