How'd you get your peeps?
If you hatched your own, just give them Medicated Chick Starter Crumbles, sprinkled about on the brooder floor for the first couple days, then in a feeder. Non-medicated starter is probably a better idea, it's a matter of choice, and availability.
Give them all they can eat, and keep fresh water in carefully cleaned waterers at all times. Now that's easy!
For a quick "pick me up", crumbled hard boiled egg yolk is excellent for them.
A tiny sprinkle of probiotics in their feed is always beneficial. A sprinkle of freeze-dried kelp can also be an excellent edge to a good start.
Got them by mail?
Chicks arriving by mail have been stressed pretty heavily. Give them feed and water as if
you hatched them yourself, and watch them closely. If they take to the feed and water
quickly, you may not want to bother with anything else. They should be fine.
If they do not take to the food and water, you can help them along by dipping their beaks.
You can also peck at the feed with your finger, it stimulates them to eat.
If they are still not responding, put marbles in the waterers. Show them how to peck, and keep their attention. Once you get a couple peeps to eat and drink, the others will quickly follow. You may want to add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to each quart of their water. Electrolytes will also help get them back on track. We are very proactive when it comes to shipped chicks. We take great care in offering everything we can to get them over the stress of shipping. Because of all the extras, we've never lost a chick that has been shipped to us, and have brought many back that were in really rough shape.
If problems persist with feeding, or you want to give them a quick pick-me-up, you can feed them some mashed hard boiled egg yolk in addition to the crumbles and supplements.
Are supplements or medications necessary?
Necessary? Maybe not. Beneficial? Absolutely.
Medicated Chick Starter has a mild Coccidistat (usually Amprolium), and that's all. It supplies complete nutrition for growing chicks. Antibiotics, Probiotics, kelp, super-grow supplements and the like are just not absolutely necessary. Some things are very beneficial. It is easy to over-use medications and supplements, and it is likely that you will do more harm than good. Read instructions carefully and follow them to a "T". Ask someone "what they think" who has lots of experience with the supplement or medicine you are about to use.
We never use any medications, wormers, or anything else as a preventative measure. We use them when it's beneficial to our bird's health. We don't consider it a good practice to give our animals anything unless it is totally necessary, then it is important to do things "by the book".
What do we feed them when they get older?
This is another matter of choice. You can feed Chick Starter all the way to 18 weeks if you like. Then you can put them on Egg-Layer, or Egg-Producer. Egg-Producer is intended to be used with scratch grains in order to provide total nutrition. We use Egg-Layer pellets, supplemented with a little bit of cracked corn in the winter, or scratch feed for a treat. We also feed them greens, or anything that comes from the garden, when we have it. From a production or breeding standpoint, any treats or snacks are bad things.
Kelp and Probiotics are always beneficial to the birds on a number of plateaus. As with any other supplement, you need to learn everything you can about it before you use it.
My wife insists on table scraps for the chickens. I don't like it, but I'm sure you all know who wins out on that point. The only things they should NEVER get are large amounts of salt, raw potato peels, or chocolate. Table scraps may or may not be good for them, but they sure do love them! It definately affects how well they lay. It slows them down a bit, but it makes them happy!!! Free ranging through the yard is beneficial as well, and allows them access to bugs, stones, dirt, leaf mold, and other nummies that they crave.
There are some scraps that are always good for your birds. Veggies are King. Salad scraps are excellent. They love pasta, and I think it's a good treat. Pasta is loaded with carbs and turns straight to fat in birds, so you need to be careful.
The key to treats is this...
Give treats as treats. Treats are not a meal. Use them just as you would use treats with children. There's nothing wrong with a bowl of ice cream after dinner. There's a lot wrong with a gallon of ice cream FOR dinner. Used in the right fashion, Treats are very beneficial for your birds. They add joy to their day and heighten their spirit. Treats are a spot of sunshine in their day. Used sparingly, you'll be doing them justice.
What brand of feed?
I don't think it really matters. We are currently using Agway feeds. They have provided us VERY good results. We have used QF&F feeds in the past, and they also gave us very good results. Just remember, the cheapest solution is probably not the best solution. A good, quality feed costs a certain amount to produce, and if you find a feed that is 1/2the price, you can bet it's old, not complete, or someone's ready to go out of business. The couple extra bucks spent are definately worth it when it comes to feed.
How much do feed my peeps?
Give them feed free-choice. That means to keep it available at all times. Broiler peeps are treated differently. They will overeat and develop problems, so feed is sometimes withheld for certain periods.
I have some numbers from my feed bag, and I will post them, although I have found that chickens will eat however much they need, and they really don't care what the bag says.
