There are several well proven systems of feeding chickens. The ideal is to give each hen as much food as she will eat in a day, and no more. This is in the neighbourhood of 4 oz. of food per day. The food will be mash and grain. The grain feeds the bird, and the mash produces the eggs, so that the mash is particularly important. House scraps can be included in the mash, and if by chance grain is temporarily unobtainable (as may occur in times of emergency), laying mash alone has to be fed.
FIRST SYSTEM OF FEEDING CHICKENS
Early morning. Feed ½ oz. of wheat and maize buried in the litter, or oats or barley.
Midday. Layers of mash, made up by one of the firms dealing in poultry foods, mixed to a crumbly moist condition with water or house scraps and vegetable water. Feed in troughs, as much as the birds will clear up in forty-five minutes. For this feed you can use one-third house scraps if available. Such things as plate scrappings, crumbs, rinds and unwanted scraps of cooked vegetables are all good. If necessary, mince these and steep them in boiling water before use. Potato parings, nettles and parings from other roots can be boiled, the water used in the preparation of the mash, and the parings themselves cut up small with a knife before being added.
Evening. Wheat and maize fed in troughs, or oats or barley, as much as the birds will eat. This can be given by artificial light in winter, and if desired the grain can be soaked for twenty-four hours.
SECOND SYSTEM OF FEEDING CHICKENS
For those away from home all day.
Early morning. Feed ½ oz. of wheat and maize, or oats and barley in clean litter. Have an open special hopper containing dry mash, i.e., the special laying mash sold by specialist firms. Leave the dry mash hopper open until midday or evening, when kibbled maize and wheat can be fed in the trough—as much as the birds will eat.
THIRD SYSTEM OF FEEDING CHICKENS
Give the whole of the grain feed in the morning, and the whole of the mash at night, with green food (if available) at midday.
As with every hobby or occupation that concerns livestock, it is very important to work to a routine. For one thing, the birds expect it, just as they expect the sun to rise daily. For another, when a routine is once established, the work becomes easier, and as nothing gets neglected, the results are better. Should the owner happen to be called away for a time he is better able to give instructions to a substitute if he has learnt a satisfactory routine of necessary tasks.
Early morning. Scatter half ration of grain in litter. Attend to ventilation. See to the water supply, remembering always to rinse vessels before refilling.
Midday. Feed if necessary (see above systems). Remove droppings in intensive houses. Collect eggs. Give green food, in the rack, suspended in the house, or if the fowls run in the open, give the green food outside, suspended from wooden “ gallows.” It is better for them to take it from just above their heads, than to trample it among the litter.
Evening. Feed as required. In winter, empty water vessels afterwards. Attend to windows and ventilation. Move any broody hens to a wire-floored coop. Collect eggs and close mash hoppers.
If you happen to be away all day and cannot get someone to take over the midday duties for you, remember to feed wet mash in the mornings in winter and grain at night, but in summer give the wet mash in the evening.
Every week the straw or hay in the nest boxes should be removed. If it is clean, it can be used the following week as floor litter.
Remove droppings: this is done daily where birds are entirely confined, weekly where they are allowed a run.
Clean and polish windows. Allow the birds the use of the dusting box. Fill up grit boxes with grit and oyster shell. Paint perches with insecticide such as nicotine sulphate compound or creosote and paraffin.
Scour and scrub all vessels. Dust sand on the droppings boards to assist when they are scraped.
Inspect each bird and in case of ill health take necessary steps at once. Jobs that have to be done as needed include the repair of houses, washing and scrubbing all through with disinfectant, using a scraper for corners, supplying water, grit and green food, and renewing litter. These things should always be in mind when the birds are visited, and attended to as soon as possible.
Above are the simple routine tasks that constitute proper feeding of laying hens. It is well, however, that the poultry owner should get to know and understand a little more of the principles underlying the feeding rules, and also a little more of the general routine of the larger poultry farm.
There is, of course, some considerable difference in the quality of grain sold for poultry feeding. Good maize is rich in Vitamin A and good wheat is rich in Vitamin B. That is why these are mixed for feeding. To judge good grain is a matter for the experienced farmer, but wheat with black ends, i.e. mouldy wheat, should be rejected. The taste of wheat should be sweet, and moist. Dry, dusty corn is not too good, but red, hard, small wheat is good, old grain being
preferable to new. Maize does not vary much in quality, but dirty-looking kibbled maize should be rejected, and yellow maize is better than white. Maize can be fed whole.
The practice of feeding germinated corn is. Good. Germinated corn is more palatable, and very rich in Vitamins B and C. It is also more digestible. You can prepare this in the following way. Take the full ration of corn—wheat, oats, barley or mixed—and cover it with water in a bucket. Leave for twenty-four hours, then drain off the water and leave it for another twenty-four hours. Empty the grain into a box in heat and cover it with sacking. In warm weather the grain will be ready for use in another twenty-four or thirty-six hours, but in cold weather it may take three or four days before the sprout on the grain is from one-eighth to one-sixteenth of an inch long—the state in which it can be fed to the hens.
Grain so sprouted may become a little musty, and to prevent this a very small quantity of copper sulphate may be used. Four ounces of copper sulphate is dissolved in 1 qt. Of soft water, and kept for the purpose, 1 tablespoonful being used only to 2 gal. Of the water in which grain is to be soaked.
Grit is needed by fowls to aid in the digestion of foods. Two kinds should be kept handy and supplied as the fowls use it. Flint or gravel is one kind, and with this should be used oyster shell, or cockle shell, or limestone grit.
If laying hens are well fed they should, on retiring to rest, have full crops, and it is useful to handle them occasionally at night and see if the crop is well packed. It is well to remember that good well-bred pullets can rarely be overfed, and given a well-balanced food supply they will look after themselves in this respect. Over feeding with starchy foods at the expense of the others is, however, to be avoided, as this may lead to ill health.
So far all that has been suggested is simple enough and since the backyarder is not, as a rule, anxious to raise chicks, but is content to buy his pullets, and discard them when they cease to be profitable, there is no reason why amateur poultry keeping should, for most owners, be any more exacting than this.
Should you wish to know which of your birds is failing to lay, trap-nesting will solve this problem for you. Trap-nesting is merely the practice of trapping the hen in her nest when she lays an egg. By it you can tell immediately. Which hens are laying, and the quality of their eggs. A trap is made of braided flaps that are rolled up until the hen enters the nest, when she releases them, so that they fall, like a shutter, and trap her in the nest. Any poultry keeper can construct a trap for himself with plywood, laths and some canvas or webbing for the hinges.