My family looks a lot like I had always imagined growing up. I have a husband, two kids, and a family dog. But, our family today is a little different than I had imagined twenty years ago. The difference? Our family includes a flock of feather babies! If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that we added chickens to our family after we moved from California to the east coast. The flock has made such a difference to us every day – from our hobbies to our diets and our lifestyle.
We love being able to spoil our chickens with a wonderful home. Their coop and run has plenty of room that allows them to spread their wings, roam on green grass and have access to fresh air. Talk about happy chickens! Chickens have also taught my family about the joy of interacting with nature, responsibilities of caring for animals and appreciation of the food they provide for us. Keeping backyard chickens has allowed me to instill values into my children that will last a lifetime. We learn lots of life lessons from them! The chickens are amazing helpers in the garden as well. They make the most wonderful compost and help control backyard pests and insects. Not to mention, watching them play and peck in the garden provides plenty of entertainment and companionship. Still, one of the biggest benefits we’ve found with raising chickens is the eggs they produce. Each day, I’m amazed that our hens can turn a few handfuls of Purina® Organic layer feed into fresh, nutritious eggs for my family, but I’m even more amazed when we eat the eggs.
Tasting a Difference
One of the reasons why I love my chickens’ fresh eggs is their proximity to me. You can’t get much more local than food sourced from your very own backyard. When we got our first eggs, I realized the difference was much more than the location. To me, fresh eggs simply taste better; they have a wonderful rich taste and texture. I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t truly know how an egg should taste until I tried one from my flock. When I first cracked open an egg from my girls, I was amazed. First, I could not believe how electric orange the yolk was. The store eggs I had enjoyed all my life paled in comparison. The vibrant yolks of our chickens’ eggs fascinated me. I also could not believe how firm the egg whites were. Unlike the ones in the store, the clear white portion of the egg did not run and the yolk did not break. The entire egg stayed together. Even when I went to use them in cooking, it took a bit of whisking to get the eggs to release and combine. Fresh hardboiled chicken eggs can also be difficult to peel. I have come to learn that that all of these characteristics mean freshness! Once our chickens started providing us with eggs and we realized the differences, We have never looked back to the grocery store aisles. I am proud and a bit shocked to share that we haven’t purchased eggs from the store in over six years.
Feeding for Quality Eggs
To be able to enjoy these delicious eggs every day, we make sure our flock eats just as healthy as we do. We are lucky to have so many feed products available that have been scientifically formulated to keep hens happy and healthy. I love that we can tailor feeding programs to meet the flock’s needs and ours. To dive deeper into how poultry nutrition impacts egg quality, I had a moment to explore the feed recipes from Purina Poultry with Dr. Patrick Biggs, a flock nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition.
“It’s important to feed based on life-stage,” Dr. Biggs reminded me. “Just like humans, chickens need different nutrients as they grow. It’s important to switch from a complete starter feed to a complete layer feed at 18 weeks of age.” Young chicks require a complete feed with 18 percent protein. This protein provides building blocks that support healthy growth. For my growing chicks, I choose Purina® Organic Starter-Grower. I like that the feed includes everything my growing chicks need.
“When it comes to laying hens, a complete feed is just as important. Adult laying hens need 38 different nutrients. Some of these nutrients are important for hen health while others are channeled directly into eggs,” Dr. Biggs says.
A few of the most important ingredients to look for include:
– 16% protein and 3.25% calcium for day-to-day performance
– Amino acids for feathering and egg production
– Added omega-3 for added egg nutrition
– Marigold extract for rich, yellow yolks
– Calcium, manganese and trace minerals for bone and shell strength
– Vitamins A, D and E for feathering and egg production
So how exactly does this translate into wholesome eggs? The calcium in layer feed promotes strong bones and egg shells; providing the correct amount will prevent those pesky cracked shells we all despise. Therefore, the amount of calcium in a layer feed for your ladies will need to be higher.
You should make the switch to layer feed when your girls are 18 weeks old or when the first egg arrives. Gradually introduce it over 7-10 days. Little by little, mix more layer feed into the starter-grower each day. Many hens will eat the mixed feed without noticing a difference. When hens are eating both feeds, stop feeding the starter feed and make the complete switch to all layer feed. It is important to give your birds enough time to adjust to the new diet. Most birds will adjust within a couple of weeks but some can take a month or longer to fully transition to their new diet.
If you’re anything like me, once your hens start laying, you’ll quickly notice a difference compared to store-bought eggs. It’s amazing how efficiently hens can convert the feed they eat into eggs for our family!
