Feeding your hens (or chickens), a complete and balanced diet is essential to making sure they stay happy and healthy. Layer hens are omnivores so can eat a wide variety of different foods.
A good quality commercial poultry feed should be the main component of your hens’ diet to make sure they get all the nutrients they need. These feeds can come in pellet, mash or crumbed forms and are made up of a mix of grains (corn, oats, soybeans), grit (ground oyster shell or limestone) and vitamins (calcium). Feed can be provided in a feed dispenser or container, and other seeds and grains (such as wheat and corn) could also be scattered in the environment to supplement their diet and encourage natural foraging behaviour.
In addition to a good quality poultry feed, a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables can also be given daily. Examples of raw fruits and vegetables that can be fed include: vegetable peels, bananas, apple, berries, carrot, bok choy, silver beet, spinach, cabbage or broccoli. As a treat your hens can also have some cooked food such as rice, pasta, beans, or bread in small amounts .
Your hens’ feeding needs will differ and change depending on their age, breed, size and if they are laying eggs. If your hens’ eggs are soft or thin-shelled it may indicate a calcium deficiency in your birds meaning a calcium supplement may be necessary. To ensure your hens are getting the correct amount and type of food it is important to check with a veterinarian, experienced poultry owner, the local poultry association or local poultry fancier’s society for feeding recommendations.
Hens should never be fed food scraps that contain anything high in fat or salt, and do not feed them food that is rancid or spoiled. Specific types of food that hens should not be fed include raw potato, avocado, chocolate, onion, garlic, citrus fruits, uncooked rice or uncooked beans . If you are unsure about whether a type of food is safe to feed your hens it is best to check first with an expert.
To help your hens digest their food make sure they have a constant supply of grit such as ground up shells, stones or gravel especially if they do not have access to an outdoor area with dirt or grass. Where hens have access to garden plants, including pulled weeds, make sure none of them are poisonous to chickens. A weed lawn instead of a monoculture lawn is recommended for free-range hens.
Clean water must of course always be readily available and, in colder months, make sure any ice preventing access to water is cleared each morning. Water containers are best placed so that hens do not have to bend down to access them.
Any change in your hens’ feeding behaviour or a lack of appetite can also indicate something is wrong. If you notice any changes in your birds feeding behaviour or appetite you should consult a veterinarian.
Check your state/territory Department of Agriculture or equivalent for information about swill feeding laws in your state. For example, in Queensland under the Biosecurity Act 2014 swill feeding of poultry is banned.