Raising Chickens: Supplementing A Chicken's Diet

There's a whole lot of opinions, advice, and knowledge on supplementation's.  I'm not an expert.  My intent is to share what I've tried and/or learned about regarding supplementing a chicken's diet.  Some people never supplement and their birds are fine.  Others supplement and they still have issues.

If you feed a balanced feed, you shouldn't have to worry about many of the supplements {i.e. vitamins, immune boosters, etc.}.  If you give "treats" such as a scratch grain, it's best not to give too much of it daily since the birds will likely choose to fill up on that rather than their feed or things they hunt for if they're pastured, potentially causing nutritional issues down the road.

All supplements given, should be given on a  free-choice basis {i.e. in a separate tray/feeder that chickens can choose whether or not to eat}.  Here's a round-up of things to consider, to help you make a choice for your own flock.

found in feed stores and composed of either crushed limestone or granite, grit is used to assist chickens in grinding up their food.  Specifically, they need grit in their gizzard {part of the digestive system} in order to break down many of the food particles.  If chickens are only fed commercial diets, they likely won't need grit.  However, most chickens receive something in addition to commercial feed {vegetables, scratch grain, etc.}, therefore, requiring them to eat grit.  Birds that range freely a good part of the day, everyday, won't need grit - they'll pick up tiny stones on their own.

Feeding Grit is easy, you can have a separate grit tray or feeder that is accessible at all times to the flock allowing them to take it as needed.  There is a smaller grit available for chicks that can be started once they've reached at least 5 days old.

Oyster Shell:
Also found quite easily at feed stores, oyster shell is a great calcium supplement for your flock.  An alternative to store bought oyster shell is to wash and dry out eggshells as you use the eggs and finely crush.  If you have laying hens chances are that from time-to-time they will need a bit of extra calcium.  This should be fed similar to grit, in a separate feeder/station and available to the flock to take when they need it.

Chickens need phosphorus to properly metabolize calcium and vice versa.  If your flock is fed a well-balanced commercial diet, even if they are also pastured, you will likely not need a phosphorus supplement.  If, however, your flock is only pastured {no regular feed} you may want to offer defluorinated rock phosphate in a separate feeder/tray that they can take from as needed.

This is similar to phosphorus in that flocks fed commercial feed {even if in addition to being pastured} will likely not have a need for salt supplements.  Flocks that are pastured only {no commercial feed}, however, may need a salt supplement.  Salt deficiency can cause a hen to lay fewer eggs and/or eggs that are smaller.  It can also cause chickens to cannibalize.  Loose salt {not rock salt} can be kept available in a separate feeder/tray that chickens can take from as needed.

Our Flock:
Our flock is raised on a mix of commercial feed and they are also pastured.  Additionally, they receive scratch grain, sunflower seeds, oats, berries, vegetable leftovers, etc every day but in small quantities so it is a "treat" not a meal.  We have a supplement station - separate from their feed, that has a feeder with grit in it as well as a feeder with oyster shell or crushed eggshells in it.  Although not much gets eaten from either station I'd rather have them available just in case.

Additional Chicken-Keeping Posts:When Will My Chickens Start Laying?
Using Diatomaceous Earth For Chicken Health
Chicken Coop 101:  13 Lessons We Learned Building Our Coop
The Chicken Coop at Cobble Hill Farm
All You Need To Know About Nesting Boxes
Using Diatomaceous Earth For Chicken Health
Decisions On Worming Your Flock
Broody Hens
Prolapsed Vent


Our Neck of the Woods said...

I'm fascinated by the salt! I haven't heard anyone else talk about that before. My chickens eat a commercial feed and free range occasionally, so I don't think they would need a salt supplement, but it's good to know.

Great list!

daisy g said...

These posts will come in handy when we start our flock!

Mary Ann said...

Great advice!