Yes, it is possible to overfeed chickens and cause them to put on too much weight, especially if you offer too many high energy treats or the wrong types of food. Normally, chickens on the right diet do a pretty good job of naturally regulating their hunger and intake of food. For example, chickens that free-roam and live off the land are much more likely to instinctively satisfy their appetites. They will eat bugs and grubs.
If you keep chickens, you need to make sure you do your best to educate yourself on their specific dietary needs and requirements. While chickens do a good job of stopping eating when they have had enough to eat; with the wrong foods, they are likely to eat in excess long before the signal to stop kicks in. This most often occurs in chickens that consume treats too regularly and too often.
Also note that certain treats can be more troublesome than others; especially those that are higher in fats, calories and carbohydrates. So the treats you give your hens, the serving sizes and the frequency is all very necessary. The average hen will eat around ½ cup of feed per day.
Coupled with their feed, you should try to limit treats to about 10% of their daily intake. You can start out by weighing the feed, but after a while you will get use to the amount they need. Have it in mind that an excessive intake of fatty foods such as suet (flock blocks) and sunflower seed can cause Fatty Liver Hemorrhagic Syndrome. It is as nasty as it sounds and it can kill your hen without much warning.
Fat are known to build up around the liver and the liver becomes soft and more prone to bleeding. A hen straining to lay an egg can simply bleed to death. According to reports, hens who suffer from this disease are usually 20% or more overweight and are laying hens.
Chickens can be fed in a number of different ways; all of which should let them meet their nutritional needs. However, it will largely be up to you, as the chicken keeper, and what works best for your schedule. If you have the time, then it is probably more preferable to offer them pelleted feed throughout the day. But for the most part we are not afforded this luxury.
Therefore, it is ideal to feed them twice per day; once in the morning and once again in the evening. When feeding food; you are expected to ensure that all of your flock are getting access to the food. Some of the more dominant birds may attempt to eat all the food at the expense of others. Therefore you may need to alternate the feeding schedule or consider getting additional feeders to ensure all of your birds obtain the nutrition they need.
What are the Signs of Overfeeding in Chickens?
Chickens are notoriously non-picky eaters. These birds will consume everything from crickets and worms to blades of grass and seeds. However, even though chickens can eat about anything and probably will, the number of special treats they get should be limited.
Treats like yogurt, cracked corn, and even mealworms are all things your chickens will love. Yet, there is a limit to how many treats would be too many, and too many treats can have negative consequences on your flock’s overall health. Here are a few signs your chickens are overfeeding.
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Change in laying patterns or egg quality
When chickens have a steady and healthy diet, their eggs are also reliably consistent in quality. This is because egg quality is relative to the overall health of the chicken. Once you start noticing that the eggshells from your chickens are thinner, misshapen, or otherwise flawed, it’s something to pay attention to. Also, if the chicken’s eggs are not being steadily produced, it could be a sign they are overeating.
Change in legs and feet conditions
Note that when chickens gain weight, it puts undue stress on their legs and feet. Unfortunately, this extra stress can make it hard for the chicken to remain mobile. In some cases, changes to the legs and feet will be quite noticeable. For instance, if your chicken starts having a lot of issues with bumble foot, it could be because of the extra weight they are carrying causing ruptures in their feet to allow in bacteria.
Change in temperament
If your chickens don’t feel well, they will be much more touchy and irritable, much like any other animal. If you do not mess with your chickens a lot, or you don’t consider your flock to be tamed, you may never notice a change in their attitude. Making a change in the frequency of treats they are getting can yield a pretty quick change in their temperament once they feel better physically.
What Can You Do to Remedy Overfeeding in Chickens
If your birds have overeaten over a period of time, then weight gain is inevitable. It is important you help them to reduce their weight safely, and thankfully there are certain practical things to start with.
Obese hens do not generally get enough exercise. If they are limited to a coop and run, there probably isn’t enough room for them to get enough exercise. It really is a vicious cycle- the hen becomes obese, doesn’t want to exercise, so they eat more.
They also have a tendency to lay oversized eggs. Although oversized eggs may sound wonderful, these oversized eggs can cause egg binding, a potentially fatal occurrence in the hen. Egg binding can lead to peritonitis and the hen will die if not treated.
You can help them to exercise with games such as cabbage tetherball. Throwing a handful of corn or scratch around will encourage them to hunt and peck for their treats. A suet cage filled with greens hung at just above head height will make them eager to do some jumping jacks! A rolling treat dispenser will promote a game of hen football.
Even just allowing your birds to wander over the pasture looking for bugs and greens is very healthy for your hen, both physically and mentally. It’s very necessary too that they remain as active as possible over the long winter months. Boredom and inactivity can lead to some very nasty habits such as picking, feather eating and a general feeling of unrest!
Feed Your Chickens Appropriately
Chickens are omnivorous; meaning they can, and do best with a combination of both animals based and plant based foods in the diet. Therefore, it can be easy to provide a sub-optimal diet without even realizing – especially as most chickens will eat what we put out for them (even if it is damaging to their health).
You also have to ensure you keep a sufficient stock of high-quality feed at all times. And while some keepers may make up their own feed for their birds; you need to be careful to ensure it has everything it needs for your birds. This includes both the macro-nutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates) and the micro-nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) Otherwise, you will be risking the health of your flock and you may even notice a drop in egg production.
Pick Healthy Treats for Your Chickens
In moderation, treats can be healthy and beneficial to your chickens. As long as you avoid the poisonous or toxic treats, you can still enjoy giving your flock some goodies from time to time. Here are a few treats that your hens will love;
- Mealworms – a great source of protein, but make sure you don’t over-feed.
- Black soldier flies – a great source of protein, but make sure you don’t over -feed
- Scrambled Eggs – Although this sounds strange, but if your chickens need a protein boost and you have some extra eggs lying around, scramble them up and serve them!
- Corn – chickens love corn, and if they have the choice, they will probably eat the corn out of their feeder before their crumble. So, feed sparingly and separate from the regular feed
- Watermelon- chickens go crazy for watermelon! They love it, and it’s a great treat for a hot summer day. The extra hydration is a bonus!
Chickens can overeat, gain excess weight and suffer from a range of negative health outcomes. Whether it is a lack of understanding, or general mismanagement, either way it is critical that our birds are not overfed. Making sure you not only feed them the correct food but also the right amount of the food is your most important job as a backyard chicken keeper! In addition to this, keeping your birds active and letting them roam around will do wonders for their health and well-being.