So far in our Managing Chickens Series we have discussed housing:
Now we are going to move on to feeding and watering. I think sometimes feeding can become a controversial topic these days, with organic, non-GMO, etc. We are simply going to share how we handle feeding and watering here at Willow Creek Farm and not go into all the controversial parts of it.
We use both the store-bought gravity type feeders, as well as a couple of built-in feeders my husband made in the two main coops. The built-in feeders are gutter feeders, long and skinny along the wall so they provide plenty of space per bird. One of them has a box built-in above it that holds about 50 lbs of feed and gravity feeds it down into the gutter.
With our store-bought gravity feeders, we always hang them since our bedding is shavings and if we leave them down on the ground they get all messed up and full of shavings. Plus, we have several birds with compulsive scratching tendencies, which is good because they are great foragers. But the downside to the scratching tendencies is that if a feeder is on the ground they will scratch at it and the feed ends up all over and a bunch of it is wasted. So even when we are dealing with the Mama Hens with their chicks, we still hang the feeder, we just hang it very low so it is barely setting on the ground and the chicks can reach it.
Because our flock is composed of so many different ages (we have newly hatched chicks, young birds of all ages, along with adult laying hens all living together and eating the same feed) we have to do our feeding a little different. We do not allow any bird under 18 weeks of age to eat layer feed. So when our flock has any birds in it that are younger than that (all spring, summer and fall) we feed grower to everyone. We supplement this by putting oyster shell and crushed egg shells in a separate container in any of the housing that has laying hens in it. That way the laying hens can choose to supplement their calcium as needed, and the younger birds are getting the feed they need. We use the grower with chicks as well, instead of chick mash, since they are living with the adults and growing young birds too. In the winter, when the flock is back to only adults, we feed layer feed only. I still provide crushed egg shells in the extra containers.
As far as our egg shells go – yes, we feed them back to our hens, and no, they have never eaten their own eggs because of it. However, we crush them down to tiny pieces. We have a container next to the kitchen sink where we put the egg shells. When it starts getting full I make sure to let them all dry fully (the goop inside need to be very dry to crush them) which is easy in our dry climate.
Then my kids take turns using the mortar and pestle to crush the shells up (this is the kids’ favorite job – crushing something up to a fine dust – what kid wouldn’t love that!?)
I put them in the built-in boxes my husband has put in each coop area.
Our chickens get plenty of fresh food scraps. We feed them all types of scraps: meat, dairy, grains, fruits, and veggies. We do NOT feed them: any poultry products (chicken meat, turkey meat, etc), eggs, onions, citrus, banana peels, potatoes, or avocado. We have a container sitting by the kitchen sink and we scrape into it off the cutting boards while we are preparing food (such as the broccoli stems, ends of carrots, tops of strawberries and tomatoes, etc. We also scrape into it after meals from our plates. The things that are in their scraps the most include: dairy scraps such as milk, yogurt, and sour cream, small pieces of meat (not poultry), some grains (we eat a lot of hot cereal for breakfast, like cream of rice, buckwheat, or quinoa flakes so the small amounts left in the kids bowls), and a lot of fruit and veggie scraps (apple, pear, and plum cores, carrot tops and peels, zucchini and cucumber ends, the bottoms of heads of lettuce, spinach stems, watermelon and cantaloupe rinds, etc).
We also have a few egg customers who pay partially with scraps. I take $0.50 off the cost of their eggs if they bring a bag of scraps each week. I have given each of them a list of acceptable scraps.
We have found that when we have a decrease in the amount of scraps we are feeding we also have a decrease in the amount of eggs that are layed.
We don’t feed scraps to the Mama Hen Pen or Growing Pens. So, in general, our chickens are not given scraps until about 8 weeks of age at the earliest.
We feed the scraps in the large, short sided dish things that go under a potted plant pot to collect the water that flows out of the holes. We have one in the lower coop’s exterior pen, and two in the upper coop’s exterior pen since there are more birds up there. We do NOT feed scraps inside the coops. We have found that some of the scraps end up buried in the shavings and will mold and get very gross. So we always feed them outside.
We do have a few of the traditional gravity waterers. We use them with newly hatched chicks especially.
But mostly we use “chicken nipples” that we have installed in 5-gallon buckets.
We do 4 spouts per bucket, and we set the lid loosely on the bucket to keep dust, dirt, and chicken poop out of them (sometimes the chickens try to get on top of them). We also have a couple of spouts attached to soda bottles or juice jugs, with just 1 or 2 spouts per container. These we use in the smaller housing areas with just a few birds, and to train the chicks in the brooder. If the chicks are being raised by a mama hen she will teach them to use the spouts, but we still always start them off the first week with a normal waterer that has standing water in it.
Our free-ranging chickens also have access to our livestock troughs. They actually prefer to drink from them than from anything else. The danger with this is that if the chicken falls in it can drown. So we have put a piece of welded wire sitting diagonally across the trough in each one, so if they fall in they can climb out. We have seen them fall in before and get out.
Freezing water in the winter is definitely something we deal with in our location. First of all, we aim to use just 1-2 of our housing areas in the winter. We cull the flock down so they fit well in 1-2 areas, and that really helps limit the amount of waterers we have to deal with. So usually it is 2-3 buckets at most. Our livestock troughs have stock tank heaters/de-icers in them to keep them from freezing. So each night we take the buckets down from their hooks and set them into the water troughs. They float in there and the tank heater/de-icer keeps them from freezing. Most of the winter, using the troughs at night is enough, but when the days are really cold, and the water is freezing during the day, we bring them inside and run warm water into them from the tub to thaw them, and then fill them about halfway with lukewarm water and put them out. In our worst weather this has to be done three times a day. We have a new plan we are going to try this year, and I will update this post with it later this winter if it works.
We keep all of our waterers outside in the pens (if the housing has an outdoor pen) because we find that regardless of the type of waterer they cause too much moisture mess inside the coops. Because our pens are covered there is very rarely a time when the chickens can’t come out into their pen to drink during the day. Occasionally, if the weather is really really bad, we will hang the waterers inside the coops. But we try to avoid it. All feeders are indoors to keep wild animals away.
That covers how we feed and water our chickens here at Willow Creek Farm. In our next several posts in our Managing Chickens Series we will discuss breeding, hatching, brooding, health care, and more.