When your young hens are laying eggs regularly, a proper diet ensures that quality egg production increases as the laying hens mature. Even free-range chickens benefit from additional sources of protein and calcium in their diets.
Commercially prepared chicken feed is formulated for a variety of age ranges and types of hens. The correct formulation provides the appropriate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins for the chickens, whether they're chicks or mature hens. Laying hens require 15 percent to 18 percent protein in their diets, beginning at 20 weeks or when they start laying eggs. While the chicken feed is formulated to fulfill all your laying hens' nutritional needs, hens also enjoy other foods as treats.
Chickens love to scratch up the soil and eat bugs, grit and greens. Scratch mix is an assortment of seeds and grains, such as barley, corn, oats and wheat, that you can scatter over the ground for your hens to enjoy. Limit the scratch mix to an amount that the hens can eat in 20 minutes. In addition to scratch mix, add a feeder with granite grit for the hens to peck. Your chickens need the additional grit to grind up the seeds and grains.
Hens enjoy greens of all kinds. The welcome tender grass clippings, fresh greens, vegetables and table scraps. Avoid feeding strongly flavored vegetables such as onions or garlic -- the flavor may transfer to the eggs the hens produce. Like scratch mix, limit greens to the amount your chickens can eat in 20 minutes. If you allow your hens to roam free or if you move them about in a chicken tractor on the lawn, avoid using fertilizers or chemicals on the grass.
Whether your chickens eat commercially prepared feed or they feed free-range, supplement with calcium to ensure strong eggshells. Ground oyster shell should be available in a separate feeder for the hens.
Chickens require a consistent water source. Your chickens drink between double and triple the amount of feed provided, so their water should be checked several times a day. According to the University of California, even a few hours without water may result in your hens becoming stressed and dehydrated. Stressed hens may stop laying eggs for days or weeks.
- Oregon State University: How to Feed Your Laying and Breeding Hens
- West Virginia University Cooperative Extension Service: Feeding the Backyard Laying Flock
- University of California Cooperative Extension: Suburban Rancher - Feeding Chickens
- University of California Cooperative Extension: Suburban Rancher - Why My Hens Stopped Laying
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With degrees in fine and commercial art and Spanish, Ruth de Jauregui is an old-school graphic artist, book designer and published author. De Jauregui authored 50 Fabulous Tomatoes for Your Garden, available as an ebook. She enthusiastically pursues creative and community interests, including gardening, home improvement and social issues.