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raising happy, healthy chickens

Dos and Don’ts of Feeding Chickens

Since our backyard birds are omnivores, and love to eat just about anything, I’m going to cover the dos and don’ts of feeding chickens to keep them healthy. Furthermore, I’ll go over the different types of feed available. And I’ll list some things not to give your birds as well as some things that are OK in moderation.

Types of Feed

There are three main types of chicken feed, depending on their age. However, there are other types within those, which also depend on if you have show birds or meat birds, or a whole host of other options. But these are the main types base upon age.

  • Chick Starter for healthy chicks
Chick Starter

In one of my other posts, I had already mentioned chick starter. You primarily only purchase this when you have baby chickens from 0-10 weeks old. It comes in medicated or non-medicated, organic or non-organic. And it has a protein level between 18% and 22%, because the chicks are growing. And they require more protein when they’re growing. There are also higher protein starter feeds. However, those are for meat birds like turkey, quail, and pheasant. Although, it can also be used for broilers to fatten them up.

  • Grower Feeds for healthy adolescent chickens
Chick Grower

Starting around 10 weeks of age, a grower feed can replace the chick starter. For backyard birds, you need a grower feed that will contain 16-18% protein that’s designed to sustain growth till the birds hit maturity. You can also find this in organic as well.

Layer Feeds for healthy chickens

Around 18 weeks of age, layer feed can be fed to your backyard flock or whenever the first egg is laid, whichever happens first. You want one that contains 16% protein and increased calcium for the shell development. Again, there are brands that provide organic layer feed.

Consistencies in Those Categories:

Within those three backyard flock feed categories, there are some other classifications based mainly on the texture and size of the feed.

  • Mash

Mash is an unprocessed form of chicken feed that is more often given to chicks, because it’s easier to digest. However, it can be given to chickens of any age.

  • Crumble
Crumble feed for chicks

Chick starter, grower feed, and layer feed can all be purchased in crumbles. As one can well imagine, it’s easier to eat. Though, as the birds mature, one downside is that when they scratch their feed, as they are accustomed to doing, it tends to get all over the place. And so, a lot of it gets wasted. I have also heard of people having issues finding layer feed in crumbles. If you have a backyard flock, or are interested in starting one, a big determination on what type of feed you continue to purchase for their laying needs will be their preferences. They will definitely let you know what they like or dislike.

  • Pellets
Layer pellets

Only grower feed and layer feed can be purchased in layer pellets.

The Don’ts of Feeding Your Backyard Birds: What to Avoid

Don’t offer more than 2 tbsp of treats per day to a hen’s ~ 1/2 cup nutritional requirements that she’s supposed to get from her feed. But additionally, avoid offering

  • treats first thing in the morning, if you offer any, before the birds have eaten their layer feed and foraged.
  • cracked corn or sunflower seeds as a substitution for feed; they are treats. With that being said let me add something. In the fall months when the chickens are molting, sunflower seeds are packed with protein, and protein is what they need during that time. So, for a short amount of time, it’s OK to give your flock sunflower seeds with their feed, but only for that short time. Cracked corn is not feed, and I nickname it ‘crack’, because the birds treat it like that. Oh, they love it, but it makes the eggs runny and loose when you crack the shells, because there’s hardly any protein in them.
  • your chickens avocado pits and skins, because they are toxic.
  • under-cooked or dried beans to your backyard birds. Because they contain something that can prevent your birds from digesting anything they eat.
  • your backyard flock rhubarb. It might have a laxative effect on your birds. Also, if the rhubarb is damaged by severe cold, it can have a high concentration of a particular acid which can be deadly to backyard birds.
  • rotten and very salty foods to your birds, which can give them diarrhea and can also be toxic.
  • Processed foods should not be given to the flock.
  • Very greasy foods should be avoided, because they could be hard for them digest.
  • Raw potato peels, particularly if they are green from sun exposure, contain solanine, which is toxic.
  • And avoid coffee due to the caffeine and chocolate, because those might be toxic.

Snacks that are Safe for Your Backyard Birds: Give These Treats In Moderation

  • As I mentioned above, figure no more than 2 tbsp per day to 1/2 cup of layer feed. And sunflower seeds make an excellent snack in moderation.
  • Bread: Chickens love bread, at least mine do, and it doesn’t really matter the flavor.
  • Fruits: They can eat most fruits with the exception of rhubarb. Some of my flock’s fave’s are apples, strawberries, tomatoes, bananas, grapes, watermelon, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and blueberries, just to name a few.
  • Vegetables: Again, just like with fruits, most vegetables are fine to give your flock. When we’ve had our vegetable garden in past springs, our birds loved to sneak in to steal the bell peppers and kale. But they also love cabbage, corn, and sweet potatoes.
  • There are some that say you can’t give your birds citrus. However, not everyone agrees on that. There are also some who claim you can’t give your birds onions or garlic. But that is really only because it might flavor the eggs. The first spring that we had layer hens we planted a garden, and our hens got into the onions! They smelled like chicken onion burgers. It didn’t hurt them, however now that they are older they don’t eat onions, fresh or cooked. So their taste buds changed.
  • Cooked meat: Any leftovers you may have, remembering to keep it to snack-size.
  • Eggs: I know this might sound gross, but chickens love eggs. However, you don’t want to encourage cannibalism or to encourage them to eat their own eggs. But if I find a cracked egg, which will happen on occasion with 30-something birds, I scramble it up and give it them, rather than throwing it out.

