homesteaders I know allow their chickens access to unlimited food, but
this method is really only appropriate for situations where you're
raising broilers and want them to bulk up as quickly as possible.
With laying hens, you'll run into several problems when providing
unlimited food. First of all, many chickens will pick through the
trough to choose bits they like best (generally corn), which means you
waste a lot of food and the chickens don't get the right
protein in their diet.
Meanwhile, your chickens will overeat,
which means they put on body fat and lay larger (but fewer) eggs.
In the end, you've got overweight, unhealthy hens and have spent a lot
of money to get there.
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The solution is simple
--- give your chickens a measured amount of food
each day. I like to feed the flock first thing in the morning,
scattering the pellets in a wide arc across the ground of their pasture
so that everyone gets a chance to eat. If you're doing it right,
the food will be all gone in fifteen minutes or less...except for just
enough lost kernels that the flock stays busy scratching for the rest
of the day. You'll also get the side benefit of chickens that
comes running when they see your face.
The amount of food your
chickens need for optimum health will vary
based on your individual birds (especially based on their body type),
but one suggestion for layers is 0.25 pounds per chicken per day in the
summer and 0.33 to 0.40 pounds per chicken per day in the winter.
Assuming you don't heat their chicken coop, your flock will need the
extra food in the winter so that they can stay warm. You'll also
want to reduce the protein content to about 15.5% during the cold
months (easy to accomplish
by throwing in a bit of plain
When I started raising
our chickens, I decided to test them out and see
how much food they needed to lay well. I started by providing
than I thought the flock required, then reduced their rations until I
started to see a decline in egg production. It just
so happens that my experiment matches up with the recommendations above
--- I'm currently feeding my flock exactly 0.25 pounds of food per
chicken per day. When they're on new pasture with lots of weeds
coming in from the garden and plenty of scraps coming from the kitchen,
I feel like I might be able to reduce that amount further, but I
haven't been brave enough to try yet.