There is the expression "That's Chicken Feed", meaning its at the lowest end of the range. So, what exactly do chickens eat ?
The answer is anything. The chicken approach seems to be give it a try and see what happens. Part of this seems to stem from the fact that if another chicken sees you with something then they will probably take it and eat it themselves. It is not uncommon for a worm to be shared across 5 different chickens in a pass-the-parcel type manner.
The "standard" food is mash, which is made from vegetable matter and either formed into small pellets that are about twice the size of a grain of rice, or a dusty type of mixture, they may also contain additional vitamins and some calcium in the form of ground down shells, which is necessary for the formation of the shells on the eggs. They also need a plentiful supply of water that may be enhanced with apple cider vinegar or various supplements which helps to keep the parasites at bay.
Chickens do enjoy a varied diet and the often get one or more of the following in addition to their normal meal.
- Corn. They love corn and this is normally used to allow them to put on weight, we mix this with their normal food, however the quantity must be kept low, except in the winter months when we add a little more to help with energy production.
- Vegetable offcuts. Any offcuts from vegetables are put into a saucepan and boiled up to make a mash, since this is what shop based mash is based on. You just have to be careful not to put too many potato peelings in at a time as this can cause them problems.
- Salad stuff, any salad stuff that is getting a little limp or should be heading towards the compost bin in a couple of days time, then the chickens will love it. lettuce, tomatoes, spinach, you name it, a chicken will eat it.
- Anything in range of a beak. If you are trying to grow something and its in range of a beak, the you will loose it. this can include things on the veg plot or things in tubs such as Strawberries, Figs, etc.
- Anything that moves and is noticed by a chicken. This can include spiders; ants; beetles; grubs; caterpillars; flies plucked from the air; centipedes, etc.
- Worms are a firm favorite. Any digging in the garden is difficult if the chickens are able to join in.
- Odd unfortunate moving things that turned into food and were noticed by us have included frogs, slow worms, fledgling baby birds, a very large green caterpillar that was the size of your little finger. We hate to think what else they have found that we have not noticed.
- Eggs. Any "duffie"- an Egg with only a membrane and no proper shell, if found by other chickens will be recycled into a new egg. We try and discourage this, but if you don't get there in time, they will have eaten it.
Chickens must be wormed regularly too, this is via an orally administered mixture. Once administered, we dispose of the eggs for 10 days as advised by the vet.
So, Chickens are the ultimate reprocessing engine. Stuff goes in, eggs come out, yet the eggs always taste the same, you never get the "hint of beetle" taste on an egg. We've never understood quite how they do that !