We covered a lot, going over the different types of feed for chickens, including safe and unsafe snacks. If you have anything to add, please feel free. Or if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

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Chicks Hens raising happy, healthy chickens

What Does Molting Mean for Chickens

The definition of molting, according to Free Dictionary is to shed part or all of a coat or outer covering. Such as feathers, cuticles, or skin, which is then replaced by new growth. In this case, chickens molting is a time where they lose their feathers. And there are a few reasons chickens can lose their feathers. But to know the answer why correctly, depends on where the feather loss occurs and the time of year. Is it affecting all the birds or just a few?

When I talk about my birds going through their molt, or losing their feathers to friends or family, I refer to it as ‘the ugly’. If you have chickens that have gone through molting, then you know what I mean.

Chickens Molting: Why do they Molt

I already mentioned how molting is simply where the bird will shed its feathers. It’s somewhat like a snake shedding its skin. However the reasons snakes and chickens molt are completely different.

chicken molting on grass
One of our black sex links going through the annual molt.

Chicks will molt roughly about 4 times before they reach adulthood, when their tail feathers come in and they’re ready to lay eggs. But then they won’t molt again until the following year. So why do the birds lose their feathers. And are there other symptoms?

When we first noticed our birds losing their feathers, at the time we didn’t know that’s what it was; we just thought something was wrong with them. Our boss hen, Fives, was sitting down a lot, resting. She just seemed so tired. The birds also started eating a lot more, and voraciously, like they were starving. And then they got ‘the ugly’, where their feathers started coming out. Though it wasn’t evenly distributed among the population. Some birds just looked ragged, while others were completely bare.

Juvenile Ameraucana Hens going through one of their molts
Juvenile Ameraucana hens.

I talked to my mother-in-law about it, who told me her birds were experiencing the same thing. She was the one who informed me what it was: Molting. Now I had a name to go with what I was seeing in my birds. I learned that, depending on the bird (or breed), they could molt twice a year, lose their feathers, and stop laying eggs for up to 12 weeks.

chicken molting on grass
Smiley, going through her molt.

When chickens molt, it’s a time for them to rest and recuperate from the work they’ve done all year round. That’s why our boss hen was sitting down much of the time. They lose their feathers only to grow in more and look absolutely fabulous when the new ones come in. It’s also a time for them to replenish their feathers, to prepare for winter. Typically our birds

  • start shedding their feathers the end of summer/beginning of fall, and it lasts about 3 months.
  • Egg production starts trickling down until all of the birds are in various stages of shedding their feathers.
  • And the youngest ones recover the fastest.
  • Further, by the time all the birds are molting, egg production is at a stand-still. Unless we have new hens.
  • And egg production doesn’t start back up until all have recovered.
chicken molting
Molting hen.

When the backyard flock goes through the molt, their dietary needs are different. Hens that are laying eggs need more calcium in their diet, because eggshells are primarily made out of calcium. However, when they molt, because their feathers consist mainly of protein, that is what hens need to recover and get back to laying eggs.

How to Help Your Chickens During Their Molt

Flock Raiser feed
High Protein Feed for Poultry.

At the first sign of your chickens molting, which will more than likely be feathers coming out around the end of summer, switch them to a high protein feed with 20% protein. You want to

  • keep the stress low
  • with clean, fresh water
  • proper air ventilation
  • and avoid adding new birds during this time

While chickens are losing their feathers, they can be sensitive, so avoid handling them.

Some backyard flock owners install lights in the coop to encourage egg laying during this time. That’s completely up to you, however, as a reminder, this is a time for the flock to rest and recover. When your flock starts producing eggs again, switch back to their layer feed by mixing it with the high protein feed to make sure there aren’t any digestive issues.

Molting isn’t only restricted to hens; roosters will also molt, though not as aggressively as the hens. They tend to lose tail feathers from what I’ve witnessed, again only to have them grow back in more beautiful and fuller than they were previously.

I hope this answered any questions you might have had. If you have any others I didn’t address, please feel free to ask.

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Extras recipes

Easy Sheet Pan Chicken Nachos

When my husband worked as a fireman, he came up with this easy sheet pan chicken nachos recipe for his shift, which he then shared with me. I make it frequently, because it’s tasty and very simple. Especially for nights when I don’t really want to cook or time is an issue. It combines canned chicken meat, refried beans, tortilla chips, seasoning, and some garnishes for a yummy snack or meal, whatever one prefers.

