As a Nutritionist, a great part of my job is helping farmers get the best out of their animals. I get a lot of questions from people new to keeping chickens, so I thought it was worth sharing some answers.
Do I have to offer my chickens oyster shell grit if they are on a layer feed?
There is adequate calcium in most high-quality layer feeds to satisfy a laying bird’s calcium requirement and maintain good eggshell quality. However, if birds have access to lower calcium feeds (e.g. foraging or household scraps), providing access to oyster shell grit can be a good idea. Oyster shell grit can also aid gizzard function as it helps to grind up food. This is a bonus but not a necessity, as chickens tend to pick up gritty bits from the environment while free ranging. Oyster shell grit should be supplied ad-lib in a separate container and not sprinkled on top of feed.
My chickens are losing their feathers – what is going on?
There are a few things that could be happening so get your detective hat on.
- Your chickens could be going through a moult, where they lose then regrow their feathers. It usually happens as day length shortens heading into winter. Chickens going through a moult tend to go off the lay and it can be worthwhile to move heavily moulting chickens onto a lower calcium feed such as NRM Pullet Grower Pellets, until they have regrown their feathers and are just about ready to start laying again.
- Chickens could be getting bullied by other chickens. Whilst jostling for pecking order is normally harmless, occasionally it can turn into bullying and hens get targeted. This behaviour can increase due to boredom and/or not enough coop space. One trick is to occupy chickens with other things to peck at such as a pumpkin with holes drilled in it or some of their layer feed sprinkled outside. To protect target chickens, cover their bare skin with anti-pecking spray.
- You could have a lice or red mite issue. Lice are easy to spot on your chickens, but red mite are harder to find as they live in the coop and appear during the night to suck blood from chickens. Take a torch out to the coop in the evening and if you spot any, head to your local Farmlands store for a suitable treatment option.
Do I have to use a pullet feed for my chicks as they get older?
No, you don’t have to move chicks over to a pullet grower feed – but it is the best thing to do if you want to grow great chickens to enter your laying flock. When chicks get to 6–8 weeks old, best practice is to transition them from NRM Chick Starter Crumble over to NRM Pullet Grower Pellets to ensure they keep growing well without becoming overly fat. Pullet feed generally does not contain a coccidiostat (which is found in most chick starter feeds) so if pullets do start laying eggs early, as long as they have been on the Pullet Grower for a minimum of 14 days, their eggs are safe for human consumption. Aim to transfer pullets to layer feed just before they start laying.
For more information contact your NRM Nutrition Specialist or the friendly team at your local Farmlands store.
Article supplied by Stacey Cosnett, NRM Nutritionist.