Author: James Hermes, Extension Poultry Specialist
Publish Date: Fall 2008
Most producers of small poultry flocks have found feed prices increasing over the past several months. This is especially true for certified organic feeds. Much of the increase is related to increases in commodity costs (especially corn and soybean meal) as well as the increased cost of transportation. In addition, as winter approaches the problem will grow worse as cold weather will increase the birds’ feed consumption and the value of any pasture that is available will drop to nearly nothing. Pasturing chickens are feeding mostly on insects and seeds which become quite scarce in the late fall and winter months. So, as feed costs climb many small producers look for ways to reduce the cost of feeding their birds.
Many small producers will turn to supplementation of their normal feeds with whole or cracked grains. Or they may turn to garden waste or table scraps to supplement a portion of the prepared ration that they purchase at the feed store. This may or may not reduce cost of feed and if supplementation is too high, poor performance from the birds may result.
It is important to understand that chickens require a balanced diet. This means that each day they require a certain amount of protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Prepared diets have been formulated to provide all of their needs so they don’t require any supplementation. In fact, supplementation can cause the diet to go out of balance.
Why is this?
Each supplemented item that the chickens eat will generally reduce their overall intake of the prepared feed. Also, most supplements do not have the proper balance of nutrients so if we mix the feed and the supplement, their diet will be out of balance. For example, corn is high in carbohydrates (starch and sugars) but low in protein and some vitamins and minerals. So, feeding the diet mixed with corn will result in a reduced protein diet with possible deficiencies of some of the vitamins and minerals. Other supplements will result in similar dietary problems. Since nutritional balance is necessary for chickens to maintain maximum egg production supplementation to reduce feed costs may also result in reduced production. However, if maximum egg production is not necessary, some supplementation, no more that about 15% of their total daily intake, should not cause many problems.
A final note: Egg production will decline during the fall and winter as a result of declining and short daylengths. To keep chickens laying during these months, provide 14 to 16 hours of light per day. For more information see the Extension Publication PNW 565 Why Did My Chickens Stop Laying?