Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Getting Chickens to Eat Their Added Vitamins and Minerals

Years ago, I experimented with a locally mixed layer feed for my hens.  It smelled so delicious I wanted to cook it myself, and they loved it!  After a while though, I began to notice a buildup of powder at the bottom of their feeders.  It would compact in the bottom and block the actual feed from coming down where they could reach it, so I had to scoop it out every so often.

This was the vitamin and mineral mix the feed company had added in.  In addition to being finely ground and difficult for the birds to pick up with their beaks, I think the taste wasn't very appealing either, so they just ate around it.  Seemed like a waste, and they didn't get the vital nutrients they needed.

I eventually gave up on that feed, bothered by the constant waste.

Fast forward a couple of years and I began mixing my own feed with added vitamins and minerals.  Guess what?  The bottom of my feeders started clogging up again and my birds didn't touch the relatively expensive vitamins I so carefully mixed in with their feed.

There Had to Be a Better Way

Wasting money is bad.  So is having birds that aren't getting the nutrients and amino acids they need to utilize their feed.  All of my animals shared the same water, so water soluble vitamins weren't an option.

Enter soaking.  Soaking is the very best way to make sure our birds get what they need.  It allowed me to put other things in their feed too, such as herbal wormer or other powdered additives to boost them from time to time.

Additionally, soaking makes the grains softer and easier to digest.  The birds love getting their daily soaked grains!  

If you pack water for your birds, you'll be delighted at how much less water they consume when eating mostly soaked grains.

How to Soak Chicken Feed

If you're feeding a homemade whole grain feed, soaking couldn't be simpler.  12-24 hours before you feed it, put your feed into a 5 gallon bucket and fill water up to 3-4 inches above the top of the grain.  Pelleted and mashed mixes might not work as well so you may want to test soak a small batch to see how your birds react.

A few minutes before feeding, drain the grains of all water.  We accomplish this by using a two part bucket system.  The top one has holes and can be lifted out of the intact bottom one.  This only works if the grain level is below the top of the bottom bucket.  We lift the bucket, set it on sticks across the top of the bottom bucket, and walk away to make coffee or whatever morning routine we're at that day. 

With a smaller flock, I used old cake pans and sprinkled the vitamins over the top before soaking.  Depending on where you'll be leaving them, you may want to select containers that can be covered to keep pests out.  I had two pans so I could pick up yesterday's when delivering today's feed.

In warmer weather, soaking can be done outdoors.  If you're using Fertrell's Poultry Nutri-Balancer, like we do, I strongly suggest soaking your grain outdoors.  The smell is rather pervasive and not something I like to have in the house.  

In freezing weather, soaking needs to be done indoors.  To avoid the odor issue, I wait until I feed to mix the vitamins in.  The grains are moist and the vitamins stick to them, although maybe not quite as readily as when they're soaked together.  

Feeding Soaked Grains

Make sure you feed only what your birds will eat in a day.  Standard birds eat an average of four ounces a day; less for banties.  In extreme temperatures, it's better to feed twice a day to avoid spoilage potential or freezing.  They can't peck the individual grains if they're frozen together.

To make sure my birds can self feed when they need more food, I always leave a dry mix of grain out for them, without the vitamins.  They prefer the soaked grains so I haven't had a concern about them getting enough of the vitamins - they'll usually only eat the dry grain when they run out of wet.

When you see how much they love eating soaked grains, how easy it is to manage and how effective it is for feeding minerals, vitamins and other powders without waste, I think you'll be converted, too.

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