What do Hens Eat?

What Chicken Feed is Made of

If you are what you eat, eggs are just a tastier way to eat corn, soybeans, wheat and sometimes flax.  The chickens, who turn the yucky vegetables into the yummy eggs (thanks, by the way….not a big veggie fan, here), also need vitamins, minerals and water to let them do what they do.  The main minerals are calcium and phosphorus, which make the handy carrying case called the shell.  

One thing laying hen feeds do not contain is hormones.  I hear that more often than Bigfoot, Elvis and Yeti sightings combined.  As a laying hen vet, I visit about 5 barns per week, 50 weeks per year, for the past 12 years, and I have never seen it done, or heard of it happening.  “Hormone Free Eggs” is on a par with saying “Vegetarian Cucumbers”.   Oh, and laying hens are almost never fed antibiotics.  The hormone and antibiotic issues are urban myths.   Laying hens are only treated if they are sick, and with modern egg farming practices, this happens very rarely.

Professional egg farmers are very exacting in their rations, and do a great job of providing what the hens need, but backyard rations may not be as precise.  I’ve been looking around on the web, and some of the advice out there on making your own backyard chicken feed is downright scary. Many online “experts”  I came across claim that chicken nutrition is “not as complicated as human nutrition”, and hens can easily be fed on items you likely have on hand.  Really? Let’s compare:

I am a relatively big guy, and weigh about 200 lbs (don’t tell my doctor).  That is 91kg or so.  I eat about 2000 calories per day so I don’t get fat(er).

A chicken weighs about 1.8kg, and eats 300 calories per day.  Proportionally, that is like me eating over 15000 calories per day!!  And, the hen doesn’t get fat!!  Even Michael Phelps’ amazing 12000 calorie per day diet wouldn’t keep up.

Before I start to moan about the unfairness of it all, consider that this same hen lays roughly a 60 gram egg, almost every day.  That is 1/30th of her weight.  That is like me having a 3kg (7lb) baby every day.   That’s disturbing, on a lot of levels.

Now….how important is proper nutrition for a healthy laying hen?  Tossing some various grains and greens to her would be like having Michael Phelps compete on a diet of Froot Loops and Twinkies.  They can survive, but they would never thrive.  Anyone who cares for hens owes it to them to find out what a balanced diet is, and provide it.

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