I think I was starving my chickens. I am not proud of this. Further reason that this blog serves as a place to educate folks on exactly how-to because I can never find the answers on these things until it hits me in the face!
So, when we first got our chickens, we had eight. Three or so scoops two or three times a day to spoil them, lots of scraps, running around the yard, they were all set. We lost some, got some more, now at fifteen, upped the food ration some, everything seemed good. Lost some, gained some, now we are at twenty-four as of last August. Upped it a little (now at nine scoops a day, probably the equivalent to a cup and a half a scoop) and that is when I noticed as the girls (and rooster) got bigger over this autumn that they seemed more desperate. We blamed it on our move, then their molting. We noticed that the gate kept being opened to the chicken yard. We asked the neighbors, no one had touched it. We put a cinder block in front of the gate, they moved it. They meaning twenty-four hysterical birds. They did indeed descend from dinosaurs. Velociraptors, I think!
I began to ask around how much should we be giving the chickens. They stopped laying eggs all together. They didn’t look emaciated, but they certainly weren’t happy. Sandy and Lisa both just fill up the feeders in their coops. Doug said the chickens will go through it in one day!
“Then they were hungry!” was Sandy’s smart reply!
So, he filled up the two foot high feeder. And it was half gone the first day. But since then it has leveled off and we were indeed starving our chickies and we feel terrible about that. Sandy also mentioned that throwing out a bowl full of scratch daily is added protein and food.
We read several articles and books. None of them ever mentioned just filling the feeders up. In fact, I have read that you don’t free feed because they will just eat and eat and eat. I also read that you don’t keep a heat lamp on or they get “weak” and that if the power went out on a cold night they wouldn’t be used to it and would die. I have read all sorts of things, but here is the conclusion that this farmer has come up with.
Free feed. Particularly in the winter, without being able to run around and find bugs and such. They need more food in the winter to keep warm. They produce eggs for me which is food to me. They deserve fresh water, treats, and plenty of food. They deserve a red light in the coop. It was negative twenty-two degrees last night. We turned on the lamp! They may not be pets in the sense that the cats are, but they are still in my care and on my farm and should receive the exact same care and treatment as the indoor animals. I free feed the cats and dogs, why not the chickens.
I hate learning farming lessons the hard way but then at least I can help out a new chicken person when they ask the internet, “How much do I feed my chickens?”