Feeding Hens

If a poultry raiser does not produce any grain and keeps a comparatively small number of fowls it is often better for him to buy commercial mixed feeds.

mff-hensGood egg production and profitable returns from laying hens are largely the result of properly balanced rations composed of wholesome feeds.

A balanced ration is a combination of feeds which furnish just the necessary amount of nutrients to produce the highest and most economical egg yields.

To get the most profitable results, feed simple mixtures composed of home-grown grains and their by-products, supplemented with meat or fish scrap or milk, such as a scratch mixture of 2 parts cracked corn and 1 part oats, and a mash of 3 parts corn meal and 1 part meat scrap.

Importance of Proper Feeding

Feeding is one of the most important factors in egg production. On poor rations hens will live and even keep in fair health; but well-balanced, palatable feeds are necessary to get good egg production. The additional cost of a good ration compared with a poor ration is repaid many times by the extra eggs obtained. As a rule the simplest feed mixtures composed of home-grown grains and their by-products, supplemented by sweet or sour milk or some animal feed rich in protein, such as meat scrap, will prove most profitable and will produce eggs at the lowest cost.  There is no one best ration for all conditions, but many of the grains can be fed interchangeably, depending on their availability and price.

Use of Grains and Their By-Products

Corn, wheat, oats, and barley are the principal grains fed to poultry; kafir corn and buckwheat are used also, but are not so generally available and usually cost more. Corn and wheat are the two best grains and are about equal in value as poultry feeds, although wheat can be fed alone better than corn, which is inclined to be fattening. Oats and barley, on account of their hulls and higher fiber content, are not so good as corn or wheat. Rye is not well relished by fowls and is seldom fed. Wheat screenings or slightly damaged grains sometimes may be bought to advantage, their value depending entirely upon their quality and condition, but as a rule only sound grains in good condition should be fed to poultry, and moldy grains should never be used. The locally grown grains which poultry will eat freely may generally be used to the best advantage. A scratch mixture, consisting of whole or cracked grains made of a combination of any two or more of those mentioned, can be fed to advantage. It is not advisable to feed continuously any single grain, especially corn, owing to its fattening properties already mentioned.

A mash made of ground grains, mill products, and meat scrap should be fed usually in addition to the scratch mixture. Corn meal, wheat bran, wheat middlings, and meat scrap form the basis of a good mash, while corn chop, corn-and-cob meal, ground oats, and low-grade flour also may be added or substituted to advantage. Just as good results can be obtained from a simple mash containing 3 or 4 ground grains and meat scrap as from a highly complicated mash containing 10 or 12 products.

A large number of commercial mixtures both of scratch grains and of ground grains are prepared for poultry feeds, but the value of any mixed commercial feed depends upon its composition and the quality of the grains used in its preparation. If a poultry raiser does not produce any grain and keeps a comparatively small number of fowls it is often better for him to buy commercial mixed feeds. The average farmer, however, should feed home-grown grains supplemented with mill feeds and meat scrap, and the large poultryman usually can mix his own feeds to best advantage. When 2 or 3 kinds of grain are raised, and ground or mill feeds are not readily available, good results can be obtained by feeding only the grains, provided they are supplemented with meat scrap or milk.

Balanced Rations

A balanced egg-laying ration is a combination of feeds which furnish just the necessary amount of nutrients (protein, nitrogen-free extract, and fat) to produce the highest and most economical egg yields. Protein is a nitrogenous nutrient which supplies material for body structure, while nitrogen-free extract consists of the starches and sugars, and supplies heat, energy, and fat. Feeds used primarily to supply protein are meat scraps, fish meal, cottonseed meal, and milk products. Feeds especially high in nitrogen-free extract are corn, wheat, oats, and their by-products.

Egg-Laying Rations

All the following rations have been used with good results, but the reader, in making his selection, should choose the ration best adapted to local conditions and prices. Feeds not included in these rations may be added or substituted on the basis of their comparative analysis, provided the meat scrap or animal-protein feeds are not replaced by cottonseed meal or other high-vegetable-protein feeds.  All changes in the feed should be made gradually, as sudden changes may decrease egg production materially.

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Ration No. 5 is especially adapted for yearlings or old hens of breeds inclined to get too fat, such as the Plymouth Rock, Orpington, and Wyandotte. As corn meal, fed with the meat scrap, is very fattening, those two feeds are cut down in the ration.