Ingredients for Easy Sheet Pan Chicken Nachos:

  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 12.5 oz Can of Drained Chicken Breast
  • 15 oz Can of Refried Beans
  • 1/2 oz Guacamole Seasoning Packet
  • 16 oz Bag of Tortilla Chips
  • Shredded Mexican Blend Cheese

Instructions for Sheet Pan Chicken Nachos:

white nachos topped with cheese and guacamole on a floral plate
  • First, grease jellyroll pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  • Next, put 1 Tbsp olive oil in medium to large pan.
  • Then, drain canned chicken breast and put chicken in pan over medium to medium high heat.
  • Add refried beans and 1/2 oz of guacamole seasoning; stir till well combined and warmed through. Remove from heat.
  • Next, spread tortilla chips on greased jellyroll pan.
  • Then drop chicken/bean mix by spoonfuls onto chips, careful to get the dip on most of the chips.
  • Add desired amount of shredded Mexican blend cheese to nachos when finished adding chicken/bean mix.
  • And broil for 2-3 minutes or until cheese is melted.
  • Finally, serve immediately.

I hope you and yours enjoy this as much as we do. Let me know what you think!

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Extras

Some Hurts Heal Only with Time

Grieving Over a Recent Loss

I didn’t have my regularly scheduled post up last week, because I had to travel out of town, back to Dallas for the memorial service for my dad. My mom asked me to write the eulogy or similar for the pastor to read, so I did, thinking about not only his life with my mom (they were married 53 years), but about the memories I had of him, growing up and even my interactions with him recently.

Papa with grandkids
My mom and dad with my two youngest daughters.

Even now as I sit here writing this, my eyes are tearing up, thinking about the fact that I won’t get to see his face or hear his voice again, at least not for a while if I live a long life.

My dad was diagnosed with non Hodgkin’s lymphoma almost a decade ago, however with his treatment and prayers, he made a full recovery. It was around that same time, either before or after, that he had to have a double bypass, but again he pulled through. Shortly afterward he had some growths on his scalp and face that were related to lymphoma called follicular lymphoma, although they are typically slow growing cancers. My dad chose to go through radiation, because he didn’t want surgery, however he didn’t have to have chemo.

In the intervening years, my dad’s oncologist would do scans to make sure he was doing well, though one thing I’ve learned through this process with my dad is that lymphoma doesn’t go away; it’s always there, waiting to strike again.

My dad with my youngest sister and me
My dad, center, with my youngest sister on the right, and I’m on the left.

It was in March of last year when the Pandemic had shut everything down that my dad started having pain in his leg, similar to sciatic pain, running all the way down to his toes, however because everything was shut down, he could only have virtual visits. He was prescribed medication, although it didn’t help. He had at least two more virtual visits, all in the middle of the shutdown, to no avail. He was at the point where he couldn’t walk. He was told to get a massage, but that made him hurt more.

In June, when Dallas opened back up, my dad was sent to a specialist, who paid particular attention to his past cancer and asked questions about his scans. My mom texted me, when they got the results the morning after his MRI, ‘It’s cancer.’ I was in shock. And scared. My dad had health issues in the past, although it was this most recent one, where he was at the point where he couldn’t walk, that concerned me the most. My younger sister and I weren’t sure if that was his death sentence.

Family photo at birthday party
My dad closest to the center, my mom across from him, my oldest sister next to her, and my brother in law on the other side of my mom.

From that moment on I did all I could to be available to both of my parents and to visit as much as I could. There were countless doctor appointments my mom had to take my dad too, not to mention several ER visits that we couldn’t help her with, not with COVID dictating everything and the care people are receiving.

I watched my dad waste away as his illness weakened him, though he hardly complained. I wanted to rage at the doctors, his oncologist, the inept hospital staff that kept insisting he had COVID when he couldn’t breath, and the powers that be to help my dad, to let me see him, and to give him dignity in his final moments. And I think I still feel all of those things, that rage, that hurt that my dad had to go through everything he went through. I feel robbed by COVID and the restrictions being placed on hospitals when a person doesn’t have it. We have masks, we have thermometers, we even have tests. No one should be left to die without their family, and no one should miss the opportunity to say goodbye.

family collage
Collage of my dad with his kids or grandkids.

I know what I’m experiencing is fresh; I certainly haven’t completely processed that my dad is gone. When I was at my mom’s house, there were a lot of other people around, so there were distractions, and I could also pretend he was at work. Next time I don’t know how many diversions there will be, or if I’ll be able to imagine he’s just working.

I want to say something witty, to bring this all together with my blog, however I can’t, not right now, because I’m too sad to do that, although I wanted to share what I was going through. Maybe in time I can, but not right now.

Memorial pic of family
All of the family–my mom, brother and sisters, and grandkids after the memorial service for my dad.