What and How to Feed Birds
All birds are fed "free choice". This means that food is available to them at all times and they eat what they want. Chickens will not over-eat like some pets and livestock will. According to Evergreen Feed Mill's feed sack labels, they indicate an appropriate daily quantity of layer ration is 3.5 ounces per bird or 22 pounds per 100 birds. READ your feed labels.
Feed available at most neighborhood feed stores is locally produced and there are thousands of local feed mills, so don't be too concerned with "brand names". Check the ingredient labels of the feeds locally available to you. We once fed Purina feeds, but the cost was much higher. After all, they don't eat the "checkerboard" sacks, do they?
First week: gamebird starter crumbles - 28% - 30% protein
2nd week until 4 ½ months (or first egg) - Medicated chick starter - 20% protein
We feed all our newly hatched babies (chicks, keets, poults and quail) medicated gamebird starter for the first week because it has extra protein to get the babies off to a good start. With chicks, we switch to medicated Chick Starter after the first week. This contains Amprolium to prevent and build immunity to Coccidiosis, which is a common illness that chicks are susceptible to. They stay on this feed until they're about 4 months old or they lay the first egg, whichever comes first. Many people switch from chick starter to grower ration at 5 weeks, but our local feed stores don't carry it, and the chick starter we use is formulated to incorporate the grower ingredients.
Chickens and Bantams:
At about 4-5 months of age (or when they lay the first egg), we switch them to a complete layer ration which includes the extra calcium necessary for good egg shell production. Most Layer Rations are formulated to include all the calcium needed, so there's really no need to feed oyster shell separately, but it certainly doesn't hurt to provide a small container in the chickens' pen to allow them to get more if they decide they need it.
Our Bantam breeds are fed Layer Crumbles and Large breeds get Layer Pellets. This helps cut down on waste. Crumbles strewn around while feeding get mixed with dirt or litter and are wasted, while pellets can still be detected and eaten if dropped on the floor. However the pellets are too large for many of the smaller bantam breeds to swallow.
Quail, Pheasants and Peafowl:
We feed these Medicated Gamebird Starter/Grower crumbles, 28.5% protein, from hatch to maturity. The active drug ingredient in this feed is Bacitracin Zinc.
Keets and Poults:
Guinea keets and turkey poults get straight medicated gamebird starter (28-30% protein) for the first 4 months of life (or until the first egg) to give them a good start.
Guineas and turkeys have about the same nutritional requirements so we feed them the same food. Commercial feed prepared for Turkeys containing about 25% protein is perfect for both. The local feed stores don't carry turkey feed, however, so we mix 50/50 layer crumbles and gamebird starter/grower for our adult guineas and turkeys. This gives us about the right protein level and our Guineas and Turkeys are thriving on this mixture.
Regardless of what some old farmers may tell you, hen scratch is NOT sufficient as the only feed source for any poultry. We throw out a couple of scoops of hen scratch (about 3 pounds) in front of the barn for our free range Barred Rock flock and Beavis and Butthead, our pet turkeys, to keep them busy. It's a good idea to provide more hen scratch during the winter months, since the carbohydrates it provides will develop more "fat" and help them to better withstand the cold.
Never mix hen scratch together in the same feeder with prepared poultry ration. The birds will instinctively dig through the layer ration looking for the scratch grains and waste the expensive stuff! They're just like kids, they don't know what's good for them.
We add vitamins/electrolytes to the drinking water about 3 times per week when the high temperatures climb much over 90° f. in the summer. We use it daily if the temp gets over 100° f. It helps keep all the birds from becoming dehydrated in the extremely hot weather we have here some summers. It has hit 112° a couple of times.
Vitamins/Electrolytes also give birds that aren't 'acting right' a little boost to overcome stress or an illness.
How We Feed:
Cages (Bantam breeders and Quail):
We have installed "through the cage" feeders on all our bantam breeder cages. It makes it easy to feed them because we don't have to open the cage to fill the feeders. They can be filled from the outside. On our Quail cages, we use 18 inch trough feeders manufactured by GQF that hang on the outside of the cage and the quail can put their heads through the cage wire to eat.
Barn Pens (chickens, guineas, pheasants and Peafowl):
We use hanging feeders that hold 40-50 pounds of feed so the feeders only need to be filled about once a week. We hang the feeders so that the feed trough is at the height of the chickens' back. This way, they can eat without a problem, but the feeder is too high for them to scratch feed out on the floor of the pen and waste it.
Free Range Layers (Our Barred Plymouth Rock flock):
We have a feeder in the pen for our free range flock which contains Layer Ration Pellets. We also throw out about two or three (gallon sized) scoops of hen scratch grains in front of the barn to keep the birds occupied during the day. We increase the amount during the colder winter months. They also have access to grass and whatever bugs (grasshoppers, crickets, etc.) they can find during the day. They will spend hours chasing and fighting over an elusive grasshopper (or field mouse!).
Keep the treats to a minimum. Under no conditions should "treats" make up more than 10% of their nutritional intake. When we have kitchen scraps available, we share them among out breeders. Carrot scrapings, fruit peels, tomato leftovers, lettuce, celery tops, watermelon and cantaloupe rinds, stale bread or biscuits all get gobbled up in short order. When we mow the lawn, we rake up the grass clippings and throw some in each pen in the barn. The birds love the fresh greens.
We also sometimes buy mealworms at WalMart (sold as fish bait in their sporting goods dept). The birds will fight over mealworms! You can also start your own worm farm growing earthworms or mealworms. See the Chicken Feed & Nutrition Help page for earth worm or meal worm sources to get you started.