Timing is everything when it comes to feeding your laying hens. Ensuring they have the correct nutrition at just the right time is an important part of having a happy and healthy flock.
Hatch to approximately week 6: Provide free choice access to a quality chick starter ration and make fresh clean water available at all times. Proper nutrition in this critical growth stage will impact the performance of the chicken for their entire lifespan. Use a heat lamp to keep birds warm and provide 1 sq. foot per chick.
Approximately 6 weeks to 16 weeks: Continue to provide free choice access to chick starter and water. If you choose to feed treats (scratch grains, kitchen scraps, etc.), put out what birds will consume in about 15 minutes once per day. This a good guide to follow to make sure treats don’t exceed 15% of the total diet. Add treats only after week 6. If birds have access to anything other than a crumble or pellet, provide grit free choice in a seperate feeder.
16 weeks +: Now is the time to switch to layer feed! Provide layer pellets or layer crumbles and grit free choice along with access to fresh clean water at all times. Treats can be provided at no more than 15% of the diet. At this point it is also important to make oyster shell available free choice to provide supplemental calcium for hard-shelled eggs. Adult birds require approximately 3-4 sq. feet of space per bird in the coop; you also need to plan on one nesting box for every 4-5 hens.
Baby chicks go through a lot before you get them home. They are hatched, shipped, and stocked at your favorite feed or pet store where they encounter all the hustle and bustle of a retail environment. Then you select them, transport them yet again and bring them to another new environment. For a baby animal that is only a few days old, that can mean a lot of stress, and stress can greatly impact the health of young chicks.
One of the most notable problems in chicks that are stressed is pasting. This problem (also called “pasty butt” or “poopy butt”) is what happens when feces that are not the right consistency get stuck to the bird and can “paste” the vent (area where feces are excreted) closed. Left untreated, this problem, which on the surface just seems a little gross, can actually be fatal. Pasting can be caused by a few key triggers.
At the hatchery, chicks are not fed or watered since they are equipped to live on the yolk reserves inside their bodies for the two to three days it takes to ship them to their final destination. When they arrive they are thirsty and hungry and impulse for us is to place feeders and waterers immediately.
However, one important step in preventing pasting is making sure that the baby birds in the brooder are all drinking before they are given food. When placing chicks in the brooder, have your waterer set up but do not place the feed right away. As each bird goes into the brooder, dip the beak into the waterer so they can get a small drink and also learn where their water source is.
Watch your birds carefully at first, when you feel that all birds have found the water and had a good drink you can add the feed, but not before. This will prevent the birds from filling up on feed and not going to water like they should. Without water in their system, they cannot correctly digest their food, which leads to pasting.
Incorrect brooder temperature is also another scenario that can lead to pasting. If birds are too warm they will dehydrate quickly, and chilled birds are highly stressed – both these conditions can result in pasting. Keeping waterers clean and water fresh is also essential – this will increase water consumption which is the best defense against pasting.
Identifying this problem is relatively easy for all the reasons you’d expect: chicks will have a build up of feces around the vent area, alerting you that they have a problem. Treating pasting can be unpleasant, but it is not difficult or costly. All you need is some warm water and latex gloves as well as lots of patience.
Take the affected bird and gently try and swab the feces from the vent area.
Using a wet paper towel works well; for extreme cases you may need to hold the vent area under lukewarm (not hot) running water.
Sitting the chick in a mug or bowl of lukewarm water is also another option to loosen the feces before wiping them away.
The main goal is to clear the vent area so the bird can resume defecating normally. After you have cleaned the bird up, applying some sort of lubricant, like Vaseline, to the affected area can help prevent further problems.
Closely monitor all your chicks for the first several weeks of life so you can catch signs of pasting and treat it quickly!
Instead of asking “Why did the chicken cross the road?” poultry hobbyists may better ask, “How does the chicken chew its feed without any teeth?” Even without teeth, chickens have one of the most efficient digestive systems in the animal kingdom. Let’s take a look at how the poultry digestive system works.
Food is taken in with the beak, which is the perfect tool for pecking feed in crumble or pellet form, small grains, grass or insects. Chickens are omnivores – meaning that, in addition to a commercial feed, they can eat meat (grubs, worms, the occasional mouse) and vegetation (grass, weeds and other plants). A small bit of saliva and digestive enzymes are added as the food moves from the mouth into the esophagus.
From the esophagus food moves to the crop, an expandable storage compartment located at the base of the chicken’s neck, where it can remain for up to 12 hours. The food trickles from the crop into the bird’s stomach (proventriculus or gizzard) where digestive enzymes are added to the mix and physical grinding of the food occurs.
From the gizzard, food passes into the small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed. The residue then passes through the ceca, a blind sack along the lower intestinal tract, where bacteria help break down undigested food. From the ceca, food moves to the large intestine, which absorbs water and dries out indigestible foods.
This remaining residue passes through the cloaca where the chicken’s urine (the white in chicken droppings) mixes with the waste. Both exit the chicken at the vent, the external opening of the cloaca.
It is important to understand how a chicken or other fowl digests its food. Here’s a quick tour of how food moves through their digestive tract.
Mouth: It all starts here.
Esophagus (Gullet):Transports food from the mouth to the stomach.
Crop: A pouch in the esophagus used to store food temporarily before moving it on to the stomach.
Stomach (Proventriculus or “Gizzard”): Principally the organ where food is broken into smaller units. It has two parts: the proventriculus for storage and the gizzard. The gizzard is a muscular part of the stomach that uses grit to grind grains and fiber into smaller particles.
Small Intestine: Aids in digestion and nutrient absorption. Composed of the duodenum, jejunum and ileum.
Liver: The largest glandular organ in the body. Aids in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Ceca: Bacterial action in the ceca helps break down undigested food passing through the intestine. The ceca turns into the large intestine, which connects with the cloaca.
Large Intestine: Functions primarily to absorb water, dry out indigestible foods and eliminate waste products.
Cloaca: Where the digestive, urinary and reproductive systems meet.
Urinary System: Consists of two kidneys and two ureters. The kidneys are located in the pelvic bones. They filter waste from the blood and pass it through the ureter to the outside via the cloaca/vent.
Vent: The external opening of the cloaca that passes waste to the outside.