Poul­try Pen Sup­ple­ments, by Andy Cawthray

Andy Cawthray looks at sup­ple­ments

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

While for­mu­lated com­mer­cial diets pro­vide all the nu­tri­ents your hens need, there are some sup­ple­ments you can use which will fur­ther im­prove your flock’s health and well­be­ing.

A ‘left­over’ be­hav­iour

Scratch feed is gen­er­ally a mix­ture of any num­ber of ce­real grains — of­ten cracked corn and wheat — and is fed by broad­cast­ing it on the ground so that the hens can scratch around for it as a treat and as ex­er­cise. Scratch­ing for food is a left­over from the nat­u­ral be­hav­iour of the chick­ens’ jun­gle fowl an­ces­tors, which searched through the de­bris on the jun­gle floor for in­sects and seeds. Scratch should not be con­sid­ered a feed, and used only as a treat. Con­sump­tion of large amounts of scratch can put a chicken’s daily in­take se­verely out of bal­ance and over the long run re­duce its pro­duc­tiv­ity.

It is al­ways use­ful to pro­vide the flock with a scratch feed an hour or two be­fore the birds go in to roost. This not only pro­vides them with a full crop be­fore roost­ing (par­tic­u­larly use­ful dur­ing the colder win­ter nights), but pro­vides ac­tiv­ity and stim­u­lus, en­cour­ages flock co­he­sion and keeps their toe­nails down too.

The other ad­van­tage of get­ting your flock used to a daily scratch feed is that the birds will re­spond to you bring­ing it to them no mat­ter what the time of day. If the scratch feed is pro­vided within the run, you can at­tract free-rang­ing birds back to a fixed area at any point of the day. Al­ter­na­tively, pro­vid­ing a small quan­tity in the coop will bring them in­doors. Both sce­nar­ios are par­tic­u­larly help­ful if you need to catch and han­dle the birds dur­ing the day or if you need to con­fine them ear­lier than their nor­mal roost time.

Veg­etable scraps should be fed only spar­ingly. Items such as left­over veg­etable peel­ings, melon rinds and other un­wanted fruit or veg­etable items should be con­sid­ered like candy for chick­ens. These items have lit­tle nu­tri­tional value, and the wa­ter, fi­bre and sug­ars they con­tain will serve to fill them up so that they do not eat their feed. The com­bined feed­ing of scratch and veg­etable scraps should not ex­ceed about 15-20 per­cent of a chicken’s daily con­sump­tion or its pro­duc­tiv­ity may suf­fer.

Grit aids di­ges­tion

Grit is re­quired by chick­ens to aid di­ges­tion. When chick­ens eat they swal­low ev­ery­thing whole, since they don’t have teeth for grind­ing. For­ag­ing chick­ens of­ten con­sume whole grains or in­sects with hard ex­oskele­tons that re­quire grind­ing to be di­gested. When the grit is swal­lowed, it is lodged in the giz­zard, the mus­cu­lar stom­ach of birds, where mus­cle

con­trac­tions grind the feed against the hard par­ti­cles.

Grit comes in a va­ri­ety of sizes — it is im­por­tant that the size of the grit pro­vided is ap­pro­pri­ate for the age and breed of the bird. Some grits con­tain ad­di­tional trace min­er­als to sup­ple­ment the diet. Grits should be freely avail­able to the birds and not mixed with feed, as chick­ens will seek it out as and when they need it.

Pas­ture’s ex­cel­lent food source

There has been a resur­gence in al­low­ing chick­ens to for­age on pas­ture. As a feed­stuff for chick­ens, pas­ture it­self is poor as the birds can’t digest cel­lu­lose, the pri­mary com­po­si­tion of grasses. How­ever, they do en­joy picking out the in­sects that pas­ture at­tracts and the seeds the grasses pro­duce at cer­tain times of the year. As the grass be­gins to grow in early spring, the in­sect pop­u­la­tion pro­vides an ex­cel­lent food source for the for­ag­ing birds. How­ever, this re­source is lim­ited over time as the in­sect pop­u­la­tion de­clines.

In the sum­mer, grasses that are al­lowed to ma­ture pro­duce seeds that can pro­vide some nu­tri­tion for chick­ens. As late sum­mer turns to au­tumn, the seeds dis­ap­pear and the in­sect pop­u­la­tion de­clines to the point where it is vir­tu­ally non-ex­is­tent. Cold, wet and snowy win­ter con­di­tions elim­i­nate pas­ture grasses as a feed for chick­ens. Then it’s back to spring for an­other cy­cle.

So on an an­nual ba­sis, lit­tle feed value is ob­tained by al­low­ing chick­ens to for­age in pas­ture. Ro­tat­ing the birds on pad­docks, keep­ing the numbers low enough so that the in­sect pop­u­la­tion is not re­duced too quickly and plant­ing pas­ture grasses that at­tract in­sects and in­crease seed pro­duc­tion will en­hance their value as a feed sup­ple­ment.

En­hanc­ing egg shell qual­ity

Oys­ter shell is of­ten given to lay­ing hens as a free-choice sup­ple­ment to en­hance egg shell qual­ity, es­pe­cially as they get older. An ad­di­tional ben­e­fit of pro­vid­ing oys­ter shell over sim­ply in­creas­ing the lime­stone con­tent of the feed is that the large size of the par­ti­cles means they dis­solve slowly in the gut, pro­vid­ing a slow re­lease of the min­er­als cal­cium and phos­pho­rus.

In­ter­est­ingly, hens that re­quire more cal­cium in their diet will sense this need and seek out and con­sume oys­ter shell. It should be noted that the slow re­lease of these min­er­als makes oys­ter shell an un­suit­able sup­ple­ment for birds ex­hibit­ing a lack of cal­cium; in­stead, these birds should be given a fast-act­ing liq­uid cal­cium sup­ple­ment.

Next month: I take a look at some of the vi­ta­mins, min­er­als and other healthy food stuffs that can be used as a sup­ple­ment, and re­veal some of the tell­tale signs when a chicken is suf­fer­ing a de­fi­ciency.

To­day’s chick­ens’ jun­gle fowl an­ces­tors scratched for food

For­ag­ing birds love the in­sects in spring pas­ture

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