A huge thank you to Dr. Biggs for helping to answer our poultry questions. If you have any poultry nutrition questions, feel free to leave a comment below on this blog post. Questions will be open for one week following this post.
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This post has been sponsored by Purina Animal Nutrition, as such I received feed for my flock and will also receive feed in the future to share my opinion with my readers. However, my opinions are based on my individual and unique experience; for optimum organic flock performance, Purina Animal Nutrition suggests changing to or starting a flock on Purina® Organic poultry feed. Based on my experience in 2016, I believe this line of feed has been amazing for my flock and I encourage you to try it too!
20 thoughts on “My Pet Makes Me Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner”
Dr Biggs.. I have 2 hens that even though it is winter seem to have a least one very watery (clear like, very large) poop every night. It has been snowing and raining and flooding here , but they are dry. What do you think think could possibly be from ? Thanks ..Worried Mamma
That’s a tough question. If you suspect an illness, then you should consult a veterinarian to diagnose and possibly treat the problem. If your hen is still active and is not showing any signs of being sick, then this is not likely to be the issue.
My other thought goes to a broody hen. When hens spend long periods of time sitting on eggs or in one spot, they will not go to the bathroom there. This means that they store up the droppings over a long period of time. When they finally move out of their “nest” area, they will relieve themselves. The longer it stays in the body, the more moisture it accumulates, and this is why they are often large and watery.
I am a little concerned if it is truly clear. That is a sign that she isn’t eating, but she is still drinking. A broody hen’s dropping will still be the typical brown or green dropping. Try observing the hens to monitor their behavior. Are they eating regularly? Are they laying eggs? Are they being stressed in some way that is causing them to not want to come out and relieve themselves overnight? It could also be weather related. Perhaps they are so warm that they don’t want to come out at night in the cold to go to the bathroom. If these two hens are behaving normally, then I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
Thanks ,They have dropping boards so they are using that at night and that is where I mostly see these poops. They are eating, but the poop is like summer poops with food after they have drank a lot of water. I will keep an eye on them still. So far everybody seems fine. They have molted and are starting to lay pretty good again. Not sure about the 2 in question. I have 27 hens and ‘s sometimes hard to know who’s laying if I am not out there it. I have noticed a couple are also trying to be broody. I keep kicking them out, so nothing serious yet 🙂
I like to give my chickens cabbage or kale a few times a week in the winter to provide them some fresh greens. Can they eat other greens like chard, collard greens, etc.?
This is a great question – and one that we receive often.
Fruits and vegetables are a fun treat for your birds, as long as treats and scraps consist of no more than 10% of their diet. 90% of your flock’s diet should come from a complete feed designed for their life stage.
Greens are great for hens, as they can result in darker, richer yolks. Lettuce, kale, turnip greens and chard are great greens options. Watermelon, strawberries and blueberries are common fruits.
Most importantly, there are foods to avoid feeding your birds: Onions and garlic are not recommended, as they can give your eggs an off-flavor; Avocado pits and skins contain a potential toxin called persin; White potato peels that have green areas contain a toxin known as solanine, which can be fatal; Undercooked or dried beans contain a toxin known as hemagglutinin; Rhubarb contains anthraquinones, which can have a laxative effect. Rhubarb damaged by severe cold can be poisonous to chickens, due to the high concentration of oxalic acid; Never feed moldy or rotten foods to your birds; Very salty foods will result in excessively wet feces and may be toxic if enough is eaten.
Here’s a graphic we made to show which foods chickens should avoid: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/542683823831675666/.
I have had most all farm animals all through my life. Now that I am widowed I have come down to chickens for a lot of reasons -size is a lot of it- feed costs compared to horses ??? – plus I just love their beauty and the fact they give me eggs and help in the garden. Even if they did not lay eggs I would still have them just because I love them- (except for a couple roosters- lol)
This is my first year to raise chickens and I am having a blast. The weather in Texas has been great so that helps. I have been told that the chickens slow down laying in the winter mine have gone crazy laying.The only problem I have is some of the hens lay outside of the coop how can I stop that? Love my girls.
Congrats on your first year with chickens! It sounds like you are doing a great job!
Once a hen begins laying, it’s her tendency to lay in the same spot moving forward. To encourage hens to use nesting boxes, first be sure that the boxes are comfortable.
Create several comfortable, clean and cozy nesting areas to prevent hens from becoming competitive in the coop. A general rule is to provide one 1-foot square nest box for every four or five hens because the flock will take turns using the boxes. Line each nest box with a thick layer of straw or other bedding to cushion the eggs and keep them clean and unbroken. Keep the nests up off the floor in the darkest corner of the coop.
