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Care and Feeding of Chickens- Chicken Basics Part 1

This is part 1 of a series.  Be sure to check out part 2 of our chicken basic series here!

Chickens are curious creatures. They are birds, but they don’t have the right weight/wingspan ratio to actually fly. Chickens can slow their fall or give themselves a boost when jumping, but they cannot fly. Chickens have pretty basic needs and they’re quite easy to care for.  They can do many things for you and live a long time if you take proper care of them.

chicken, hen, perch, feeding chickens

Feeding Chickens

First thing’s first, food. Feeding chickens isn’t complicated.  They can eat a variety of things, and there are different types of chicken “feed” you can choose including cracked grains and crumbles, but they’re all balanced for a chicken’s nutritional needs.

There are also different types of feed for different stages in a chicken’s life. When they’re just little chicks, you need to give them starter feed or chick feed (different brands call them different things), but once they’re somewhere around ten weeks old you need to switch them to grower feed. Once they start laying eggs, when they’re approximately 20 weeks old, they should be switched to layer feed.

Be sure to feed your chickens things other than feed too. These things can include ends and cores of fruits and vegetables that you don’t use, cucumber peels, squash that are past their prime, etc. I have found that chickens don’t particularly like spinach, cilantro, or carrots; they don’t really touch them.

Grit for Chickens

Chickens need grit to digest their food. Grit can be either sand or fine gravel, depending on the size and age of the chicken. A chicken doesn’t have a stomach like humans do; they have a crop and gizzard instead.
hen, feeding chickens, chickens

When a chicken eats, the food goes into their crop. After a chicken finishes eating, you can usually see their crop bulging out below their neck (and I’ve found that they don’t like massages very much).

Food can stay in the crop for up to 12 hours, if it’s there for longer there may be something wrong with the bird. It slowly trickles down to the gizzard (Proventriculus if you want to be technical) where the grit that the chicken has consumed before helps to grind the food up into finer particles for better digestion.

If they don’t have grit, the food won’t get ground up and passed further along their digestive system, so the gizzard gets all backed up, as well as the crop. This is called “impacted crop”, or if it starts to ferment in there, “sour crop”. These conditions are most likely fatal to a chicken as they cannot digest their food and will starve. I’ve had experience with a sour crop victim.

Chickens Need Calcium

Chickens also need a source of calcium to make the shells for their eggs. There are a few ways to do this, one of the most common being flakes of oyster shells. After you eat their eggs, you can often crush the shells and feed that right back to them. They won’t know the difference if it’s crushed well enough.
well-cared for hen, feeding chickens

If they don’t get enough calcium, they can lay eggs with thin shells or even without shells, just membranes. Sometimes they also lay shell-less eggs when they’re just beginning to lay as their bodies adjust to laying eggs.

If they go without sufficient calcium for too long, they are so dedicated to laying eggs that they will start to sap the calcium from their own bones to keep shells on their eggs.

They’ll keep laying even if it kills them…

Feeding and caring for chickens is not too complicated, it’s just like taking care of any other animal. They have a few extra specific needs like grit and calcium, but it’s not too hard. There are different styles of feed and different mixes for different ages, and you should also give them some kitchen scraps now and then. What style of feed do you prefer?

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