The quantity of feed consumed by a chicken is dependent upon many factors; the age of the chicken (those that are growing need more), the size, purpose (egg layer or meat), whether the chicken is molting or brooding a baby chick, and whether it’s used for breeding purposes. To thoroughly answer the question requires many pages, and all those considerations are addressed in a large variety of books on the subject of raising chickens. After you have chickens you’ll soon learn how much your flock is consuming and can serve up that amount on a daily or twice daily schedule while avoiding excessive waste. You’ll learn about the importance of providing plenty of clean water, too.
In addition to figuring out the quantity issue, it’s vitally important that you learn about your chickens’ digestion, recommended nutritional guidelines, the various forms of chicken feeds, foods that are poisonous to chickens, and every aspect of how to care for them – before ever bringing one of them home. Owning one book that covers all these issues is a necessity and this should be taken into consideration while you’re gathering all the data necessary to help you decide whether raising chickens in your backyard is suitable for you.
In these poor economic times, the question of how much a chicken eats is often asked for the purpose of determining the affordability of getting a few chickens, so this article will focus on that connotation. Scientists have researched the nutritional needs of poultry and determined the correct amount of protein, fats, calcium, and every other compound depending on age, intended use, size, and other important factors.
Commercially available feed must, by law, contain those necessary ingredients and lately, the price of these feeds has risen dis-proportionately to income just like other items we’re accustomed to buying. However, no matter the cost, we still have to buy this feed to ensure that our chickens will thrive and remain free of conditions related to poor nutrition as well as remain as insusceptible to disease as possible.
So, if money’s tight, it’s probably wise to wait until you can afford to spend money on this hobby. If you have no other hobbies, you may get by with rationalizing the expense by replacing whatever you currently have entered under the “entertainment” column of your budget with getting chickens – a great choice that can be fun and educational for everyone in your household. Of course, this choice should have the blessing of everyone in your family in order to guarantee a peaceful existence.
One aspect of how much a chicken eats can be compared to our own behavior. How much do you eat when you’re at a restaurant and presented with a platter brimming with flavorful, attractive, delicious tasting food – more than you normally eat in three days? Speaking for myself, I don’t go out to dinner unless I’m hungry; then I eat every morsel and worry about the consequences later. A chicken will behave in similar fashion and keep eating until its little crop is full when provided with a generous serving of a treat they absolutely love – the ‘doggie bag’ concept is lost on them!
That’s why you shouldn’t give them snacks or table scraps as a replacement for the professionally formulated feed they require for best health… just as you tell your kids to “eat your dinner before dessert”. In the long run, it won’t save you money to skimp on high quality feed, as egg production and the general health of your flock will decrease. They do love treats, though, and giving them out while training and taming them is a pretty standard tradition.
What about “Free-ranging”, won’t that save a bundle on feed? Chickens love to wander around pecking at everything in sight, devouring “greens”, stopping along the way for a refreshing dust bath, and ‘chatting’ with each other continually throughout the day. Being left free to roam assures they get plenty of exercise, but it’s still advisable to make proper feed available, because there’s no way of knowing whether they’ve consumed, for example, all their required amounts of amino acids from the protein they’ve found.
It will save some expense, though, especially while grasses and other vegetation are thriving. An important downside, though, is that your chickens will be more vulnerable to attack by predators while roaming free, and will still need a complete ration of feed and safe housing during the winter in addition to the supplements while ranging. Besides, unless you have several acres, this is not a viable option. And, do keep in mind the danger in letting your chickens feed where insecticides have been used.
Of course, one thing many chicken owners splurge on is their chicken housing. The choices are dizzying, with some being equivalent to a castle.The temptation is great, especially when you consider the possibility of being selected to participate in one of those popular “coop tours”. These wonderful and aesthetic coop designs make your property look great, but, to tell you the truth, your chickens don’t expect (or need) anything elaborate or pretentious. If you’re even a little bit handy with a hammer, nails, and a saw, you can come up with a safe and habitable coop your chickens will be more than happy with (if you can’t afford both a classy coop and feed, the chickens would no doubt favor your spending on the feed).
The purpose of this article is to discourage anyone from taking on the responsibility of raising chickens without first understanding the cost issue. Hopefully, this straight forward presentation of what needs to be considered when looking at the possibility of participating in this ‘sustainable backyard chicken’, lifestyle will prevent the abandonment issues prevalent amongst other pets. Whether you can afford to buy the amount of feed your chickens need is of paramount importance. Chickens are delightful creatures, well worth investing in as pets, but owning them should be thought of as a long term commitment not affected by whether or not its current popularity ebbs or flows. After all, their lifespan can reach fifteen or more years.
Scott Duncan has been raising chickens and fitting and showing them for nearly thirty years. He’s the author of The Art of Taming Chickens – How to Tame Your Backyard Flock‘, a handbook sharing the tactics he uses to tame his own flock.