For information on chicken health, go to the chicken health page.
Pellets, Fruits, and Vegetables:
Our hens eat egg-laying organic chicken feed as their main food source. They also get some cracked corn and Multi-grain cereal (it was discontinued so I switched to just oatmeal). I also now give them half a slice of torn up multi-grain bread. For treats, they can have most leafy vegetables torn into bite size pieces. Kale and spinach are good for chickens. For fruit, chickens (and turkeys) absolutely love grapes! They also forage for grass (which they soon finished off), greens, insects, arachnids, and worms in their pen. My mother gives them organic cereals, trays of barley and other grasses (already picked), and various already mostly eaten fruit and vegetable rinds (pumpkin, watermelon, etc.).
Update 2/28/07: I give the chickens the organic feed each day with a tablespoon of oatmeal, half a piece of multi-grain bread, about eight cut up grapes, and a piece of torn up kale most days. I toss in some shredded carrot and other greens as I have them.
Oyster Shells, Grit, and Water:
Feed adult hens crushed oyster shells for the calcium to make their eggs. They can also be fed ground egg shells including their own. Be sure the shells are ground because if they are not, the chickens may become egg eaters and break their own eggs. Chickens also need small rocks or grit for their gullet to grind food. Also, be sure they always have clean water to drink.
Also, see my section on crop problems including infected and compacted crops.
Insects, Worms, etc.:
Finally, chickens also eat insects and small animals. Up until the age of about two months, chicks prefer insects. As adults, chickens will eat certain small animals if they catch their attention but mainly stick to a vegetarian diet. Chicks can be fed earthworms, crickets, mealworms (beetle larvae), spiders, beetles, etc. which can be bought at pet stores, bait shops, or caught by hand. Sometimes feeding live insects may be needed if the chicks do not take to chicken starter food. Chickens used to be used quite a lot to eat insects and other small animals in people's gardens.
My chickens LOVE mealworms. For information on caring for and raising mealworms, see my new mealworm page.
Chickens make a lot of mess. Most chicken runs just have dirt or grass (which soon turns to dirt) bottoms. It is hard to keep that clean. Some people put cement down on the ground. That can be hard on chickens' feet. Cement or tiles or other hard surfaces can be scraped with a shovel or squirted down on occasion.
For dirt-bottomed cages, use a flat edged shovel to scrape the bottom of the cage every week or as needed if you have just a few chickens. Throw the mix of dirt, chicken feces, feathers, leaves, and left over food in a hole in the ground or some other compost or manure pile. If the floor is dirt, replace with fresh dirt as needed. It can be helpful to cover the dirt (or other kinds of floor) with pine shavings or straw. I put pine shavings in the chickens' house and straw in their run to help control the mess. When it rains, it is muddy and very smelly.
If anyone has tips on keeping a chicken run and house clean, please contact me.
If you have laying hens, remove the eggs every day unless you are leaving them with a broody hen.
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