Hatching eggs. Chicks. Or perhaps four-month old pullets. You spend time researching which stage of chicken-hood works best for you as a starting point. Maybe you are looking forward to hatching out eggs in your home-built incubator? What about your local farm & ranch or feed store that carries chicks? You can simply pick out the ones you want. Or if you are in a hurry, maybe you opt for something older and closer to laying age? However you start your flock, feeding them is an important part of their care.
You want them to thrive. Nutrition is important, starting with the finely ground chick starter (whether that is a supplement to their outdoor foraging with their mother or their sole source of food). Once they reach the point of laying eggs, you make the switch to layer mash and perhaps some scratch grains. Maybe you add in fresh greens or bits of squash, grapes, or melons? All chickens need grit, calcium, vitamin A and D, salt, grains (such as oats, wheat, and even corn), and protein. But for all the grains, mash, greens, or free-range foraging, do you think of you chickens as being an omnivore? Or better stated, do you realize they are omnivores?
Given the chance and/or access to small animals, a chicken can become a predator. For example, on my urban homestead, mice don’t worry about the cats… it’s the chickens that control the rodent population!
My hens are capable of more than just pecking at a mouse. With their keen eyesight, they can track one and catch it. Once caught, the neck is broken so death comes quickly. The rest … not so much. The hen who has the mouse, runs about showing off what she has. This results in the rest of the flock trying to get the deceased rodent. It is a morbid game of ‘catch me if you can’ and usually results in the mouse changing hens several times. But at last, one lucky hen eats the mouse whole.
For those of you who eat your eggs, don’t worry. The eggs from the rodent-eating hens taste just the same. In fact, if you allow your flock to free-range, your chickens may be snacking on other small animals such as worms, little snakes, and even tiny lizards. These creatures are great protein sources for your flock.
If the idea of your flock eating other animals is too much for you, don’t worry. Commercially made chicken feed is a balanced source of nutrition including protein so you can keep your chickens in their coop and run.
So folks, go ahead and continue to feed your chickens as you always have. They will enjoy scratch grains, layer mash, and fresh greens. But just be aware that your chickens are omnivores and mice have a habit of showing up on a homestead (and even with hardware cloth, a mouse can usually squeeze through an opening and end up in your chicken run). Your hens have many talents. In addition to providing eggs, add ‘mouse control’ to their resume.