As a chicken keeper, you want to feed your chickens according to their species and needs. But how do you go about it correctly? In this guide, we will inform you about what is important in the correct feeding of chickens. We describe the anatomical characteristics of the gastrointestinal tract of birds and the natural diet of chickens. We also explain what chicken feed you can give your chickens to keep them healthy.
Birds have a special digestive system
If you want to feed your chickens properly, the first thing to keep in mind is that birds have a different digestive system than mammals, for example.
The beak forms the first part of the digestive system of birds. This is followed by the pharynx, esophagus and crop. The stomach, intestines and cloaca follow. The path in the alimentary canal is comparatively short. Birds have a very intensive metabolism, which is why they process the ingested food in the shortest possible time. Birds do not have large storage organs, so they should have access to sufficient food throughout the day. Birds do not have teeth in their upper and lower jaws, but a beak with which they pick up their food. Glands in the beak cavity salivate the food. It then passes through the esophagus into the crop. This represents a bulge in the esophagus and ensures that the bird can take in larger amounts of food. The crop softens the food and prepares it for further digestion.
In chickens, as in other bird species, the stomach consists of an anterior glandular stomach and a posterior gizzard, also called the gizzard. In the glandular stomach, enzymes and hydrochloric acid are released with the gastric juice, which ensure the digestion of the food and have a germ-killing effect. The gizzard of the bird mechanically grinds the food, thus fulfilling the function of the mammal’s teeth. It consists of smooth muscle and can be divided into four separate muscles. A grating plate, together with small stones, ensures that the food is crushed by the grinding movement of the stomach. The stones are ingested by the bird. They are called gastroliths or grit.
Another special feature of the bird’s digestive tract is the cloaca. Both ureters and rectum end here, so chickens defecate and urinate together.
What do chickens eat?
For the health of your chickens and the quality of the eggs, the right feed is of great importance. In the wild, chickens are scratching and pecking. In doing so, they ingest seeds, greens, small insects, worms and berries. Most of the time, domestic chickens cannot provide themselves with enough of this food in their free range, so they have to be fed additionally. The feed schedule should be adapted to the natural chicken feed. Make sure that your chickens are supplied with the important nutrients in sufficient quantities through the feed. If you feed your chickens one-sidedly, there is a risk of an unbalanced diet. If nutrients are missing, deficiency symptoms will occur, which you must avoid at all costs. You can enhance grain-heavy chicken feed, for example, with laying meal as additional feed.
Grains are the basis of chicken feed. Chickens eat wheat, corn, barley, oats and rye. If you want to feed corn, corn gins will help you. With their help, you can dehusk corn cobs in seconds. You can also feed sprouted grain to your poultry. The sprouts contain many vitamins and linolenic acid as well as starch and sugar. For soft feed, you can offer your birds cooked potatoes, potato peels, cooked pasta or cooked rice. The soft feed should be consumed quickly so that it does not go bad or freeze when feeding chickens in the winter. Green feed such as grass, clover, alfalfa or nettle is also readily consumed by chickens.
Calcium in the chicken feed
When you feed your chickens, it’s important that you provide them with adequate calcium. Calcium is needed for growth and egg production. If calcium is missing from the chicken feed, the first thing the chicken’s organism does is turn to the bones as the body’s calcium store. When this is exhausted, the eggshell becomes thinner and more brittle. If calcium continues not to be absorbed, the chickens will no longer produce eggs. Feather pecking and cannibalism are also attributed to calcium and other nutrient deficiencies. If you feed additional mussel lime, you can ensure an adequate supply of calcium.
Complete feeds for chickens
If you don’t want to worry a lot about how best to mix chicken feed, or you’re unsure if all the nutrients are included in your feed choice, you can buy complete feed for chickens. Complete feed for chickens is a feed mixture that provides the chicken with all the nutrients. It often comes in the form of laying meal or laying pellets. Chickens can be fed exclusively on complete feed. Only water must be offered in addition. Complete chicken feed is also offered by various manufacturers as organic chicken feed with ingredients from organic farming. It is guaranteed to be free of genetic engineering and artificial flavorings, colorings and preservatives.
Feed during the molting
Molting is the regular shedding and re-growth of feathers in birds. The change of plumage is controlled by hormones and takes place so that worn feathers are renewed and the bird remains permanently protected against cold and wet. Chickens usually go through molting in the fall.
The substances that make up feathers and are needed more during molting must be added to the birds’ feed. In order for your chickens to get through the molting period quickly and without difficulties, you can offer them additional preparations. These contain substances that are important during the molting period. These include B vitamins, biotin, trace elements such as selenium and zinc, and minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Complete feeds usually contain all the vitamins and nutrients that are important for the chicken, even during the molting period.
You can find out what chickens should not eat here: what should chickens not eat?
How much feed does a chicken need?
You must not think that your chickens need little food because they are small and light. On the contrary, because birds have a very fast metabolism, they need to absorb an enormous amount of energy with their food. Therefore, the amount of food they consume is much greater in comparison to their body weight than in mammals. As a rule of thumb, you should feed a 2.5 kg chicken 120 g of chicken feed so that it is sufficiently supplied.
Proper water supply is also important
You should always keep an eye on the water supply of your chickens. Water must be constantly available to the animals, as a chicken needs about 250 ml of fresh drinking water every day. You must make sure that the water does not freeze in winter and evaporate in summer.
What equipment do you need to feed your chickens?
Make sure that feed and water containers in the chicken coop are sturdy. The animals must be able to reach them at all times and they must be easy to clean for hygienic reasons. You can buy metal and plastic feed troughs in various sizes. Sturdy feed fences prevent food fights among the animals.
All chickens should be able to eat at the same time. Therefore, offer enough feeding places and make sure that the feeding places are sufficiently distant from each other. Then even lower-ranking animals can eat in a relaxed manner without being scared away.
Besides feeding troughs, there is also the possibility to feed your animals via automatic feeders. The feeders (automatic feeder with feet) can be filled with several kilograms of food. They are hung up or placed on the stable floor. The feed in the automat remains clean, because it slides from a container closed to the top into the lower lateral feed grooves. Large poultry operations in agriculture use feeding machines for chickens. They allow the farmer to save an enormous amount of time.
Chickens need species-appropriate feed to stay healthy and produce high-quality eggs. In the wild, they consume grains, greens, small insects, worms and berries. You can also provide your poultry with similar foods in the form of seeds, sprouted grains, greens and soft foods such as cooked potatoes, pasta and rice. Or you can provide it with a complete feed for chickens. It is important that you make sure there are enough nutrients and calcium in the feed. Calcium is very important for building bones and producing chicken egg. A chicken needs about 120 grams of feed and 250 ml of water daily. This is a lot in relation to body weight compared to a mammal, as birds have a very high metabolism.
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