Feeding backyard poultry

A well fed chook is a happy chook. And a happy chook is a healthy chook. Healthy, happy chooks lay more eggs. Understanding the role of good nutrition and ensuring your little backyard flock is fed a balanced diet is the single most important thing you can do to keep your hens healthy. A good diet, together with the provision of a natural environment, will go a very long way to avoiding poultry health problems entirely.

Back in the day, about fifty years ago, when just about every household kept a few chooks, everyone knew exactly how to feed them. Or thought they did. Every home kept a smelly container under the sink — the chook bucket — into which all that day’s food scraps were thrown, from raw potato peelings up to and including the tea leaves.

Once a day the malodorous contents would be tossed to the hens. Maybe a bit of pollard mixed with water or, sometimes, skim milk, might be added. If they were lucky the hens would dine a la carte, from a trough. Mostly, people just chucked the sloppy mess on the ground and left the birds to fend for themselves. In the evening the flock would fight over a few handfuls of wheat scattered in the run. The really lucky ones, those that lived out of town, were able to get out of the henhouse and forage for a bit extra during the day.

There were almost no bags of balanced mash or pellet feeds available back then. Even if there were most people would have disdained their use, and the cost. It all sounds a bit inadequate, and it was, yet many people still look back on those days convinced that the little flock of hens they grew up feeding in this hit and miss manner were healthier, happier and laid tastier eggs than today’s pampered backyard chooks.

The reality is that they weren’t, and they didn’t. Lay tastier eggs that is. Backyard poultry were frequently underfed, suffered from dietary deficiencies and all the health problems that go with them.They were usually scrawny meat birds that laid fewer, smaller, eggs and had much shorter lives. Chooks were cheap and people didn’t expect too much from them.

There’s nothing wrong with feeding scraps to your chooks, they can play a valuable role as an addition to a balanced diet, but not as a sole source of food. And no raw potato peelings or tea leaves!