In January, I presented a class on chicken feed at City Folks Farm Shop here in Columbus. I came to the topic of whether or not to feed free choice. By the sound of the murmurs in class, I gathered that most attendees fed their chickens free choice. This somewhat surprised me. Chicken feed is one of the highest expenses of keeping poultry. My strong recommendation is NO, do not offer feed free choice. Here are my reasons why:
1. A free-ranging hen only requires about 1/3 lb of chicken feed a day. If fed twice daily, your hens should be finishing their breakfast and dinner in about 15-20 mins. If there is feed left after that time, you have feed them too much.
2. Any feed remaining in the feeder is a HUGE attraction for rodents, wild birds, insects and other unwanted pests. My area of Columbus is already suffering from a rat infestation. I certainly don't want to add to the problem.
3. If your feeder is located outside, use caution to avoid the rain and damp. Once feed is wet, it can easily grow molds which put your poultry at risk for sickness or disease.
4. Wasted feed. We've all experienced this. Feed is kicked out of the feeders by scratching, bumping into the feeder, etc. The hens will pick out the yummy whole or partially cracked grains and leave the powdery protein and vitamins. Rationing encourages your girls to clean up the small feed particles in the bottom of the feeders.
5. Rationing encourages your hens to forage in the yard. 'Nuff said.
6. Don't offer too many "treats" to your hens. You want your chickens to eat their feed, which has been formulated to be a well balanced diet.
7. Reduce your feed bill. Maximize your feed dollar and your hen's feed conversation ratio.
So, ration your girls feed. :-) Feed your hens twice a day, at roughly the same time each morning and evening. If you have 6 hens, you should be feeding about two lbs of feed a day--one pound in the morning and one in the evening. You can feed treast in the middle of the day, especially if they are not able to range in the yard. Remember, a fat hen still only lays one egg a day.