I’ve seen this question several places –“I have plenty of corn-can I just feed my chickens corn and dispense with feeding them expensive commercial feed?”
The short answer is, “Yes.” You may feed your chickens whatever you want to feed them, and most chickens will usually gobble up corn before they’ll touch prepared feed.
If you have children, you may also feed them whatever you want to feed them—grilled cheese for every meal or maybe ice cream for breakfast, candy bars for lunch, root beer floats and pie for dinner.
You don’t though, do you?
You don’t feed your children those things, because it’s not a healthy, balanced diet.
You also shouldn’t feed your chickens strictly corn, for the same reason.
A nicely written article from www.hencam.com explains how 19th century hens are different from 21st century hens. Even if we keep “heritage breed” chickens, life is different for them than it was 200 years ago.
“In the 19th century most chickens were barnyard scavengers. They hatched out under their mamas and were taught to look for grain in the horse stalls, and for bugs and greens in the garden. The farm wife tossed stale bread and kitchen scraps to the hens. Chickens destined for the table were fattened on sour milk. Sometimes, in the winter, they’d be given a handful of grain. The hens back then laid only a few eggs a week. This haphazard diet was enough sustenance for them. But, flocks became larger and more confined. Chickens were bred to lay more and more eggs. Instead of 90 eggs a year, a hen now might lay over 300. With the increase in egg production came an increase in the nutritional requirements of the flock.’“
There are those who will argue that corn contains all the nutrients necessary for a chicken to survive, and they may not be wrong. What they might not understand is that a chicken’s body is not able to utilize all those nutrients.
Corn is nearly always the main ingredient in purchased feed. It’s relatively inexpensive, readily available, and supplies carotene for nicely colored egg yolks and carbohydrates for energy.
It is only one ingredient among many, however.
According to Feeding Corn To Poultry, “Corn is the easiest grain for chickens to digest and is low in fiber.” This article continues to say, however, that corn does not provide certain things necessary for good health in poultry, so for example, it is often combined with soybean meal to boost protein and the enzyme phytase is added to allow birds to utilize the phosphorus in corn.
Harvey Ussery, in The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, devotes several chapters to feeding a flock. He explains in detail why feed for chickens should be varied, and even offers “recipes” for making feed at home.
If you have lots of corn, go ahead and feed some occasionally to your chickens. Read more about what nutrients your chickens should be getting to keep them healthy, though. Read about the different types of commercial feed, too. Just as you do at the grocery store, examine the labels. Think about why you have chickens, too. Are you using the eggs? Putting the birds in the freezer for dinners? Even if you just love watching your chickens—if you are putting in the time and effort to raise a flock –spend the time and effort to be sure you are feeding them a healthy, varied diet.