Chicken Food and Nutrition
Chickens need the following food groups to remain active and healthy.
2. Carbohydrates, fats and oils
Chickens get these nutrients from eating certain foods, which in the case of caged birds, must be supplied by the fancier. The five groups are contained in these foods:
CARBOHYDRATES: Cereal grains like wheat, barley, maize, sorghum and oats.
FATS & OILS: Oil seed meals, meat meals and tallow.
PROTEINS: Lucerne, pollard, soyabean meal, blood meal, fish meal and meat meal.
MINERALS: Limestone, shell grit, bone meal and particular salts.
VITAMINS: Green feeds, grains or artificial additives.
To ensure the chickens receive all the nutrients needed to stay healthy, many people feed a ration which has them combined into a single product. These are usually pelletised or ground into a dry mash. I personally find that chickens prefer a more varied diet and therefore I give them a variety of grains, green feeds and pelletised foods. Feeding in this way, care must be taken to ensure the birds do in fact eat the whole range of foods offered, thus receiving the correct balance of nutrients. Chickens are a lot like humans... we pick and choose our foods too, with often scant regard for correct nutritional balance.
Chickens need to eat certain grits and minerals to assist in digestion. Birds have no teeth and by swallowing small stones, and other hard objects, use these within their gizzard to grind down their food. Therefore, they must be provided with a supply of grit for this purpose. Shell grit is the most common grit given, but this is a soft grit which dissolves fairly quickly. I also give a granite type grit which is much harder and stays in the gizzard longer.
Finally, the most overlooked nutritional requirement for chickens is water. Without fresh, cool water many nutrients from the food they eat is unable to be metabolised properly, resulting in unbalanced dietary conditions. Chickens have a bad habit of fouling their water so it is important to use utensils which minimise the risk of this happening. Furthermore, if birds are allowed to spill water into the litter, the risk of nematode infections such as coccidiosis is increased enormously, particularly among younger stock. Waterers which prevent the birds scratching litter into them and ones which catch spillages are preferred, rather than open pans or dishes.