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Here's how to choose the best food for your chickens.

When it comes to choosing the best food for your chooks, there are so many options to choose from. A walk down the feed store isle, can be quite daunting with wall to wall options and so many promises. I am going to show you a quick and easy way to pick which foods are good for your chickens, and which ones you should steer well clear of. I am getting a bit ahead of myself though, so I first want to ask you a couple of quick questions.

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Do you have your chicken's best interest in mind?

When we first take home our cute baby chickens, we make all sorts of promises to them about how well we are going to look after them, let them out every day, clean their pen, and protect them from harm. Kids are especially good at these promises. However, a few months down the track and they have turned thier pen into dirt, pulled all the mulch from the gardens and they haven't laid an egg yet. It can be easy to get frustrated with them and throw those promises out the window. The kids are now too busy with soccer, cricket and dancing to let them out for a walk and you're now the taxi driver trying to fit it all in. When it is time to make a decision for your chickens, please make it from the same heart that took home the baby chick for the first time.

Will you choose a healthy diet for your chickens?

The chook food industry has some very close similarities with the people food industry, so I will use people food to help show you some points. In the modern world we all now have a good understanding of healthy food (fruit and veg, fresh meat, dairy) and junk food (processed foods, macca's, pie 'n' chips). If we largely have a healthy diet with occasional junk food, we can expect to have a largely healthy body. If we reverse these diets and have mostly junk food and occasional healthy food, we can expect health problems like obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure etc. It is fair to say that if we live on junk food we will most likley die earlier and spend a lot more time (& money) at the doctors.
The same applies to chicken food. There is healthy food and there is junk food. If we have a healthy diet, we will have a healthy happy chooks that lives longer, lays better and needs less visits to vet. If we feed junk food all the time, we can expect our hens to lay less eggs and live a shorter life, filled with health problems and vet visits. Which option do you think is in the best interest for your chickens. The healthy one of course. Here's the big question though, Do your chickens get to make that choice for themselves, or are you choosing it for them? We choose for them, so we have to choose a healthy lifestyle for them.

The quick and easy way to choose your chicken's healthy diet.

Step 1 to making it easy, is to ask yourself where am I shopping for my chicken food? If you are not in a store that has pet food as their core business, you're in the wrong place. An easy way to find out is to divide the number of isles of pet food by the total isles in the store. Another easy way is to ask for help choosing a dog food. If you can't find someone to help, or worse you can't find anyone at all, walk out now.  

Step 2 is to find someone to help you. Depending on the type of chickens, how old they are, how active they are, and even your lifestyle will determine which foods will work best for you and your chickens. You need to be able to trust the person giving you the advice and be assured they will be there when you go back.

Step 3 is to check out their after sales service. Do they guarantee that you will be happy with your purchase? Chicken food has a high risk of weavils if it sits on the shelf for long, or stock isn't handled and stored following best practice. If you're not satisfied for any reason, will they swap it for something else or give me a refund? Do they make it easy or hard to deal with?
Step 4 Choose the best quality you can afford. I am going to show you a table below that outlines the costs to feed the average chicken on different types of food. I am also going to give you a checklist of items to look at to save you money on chook food. But before we get to that, I want to explain the different levels of poultry food to you. The higher quality level, the higher the nutritional value, which means you get more eggs, feed less and the bag lasts longer. The higher the quality the more ingredients are already included, like calcium grit, vitamin and mineral mixes etc. The higher the quality the healthier the diet is and your chickens will live longer and happier.

Starter Crumbles - This is a high protien diet for growing chickens from day old to at least 6 -8 weeks. This formula has a special medication in it to prevent coccidiosis in the young birds. To make a crumble, they make a pellet first and then hammer / roll it into a crumble. Some people 'beleive' they just use normal laying pellets for this. They don't. Normal laying pellets or mashes do not contain enough protien and have too much calcium for young chicks. The results are deformities and death, so please give them the right start to life.

Growing Crumble / Mash - These crumbles / mashes are designed to feed between the young chick and the adult hen 8-16 weeks. They contain same nutritional value as laying mash, but with less calcium. They are easy to digest as a crumble or fine mash too. There is some industry debate over whether this product is necessary, with some nutritionalists indicating that it is quite acceptable if you use the starter crumble for about 12 weeks and then go to a fine mash for 12-16 weeks, then to a course laying mash. This product is more used in commercial quantites for the sake of enconomics.

Course Laying Mash - These foods are the best you can buy for healthy, happy and laying hens. They are a combination of grains, vitamins & minerals and shellgrit. They produce the best egg production, egg quality (rich orange yolks) and have everything the chicken needs. The recipe for these products will generally stay consistent. They include products like Tropical Course Laying Mash and Riverina Red Label Mash.

Fine Laying Mash - These mashes contain all the ingredients of the course mashes, but are ground up into a fine powder. Fine mashes can cause problems with dust getting into the hens eye and can be very serious. These mashes are best served as a wet mash by mixing with water.

Laying Pellets - These are also complete foods, usually starting with the same ingredients, but pressure cooked into a pellet. Usually you will get lower egg production and quality. Pale yolks are a good indicator that the quality is getting low. Because you can't recognise the ingredients in the end product, it can be common to change the recipe for cheaper or lower quility ingredients without you knowing. The best pellet we have found is Golden Yolk Laying Pellets, but there are some real cheap and nasties out there.

Poultry Grain Mixes - These are a mixture of grains like corn, sorgham, wheat, sunflower etc. These are called supplementary feeds, which means they are not enough nutrition on their own. You need to add additional products including shellgrit for laying hens. Whole mixed grain is fairly economical, but if you don't want any seeds sprouting, the Cracked Mixed Grain is just the ticket.
This reminds me of the time a customer came into our store and said she wasn't getting any eggs and I think she had about 4 chooks. I asked what she was feeding them and they were getting hobby farm mix (which is a mixture of grains and chaff for all animals). So I sent her home with a bag of the Tropical Mash. 2 or 3 weeks later she popped in quite flustered and said she " I've got 36 eggs in her fridge and climbing, what am I suppose to do with them all?"

This is quite a common story we run into, so I can confidently tell you that when a customer tells me they are not getting many eggs, 9 out of 10 times they are feeding grains instead of mash.

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