Chicken feed is created with a healthy flock in mind.
It contains all the necessary nutrients for chickens to live a long, healthy life based on their stage of development.
Even though this is true, supplementing their feed is a good idea. The basic philosophy behind supplementation is that you are giving your birds the best possible foundation to fight off disease.
8 Supplements for All Year Long
There are many supplements you can add to your chickens’ diet all year long. Supplementing your chickens’ feed is basically a matter of personal preference and your birds’ individual needs.
Although some supplements are season-specific or simply more plentiful at certain times of the year, feel free to supplement the following regularly:
All chickens need grit to grind up food because they have no teeth.
Any time is a good time to add probiotics. The word probiotic means “for life.” Simply put, probiotics are beneficial bacteria that work to boost immunity, improve digestion and appetite, and help feed conversion.
Probiotics come in powder or liquid forms. Or offer your chickens sourdough bread, kefir milk or yogurt.
One word of caution, though: A little dairy goes a long way. A chicken’s body is only able to digest small amounts of lactose, a milk sugar.
3. Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a combination of silica, sodium, magnesium, iron and a mixture of other trace minerals. Add 1½ cups of DE per bag of feed for optimal health benefits:
- Improves the quality of eggs — they are bigger and stronger shelled
- Stimulates metabolism
- Boosts appetite and weight gain
- Helps rid birds of nasty worms and internal parasites
- Helps heal scratches, cuts and wounds
- Lessens pain and inflammation in aging birds
4. Dried Herbs
Nettles, parsley, sage and spearmint.
5. Flower Petals
Rose, violet, marigold, pansy and sunflower petals.
Scrambled eggs, oatmeal, pasta, rice, greens, berries and breads.
7. Garlic and Apple Cider Vinegar
As we’ve previously discussed, these are natural health boosters for chickens.
8. Calcium for Laying Hens
Crushed oyster or egg shells.
Summer equals fresh garden goodies. Your garden plants should, by now, be hardy and tall enough to withstand even the most persistent chicken beaks.
Nothing beats fresh produce — vegetables are packed with nutrients they take in from the soil. Chickens especially enjoy tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage, greens, corn and berries. Toss your flock some cherry tomatoes on a nice summer day, and let the games begin. My gals love a rousing flap-happy game of mini-tomato soccer.
Dandelions and Weeds
Do you dread dandelion season? Well, fear not, because all parts of the dandelion are superhero supplements. Overflowing with calcium and many other essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, dandelions also help with digestion.
Dandelions and weeds in general can be your best ally against disease. They’re plentiful. They’re accessible. And they’re full of immunity-boosting nutrients.
Autumn’s cooler temperatures and fewer daylight hours cause chickens to molt. Molting can cause minimal to extensive feather loss. Feathers consist of about 85 percent protein, so extreme molts can spell trouble.
Most chickens won’t be phased in the least by their feather loss, but some will need a boost of protein to aid in regrowth.
Some excellent sources are:
- Dry cat food
- Scrambled eggs
- Black oil sunflower seeds
- Meal worms
Winter can be tough on chickens. Even though you may live in a temperate region, you’re likely to experience colder temperatures now and then. So be prepared.
Scratch is a mixture of corn and grains. Make it a little more tasty and interesting by adding dried berries, raisins, oats, sunflower seeds and flaxseed. Your chickens will peck it like crazy.
Check out this handy grazing frame that helps chickens get the nutritious greens they need:
Give scratch only as a supplement and not as a replacement for regular feed because, depending upon the ingredients you use, it has little protein and lots of carbohydrates. It is a great winter treat, though, because as your chickens’ bodies work to digest the corn and grains, they’re actually creating body heat.
Want to offer your flock the jampacked nutrition of fresh seeds and grains all winter? Sprouts to the rescue.
Lisa Steele, from the Fresh Eggs Daily Blog, says, “Sprouted seeds and grains are actually more nutritious than either feeding them whole or grinding them into feed.” You can easily sprout your own delicious seeds for chicken peckin’ pleasure — try sprouting clover, alfalfa, lentils, oats, mung beans and peas.
Healthier and Happier
The key to a healthy chicken flock is proper nutrition. Incorporating the supplements above into your flock’s diet should improve their overall health, making them not only healthier but also happier.
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Editor’s Note: This is Part 4 of a 5-part series on chicken keeping for beginners. Previous articles were The 3 Best Breeds for Beginning Chicken Keepers, 5 Simple Tips for a Healthy Flock of Chickens and 5 Signs of Illness in Your Chicken Flock. Next, we’ll discuss ways to interact with your flock.
- Steele, L. (2013). Fresh eggs daily: raising happy, healthy chickens…naturally. Pittsburgh, PA: St. Lynn’s Press.