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!
The most common myth about chickens is that they stink. They certainly do when they are crammed into buildings lacking fresh air or when their bedding gets wet – but for a backyard flock just a few simple tips can help minimize odors in your chicken coop.
A key to keeping chickens healthy and odor free is the proper use of coop bedding, or litter as it’s usually called. There are many types of litter but to function well all must be able to absorb some moisture, insulate the floor from cold, and give chickens a chance to dust.
Unlike mammals, chickens don’t produce urine. All excrement leaves their bodies as solid feces, which helps keep litter dry.
By far the most commonly used litter is wood shavings, sold in feed stores, or scrounged from woodworkers. Wood shavings have a pleasant smell, are amazingly absorbent, and don’t pack down. Sawdust also works well but is dusty. Chickens stir it up and dust settles on anything in the coop. Straw is another common bedding. It’s inexpensive but not nearly as absorbent as wood chips. Straw mats down and is harder to shovel out than chips. Dry leaves can be used to make effective litter. They’re free but only available in the fall and tend to break down into dust rather quickly.
Litter must stay dry to remain odor free. Four to six inches of dry wood shavings easily last six months or more before it needs to be changed. Droppings become incorporated into the shavings, as the chickens stir it. About every six months you can scoop the old litter out of the coop with a shovel (a snow shovel works well) and replace it with fresh chips. Used bedding can be either composted or a thin layer can be worked into garden soil to provide nutrients and water absorbency.
When litter gets wet, usually when a waterer leaks or tips over, it’s essential to immediately remove the soggy shavings and replace them with fresh dry ones. Otherwise, they will soon smell.
Chickens love to dust themselves and will readily fluff litter into their feathers. Following a brief dust bath the birds are as fresh as a human emerging from a shower, and as the dust works between their feathers it discourages parasites.
A recent post on our Nutrena Chicken and Poultry Feed Facebook page asked an outstanding question – is it okay to let my chickens out in the pasture to range with my horse? Not only is it okay, it is actually a good idea! Keeping chickens along with horses is a time honored tradition that certainly can be manageable, and even beneficial – here’s why:
Chickens are opportunists. When a pellet or kernel falls, they’ll be there to pick it up. This saves your horse from mouthing around on the ground to find bits of feed (a practice that can lead to ingestion of dirt and sand) and it reduces the amount of feed that is wasted.
Chickens are good horse trainers. A horse that has had exposure to poultry won’t “have his feathers ruffled” by sudden movements, loud noises, or the occasional appearance of an egg…
Chickens help prepare your horse for the trail. If you plan to take trail rides where wild turkeys, partridge, chuckar, etc. populate it can be beneficial to have your horse used to the patterns and noises of fowl by keeping a few chickens around. A little exposure to flapping, squawking and scurrying can go a long way to desensitizing your horse to those types of events out on the trail.
Chickens are nature’s fly traps. You and your horse hate bugs – but chickens love them. Chickens eat flies, worms, grubs, bees; if they can catch it they’ll nibble on it, which means it won’t be nibbling on you or your horse.
Chickens are low maintenance. Provide them with a cozy place to sleep, fresh clean water, free choice oyster shell for strong eggshells, grit for digestion and some layer feed and they will be happy and healthy.
Chickens help with the chores! One of a chicken’s favorite things to do is scratch the ground for hidden treasures. Give them a pile of horse droppings and they think they’re in heaven! They’ll have the manure broken down, spread around and out of sight before you can even think of grabbing a pitchfork and wheelbarrow!
Chickens are pets with benefits. Besides being a colorful and entertaining addition to your stable yard, chickens provide one thing your horse can’t – breakfast! Now if they could only cook it and serve it to you in bed…
A few words of caution about keeping chickens with your horses – make sure that your chickens are fed seperately from your horse and that your horse can’t get into their feed. This will eliminate the risk of your horse consuming layer feed that is not designed for his digestive system. Also, provide roosts for your chickens that are away from your horse’s feeder if they are not put into a coop at night to eliminate waste of feed and hay due to chicken droppings. Make sure both your horse and chickens have fresh, clean water that is easily accessible to them at all times.
Do you wonder why your chickens stop laying eggs in winter? And is there anything you can do about it? Good news, friends! Watch this video from Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart for everything you need to know about lighting your chicken coop to keep the girls laying eggs!
Leave comments below, or questions if you’ve got some!
Everything is better when it’s clean, right? Your hands, your house, your kid’s face…but what about your eggs?
When you buy eggs from the store, you’ll notice they are pristine and clean. If you collect your own eggs, you know they don’t naturally come that way!
It is interesting to note that as a chicken lays an egg, it gets a nearly imperceptible coating that is called “bloom”. Bloom acts as a natural barrier and prevents germs and bacteria from getting to the egg through the shell. By leaving your eggs unwashed, the natural barrier remains intact. Commercial egg producers are regulated and required to wash all eggs before shipment, which is why the eggs you buy in the supermarket are so tidy.
If you are producing your own eggs for your household, you have more control over how your eggs are handled. Wiping eggs off with a dry cloth will knock off the feathers and dirt. And if you get the occasional “messy” egg? Go ahead and wash it – then store it in the refrigerator and try to use it before you use your other, unwashed eggs.
Eggs are most often stored in the refrigerator to slow decomposition and refrigerating your eggs is a common practice in the U.S. In many other countries, however, eggs are stored at room temperature and never refrigerated. Whatever your preference for storage, you may want to consider foregoing absolute cleanliness – at least when it comes to your eggs!