August 4, 2012
Properly feeding your chickens starts when they are just chicks. Most chicken owners begin their chicks with chick starter at the recommendation of the hardware store folks and that has become fairly standardized for the delicate digestive tracks of the young chicks until they are at least 8 weeks old.
Diana Ambauen-Meade, founder owner of the Bellingham, Washington-based Scratch and Peck Feeds, says that after 8 weeks of chick starter, “they graduate to grower feed, which they would stay on until they are 18-20 weeks and then to layer feed.”
This progression allows for the more general nutrient needs of the chickens to be met at the time they are needed. Some backyard chicken owners will skip grower feed altogether and simply use the chick starter until they run out and then go directly into layer feed depending on the consumption of a very small group of chicks. This is acceptable but not preferred as some nutrients found in grower feed are less dominant in chick starter.
When deciding on adult feed, one must choose between medicated and untreated, organic and conventional, and mash and pellets. Simply put, a whole variety of options is suddenly available and there is debate over each of the options to consider.
Medicated feed is dominant in the hardware store market. This feed contains small amounts of antibiotics that keeps digestive tract bacteria and potential diseases at bay, however the domination of medicated feed has led to the breeding of so called “super bugs”, diseases that are immune to antibiotics. Many opponents of treated feed claim that the antibiotics found in medicated feed can kill too much good bacteria and therefore hurt the chicken’s health and immune system more than it helps.
Organic feed is naturally more expensive, and this option really comes down to the pocket book and one’s opinion on whether or not organics is a warranted cost.
The most cost-effective option for a small flock (3-5 chickens) is typically medicated conventional mash, however bigger flocks are more likely to trend towards the pellets. This is where Ambauen-Meade sees a clear better and worse, “Between mash and pellets, I believe the mash is the more natural and healthy of the two.”
To understand the difference, Ambauen-Meade explains that, “when feed is made into pellets, they grind it very, very fine, and then its basically cooked at very high steam temperatures and strained into pellet shapes.”
Ambauen-Meade believes that processing cooks out most of the nutrients that the chickens need from the real grains. “[Pellets are] basically like Cheerios, they taste good but they’re probably not all that nutrient dense.”