If you feel that your birds are eating "too much", there's a problem. You can get the best value out of the bird's diet by maximizing their feed efficiency. Probiotics are the answer to that. Keeping your birds free of worms is answer #2.
Weeks of age Type of Feed Feed consumption for time period
0-8 Medicated Starter 4 lbs./bird
8-20 Chick Grower 12 lbs./bird
Over 20 weeks Egg Layer 1/4 lb./bird/day or...
Egg Producer (50-50 mix with scratch grains) 1/4 lb/bird/day
More on Snacking...
You can choose all the options; organic feed, scraps, supplements, grains, cracked corn, and free-ranging, and have good results. Just become aware of what certain things do for the birds. Commercial feed is wholly nutritious, and all the birds need it to thrive. A bucket full of lettuce or corn is not wholly nutritious, but will put put some color in their eggs and body. Free ranging will do them a world of good as far as appearance is concerned, but can also cause problems such as exposure to worms and bad bacterias. A little of this and a little of that each day will not harm them, but too much of a good thing can. Treats can and will set back their development, but will not hurt them. They can be a good thing if they are used as part of your carefully planned feeding program. Choose a level that is acceptable to you. If treating them daily sets their egg laying development back a month or two, you can live with that and you enjoy treating them, by all means, Do It!!!
What is it that I Do???
Here at our farm, I change feed with the weather. I change with the season, because what I need from my birds changes. I'll start at the beginning of the year, and work my way to to the end.
January through June
I put all my birds on a strict breeder ration. I don't use treats, except for a pocketful of whole corn that I hand feed to whoever will accept it. That's one big Carhartt coat pocketful split between 100 or so birds. Maybe a pound or so if you weighed it. It's mostly for keeping the birds friendly, really. If the nights are very cold, I'll give them a little more. Corn makes fat, and fat makes heat, and that's what they need for those cold winter nights. I am trimming them down this time of year, purposely taking fat off the birds slowly. Not by decreasing their feed, but by changing their diet. When the weather is decent, they don't get any corn at all. I supplement with spinach as soon as it comes out of the ground. The vitamin K it provides is key for good hatching eggs. You want a nice, trim, excercised bird to make the best hatching eggs you can get. If there are any health issues, this is when I take care of them by medicating. In early spring as soon as the weather breaks, I start rotating birds out on free-range.
July through September
The gardens are overflowing, and this is the time of year the birds enjoy most. They get lots of watery vegetables. Cucumbers, spinach, tomatoes, lettuce, squash, corn on the cob, they love it all. This time of year, my feed bill is the lowest it ever gets. I give them pelletized layer feed free choice, and all the garden food they can handle. Spinach is their staple feed this time of year. They spend a lot of time in the yard and in our compost piles and strawberry patches. I only let one breed out of their runs each day to roam, but I build temporary fences to extend their runs at all the coops.
October through November
I continue feeding the birds Free-Choice layer pellets, and start adding cracked corn to the mix, at a rate of about 1 pound cracked corn to 50 pounds feed. I want to start putting winter fat on them, and make sure they have all the energy they need. ALL the birds are free range this time of year, earning their keep by cleaning up the gardens, and grinding up the compost that has been spread on the gardens. They do a fabulous job, and I don't have to run a tiller till spring.
When the gardens are closing out, I sometimes use cooked rice to supplement. It's very high in carbs. It blows straight through the birds, allowing them to store fat quickly. I'll likely get skewered for mentioning it because it's one of those "snacky" things that needs to be used in very small amounts for very short periods of time. The nutritional value is poor but the energy value is high. It's a good way to put "bad" bulk on your birds. It's very easy to overuse, and you shouldn't mess with it if you're not really up on nutritional values.
By this time, the birds have gathered all the winter weight they need, and I just try to maintain their body weight. They have eaten so much food from the garden, and had so much exercise, they are going to do very well through the cold months. I continue feeding layer pellets, cracked and whole corn. I increase and decrease the corn with the weather, and watch my birds for a level of fat that I'm comfortable with. I can't explain how to "see" fat, I can just tell by how "full" they appear. You never want a fat hen, just a healthy hen. Just as with birds, we men all like a little meat on our women. It's a true sign of healthiness and it points out a good breeder :)
If the birds get too fat, they will develop laying problems, most notably prolapse. It is a condition where their insides come out with the egg. It's not pretty, and 5 out of 10 times, it will ruin or kill a good bird.
Back to January again...
Time to start all over. During the good weather you should have done all your work on your coops, and taken care of any problems with coops, space, holes, and everything else that crops up. Try to look ahead to next spring, and have facilities finished for birds you may wish to add. Around here, there is always more building and changing and fixing to do!!!