Be sure all the nest areas have a uniform environment. If the hens decide one nest is preferable to the others, they may all try to use that nest, causing themselves stress, which can lead to egg breakage or egg eating. On our farm, we built the nests into the coops. Outdoor access to the nests allows us to collect eggs without disrupting the flock.
Once you are sure the nesting boxes are cozy and comfortable, try coaching your hens to use them. Place golf balls or decoy eggs in the nesting boxes to help the hens understand the use of the nesting boxes.
All of our girls are doing really well, and all of their eggs have good hard shells, dark yolks, etc., but we have one girl who we call Summer, and he egg shells are super thin with calcium deposits in clumps on the shell. What can we do to help her shell quality? We give them oyster shell, grit, and feed Layena Crumbles by Purina. We also give them grapes, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, and pick dandelion greens for them.
Thank you for your question. Is it possible that Summer is eating more of the goodies than the rest of your flock? The treats that you mention are fun for chickens, but if a bird eats too much of them, she might not eat the rest of her meal. This could be compared to a person who has a sweet tooth – they see the desserts, eat them first and then don’t eat the rest of their meal.
A balance between complete feed and treats is the key to maintaining healthy nutrition in your flock. We work to follow the 90/10 rule: 90% complete feed and 10% treats.
Hens require 38 different nutrients in feeds formulated specifically for them, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and energy. Let’s take a look at one of these important 38 required nutrients: Calcium. If Summer is filling up on treats, she likely isn’t consuming her daily allotment of complete feed. What happens now?
Without enough complete feed, she won’t have the calcium she requires to produce strong, high-quality eggshells. Instead, she will draw from her calcium reserves (her bones) to produce eggs, potentially resulting in a weak skeletal structure.
Try keeping an eye on Summer and seeing if she goes for the treats first. If she does, try limiting the treats that she receives so she starts eating more of her complete feed. Problems with egg production are often difficult to diagnose because there are so many things that have an impact on egg production and shell quality.
Age – as birds age, the quality of the egg shells tends to decrease.
Molt – if it is time for her to molt, then her shell quality could be suffering
Overweight – as birds get larger, their eggs also increase in size. The amount of calcium in each egg is the same (about 2 grams), which means a bigger egg is going to have a thinner shell because of the increased surface area.
Illness – if Summer got ill at some point, that could have a long-term impact on her shell-making ability.
What is the best supplement for hens going through a hard molt?
To help birds through molt, switch from your layer feed to a high-protein feed, such as Purina® Flock Raiser®. For organic flocks, try switching hens to Purina® Organic Starter-Grower feed when molting begins in order to maintain organic status and provide a higher level of nutrition.
Protein is essential for feather regrowth since feathers are made up of 85% protein; therefore, the added protein in the diet can help give birds the extra oomph they need to get back to their normal selves. Once hens begin laying again, transition back to a complete layer feed.
Here are a few more tips to help birds through molt: http://bit.ly/2jjpoOL
Glad to be reading this as I’m preparing to get my first chicks in a few weeks!
Should I be feeding my rooster something other than layer feed?
Great question! Ideally, roosters should not be fed a layer feed because they do not need the added calcium. We recommend feeding Purina® Flock Raiser® poultry feed or Organic Starter-Grower to roosters to give them the extra protein they need. A couple of ways to do this: You could have separate pen/feeder for the rooster and separate him at meal time. We know this isn’t always a practical option, though.
Another alternative is to have a feeder for the rooster that’s placed a bit higher than the hens’ feeder, since roosters are often taller.
If he tends to eat “his” feed most of the time, then it is not likely to be an issue if he occasionally helps himself to “her” feed. This is a common problem when you house roosters and hens together. They have different nutrient requirements but it is difficult to reason with them and to convince them to only eat their feed. As long as he spends the majority of his time eating his own feed, it shouldn’t be a problem if he is eating some layer feed.
Here’s some more information on raising roosters: http://bit.ly/2kxgRZF
Love your blog. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
My four year old Buff Orpington hen started crowing last summer. She stopped laying in early fall and hasn’t started back yet, and her comb has turned from red to pink. Any ideas about what’s wrong with her and what I can do about it?
I noticed that some of my hens have small black specks on their combs, they are very healthy and produce eggs regularly, should I be worried?
Usually aslong as they are eating and drinking and laying eggs they should are healthy but without a photo it is difficult to tell what is going on. Feel free to send me a photos- it could be nothing, dry pox or even frostbite- at least those come to mind first.
My hens have started eating their eggs. They have a large pen and go outside when it is warm enough. I have tried everything and still can not get them to stop. I also can not tell exactly which ones are doing it (have roughly 30). Is it just time to cull them?