I thought I’d start to collect together some of the information I have found about hens. I thought it maybe useful to have it all in one place, for myself and anyone else who needs it.
Firstly, lets look at where everything is stored, inside a hen.
The most important thing to a hen is eating as it is with most animals and people! The hen uses a mixture of gravity, mechanical action and chemicals (enzymes) to eat.
✯The caeca – these are two blind ended tubes which provide space for fermentation. Fermentation is a process where food is subject to microbial breakdown. The caeca is responsible for the mustard to light brown foamy droppings that your hen produces, usually at a rate of about 1 in 10 droppings.
This table shows the basic nutritional requirements for laying hens and meat hens at different stages of their life.
Carbohydrates – this is the main source of energy within food. For hens, most of the carbohydrates will come from grains, whatever type of feed you choose (pellets, mash, whole grains)
Proteins – The building blocks. They are required for the maintenance and healthy production of tissues, whether it’s muscle or organ tissue. They are also necessary for the production of hormones and, proteins also provide a small amount of energy.
Minerals – There are many of these and are also known as mineral nutrients. Dietary minerals are inorganic, which means they don’t contain carbon.
Vitamins – These are organic chemicals, meaning they do contain carbon. There are a wide range of vitamins, each having a different action within the body. It is important to make sure your hen receives a broad spectrum of vitamins within her diet. A good way of doing this, is to feed a general vitamin supplement.
Water – Essential for all bodily functions. The hens body is about 65-70% water, so constant access to fresh drinking water is essential.
The hens feed intake requirement will depend on many things such as age, breed/type, ambient temperature, free range or not, the general health of the bird and of course the sex of the bird (but I’m focusing on hens).
Many things are used to make up a commercial layers ration. These include (but not exclusively) corn, soyabean, rice bran, barley and some even use animal by products, such as bone meal.
It is important to read the label when buying feed, generally, though the choice between pellets, crumbs or mash will be according to your birds preference, as they will most likely contain the same ingredients (if they are from the same manufacturer).
I found this recipe for homemade chicken feed on the Greener Pastures Farm website.
free choice of oyster shell
I have paid between £7.99 and £10 for a 20KG sack of layers ration (pellets, mash and crumb). Also whole grains have a very short shelf life, so unless you had a large flock it probably wouldn’t be viable. Also when feeding a whole grain diet, the access to grit is even more important.
If your hens are free ranging, they’ll also have access to grass, bugs, soil and other leafy plants which they will quite happily ‘trim’ for you!
Feed supplements, particularly if you have ex-battery hens or hens in poor condition, are important. They can bolster the diet and are found as feed, water or even directly administered drops. One I have always used is Poultry Spice
This can be found quite easily at most places who stock poultry feed or online.
It is made in this powder form or as a water additive. I have tried both and my girls seem to prefer the powder, which you simply add to feed.
Another supplement I personally like to feed my hens is garlic. It’s a brilliant ‘wonder’ herb in my opinion. It also helps to neutralise the droppings (make them less wiffy) and can act as a mild bug deterrent. I have read in a few places that the garlic taste will transfer to the egg. I have not found this to be the case, my hens get a good scoop of it everyday in their feed and I have yet to find a garlic flavoured egg.
Poisonous plants. I feel at this point it is important to mention that there are some plants that are poisonous to hens. I found a list on Omlet which lists these plants. It is important to make sure your hen doesn’t have access to these. Most poisonous plants don’t taste very nice, but hens are little feathery dustbins and will have a go at eating most things, so please, check your little patch and remove them. Don’t use weedkiller as this of course, is also poisonous to hens.
Poo…. now when it comes out, it has many, many different looks. I think it’s just easier if I give you this link poo pictures , which shows many photos of chicken poo, normal, sick and the foamy caecal poo. Poo can give you a good indication of how the hen is feeling, so it’s important to take note of any abnormalities.
So that is pretty much the hen, what she eats, where it goes, what happens to it and what happens when it comes out the other end!
Thanks for reading, I hope you found this useful.