I feed my hens on a layers pellet; there are many available from different suppliers, but I chose Country Smallholders, as they have the Vegetarian Society seal of approval (i.e. there’s no dead chicken in the feed) and don’t use hexane-extracted soya. I can’t remember why hexane extracted soya is a bad thing, just that it is.
Anyway, the girls seem to love it, but then they love picking flies off their own poo so perhaps I’m worrying too much.
They get the pellets ad lib during the day, and supplement their diet by free ranging in my orchard; beetles, flies, butterflies and frogs (yes, frogs. Don’t watch. You’ll be sick.)
This works fine until a rat or squirrel decides to join in the fun by helping itself to the pellets - getting a cat is a good option here if you can’t be bothered faffing around with traps.
Vermin should not be a problem if you manage your birds well and don’t leave food out at night - I take in the pellets in the evening and give the hens a small handful of mixed corn each for supper which they get disproportionately exited about. Don’t give them more than they can clear away in about fifteen minutes, however much they sulk and shout. It really is just a treat and a ‘slow-burning’ food to keep their crops from rumbling at night.
Fresh water is obviously an essential - I know we’re supposed to give them fresh every day but I’m afraid mine only have this luxury every third day and don’t seem to mind. I keep their house and run very clean and I think they need to pick up antibodies from somewhere.
It’s best to keep the food and water in a part of the run that’s covered to prevent wild birds pooing in it. This should keep disease to a minimum.
Both my feed and water are hanging which prevents them kicking straw, poo, soil etc into it, and they can kick fairly high when they want to.
Treats are a good way of endearing the birds to you; although it can backfire as in the case of Bibby, from whom I get no peace whatsoever if I want to sit in the orchard for a tea break and am foolish enough to introduce a biscuit into the scenario.
Many people give their birds left over food (although this is illegal if you take DEFRA’s line.) but in our house there never is any. Also I worry about the refined starches in things like pasta and rice and imagine it must be rather clogging in the old crop.
Best, really, to stick to apples, tomatoes, grapes, sunflower seeds and raisins. The last two in moderation as the seeds are fattening and the raisins a little too ‘cleansing’.
They also love greens, so if you’re not lucky enough to be able to let your birds out to free range, hang up greens, cabbage, bolted lettuce etc in the run, just high enough that they need to make a bit of effort pecking it. This stops them getting bored, and bored hens are like bored teenagers, without the knives.
In the winter I up the fatty treats a tiny bit, and during the moult I add a bit of protein to help them grow their new feathers. They enjoy tinned sweetcorn (the sugar and salt free variety), and the real thing, and sunflower seeds. Some hens really enjoy catfood and tinned tuna but mine just looked at me as though I was mad to offer.
There are a few tonics available - I put Poultry Spice in their food during the moult (smells like up-market curry powder; I think it’s the fenugreek) and occasionally they get an oregano-based tonic, Herban, in their water. A small amount of apple cider vinegar (not the food grade one, you need the one with ‘bits’ from a horse feed store) in the water is said to keep their digestive tract acid and therefore healthy.
You can put a garlic clove in the water to keep their blood healthy. Can’t hurt, and doesn’t taint the eggs.