Do you feel like you are spending too much to feed your hens? You probably are.
Your hens are bored. To combat their boredom they play in their feed, scatter it around their yard, and only eat the most desirable bits.
Why are they bored?
Chickens are foragers. They are meant to spend most of their day looking for their food and only finding it in small quantities. When we take that away by confining them in a smallish space with limited resources and a feeder full of all their daily needs they no longer have a job to do. Their brains cannot process this and they have nothing to do for the better part of their day. So if their space is small enough they spend time picking on each other and at their feeder, if the space is large enough they won’t pick on each other, but they will play with the feeder in their continual search for more and better food. Chickens just don’t process that they have everything they need in their small coop/run, they must continue to search for food.
What can you do about it?
Create obstacles to their food sources:
Hang hooks from the roof of the run (I used rubber bungee cords). Then attach food to those hooks. Apples, corn on the cob, lettuce, half or whole cabbages, anything that they will eat that can be impaled by a hook. When they peck at the food it swings away from them, creating a moving target that is harder to gobble up in a few minutes.
Create wire sided baskets. I folded some chicken wire up and attached it to the side of the run. I mostly place loose leaf greens in it. Sometimes fruit or vegetables that are softer sided that don’t hang on hooks well. The hens have to reach through the chicken wire to get at the food. It’s also a good way to give your hens opposable thumbs. the wire holds the food while the hens peck at it and tear the greens apart with their beaks. Also toss part of their daily ration on the floor of the run along with any food scraps you have. Whole grains never go to waste, when they get wet they just sprout and become more desirable to the hens.
Create sprouting baskets. Make a wooden frame to hold whatever sized sprouting tray you use. The frame needs to hold the tray in place even when the hens are pecking at it. I prefer that the tray hold the sprouts perpendicular to the ground, so that the hens can’t walk/poop on the tray.
Create a raised vegetable garden inside the run. Or better yet, create two or three for rotational planting/grazing. The important part about this is keeping the hens from digging up or completely consuming the young plants. You want them to be able to eat the food, but not be able to reach the base of the plants. This is where a wire fence comes in. Either completely covering the raised bed about 4-6 inches above the level of the soil, or if you have multiple beds completely surrounding the beds that are in their growing phase.
Plant a chicken garden along the outside of the run. This is similar to a raised bed, but only works if you either never let your hens out of the run to forage in your yard or you place a second fence around the run on the outside of the chicken garden.
Make suet or a flock block for them. I don’t recommend buying a Flock Block from Purina as the main ingredient is corn. Putting together a block of whole grains held together with molasses or rendered animal fat is messy, but not that hard. This is more of a winter time activity than a heat of the summer one.
Other factors that reduce feed cost:
- greater time free ranging across living plants (forest/grass/planted fields)
- more fruits/vegetables in the run
- more access to bugs/worms