With ration No. 6 feed all table scraps available, or vegetables at the rate of 5 pounds daily to 30 hens.

Five per cent of bone meal may be used in any of these mashes and the quantity of meat scrap reduced accordingly, or 2 per cent of bone meal may be added without changing the mashes.

Methods of Feeding

The scratch mixture should be fed twice daily, preferably in litter from 3 to 5 inches deep on the floor of the henhouse. Feed about one-third of the mixture in the morning and tw0-thirds in the afternoon. In the morning give only what the fowls will eat up within half an hour and at night enough fully to satisfy them.  Feed a mash either as a dry or moist feed in addition to the scratch grains.  The dry mash is the more common method; it should be kept in a hopper before the fowls constantly.  A moist (not sloppy) mash gives very good results when used by a careful feeder.  It should be fed only once a day, preferably in the morning or at noon, and only as much should be fed as the fowls will clean up in from 15 to 30 minutes.  A moist mash is very useful to use up table scraps and cooked vegetables and is greatly improved if mixed with milk. The quantity of meat scrap used in the mash can be reduced in proportion to the garbage and milk used. A light feed of moist mash sometimes may be fed to advantage to supplement the dry mash to pullets in the fall, if they do not eat the dry mash freely.

If hens show a tendency to become too fat, make them work longer for their feed by feeding the scratch grains in a deep litter; feed less scratch grain and reduce the quantity of meat scrap in the mash. It is sometimes necessary to close or hang up the dry-mash hopper until noon to make the hens work harder for their feed. Feed the same rations or combinations of feeds throughout the year and do not try to force the molt prematurely by special methods of feeding or by abnormal rations.

Hens working for their scratch grains in the coop litter.

Hens working for their scratch grains in the coop litter.

Quantity of Grain to Feed

The feeder must use his own judgment in deciding how much grain to give the hens, as the amount of feed which they will eat varies with different pens and at different seasons of the year. They will eat more feed in the spring while laying heavily than in the summer and fall when laying fewer eggs.  A fair general estimate is to feed about 1 quart of scratch grains and an equal weight of mash (about 1-1/2 quarts) daily to 13 hens of the general-purpose breeds, such as the Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, or Wyandottes, or to 16 hens of the smaller or egg breeds. This would be about 7-1/2 pounds each of scratch grains and of mash daily to 100 Leghorns and about 9-1/2 pounds of each to 100 general-purpose fowls. If hens have free range or large yards containing green feed a general-purpose hen will eat about 75 pounds of feed in a year and a Leghorn will eat about 55 pounds, in addition to the green stuff consumed.

Meat Feeds Make Eggs

Meat scrap or some other animal feed high in protein is the one essential constituent of the mash which can not well be omitted. In our experiments a pen of pullets, on free range, which did not get meat scrap or any other animal-protein feed, laid only 90 eggs each in a year, compared with yields of from 125 to 150 eggs from pens fed rations containing meat scrap. The eggs from the pen where no meat scrap was fed cost 2.2 cents more a dozen for feed than when the meat scrap was included in the ration. Fish meal or fish scrap can be used to replace the meat scrap and compares favorably with a good grade of meat scrap containing the same per cent of protein. Skim milk or buttermilk, either sweet or sour, is excellent for replacing part or all of the meat scrap. The milk may be used in mixing the mash if a moist mash is fed, or it can be kept before the fowls as a drink. If clabbered and fed thick or like cheese, hens will eat enough of it to replace all the meat scrap needed. A little bone meal makes an excellent addition to the mash or it can be used to replace part of the meat scrap. Green-cut bone, if fresh and sweet, will also take the place of meat scrap if fed at the rate of one-third to one-half ounce daily per hen. If too much is fed it will give the fowls diarrhea or looseness of bowels.

On general farms during the growing months, the fowls pick up many bugs and worms which furnish an excellent source of animal- protein feed, and therefore they do not need so much meat scrap as hens which do not have a” good range, but the bugs do not furnish meat feed enough to give a good egg yield. The use of table scraps and cooked vegetables also helps to reduce the»necessary meat feed from one-third to one-half, depending on the quantity of meat products in the scraps. The scraps are fed to best advantage if ; ground up, mixed with the mash, and fed moist.

High-vegetable-protein feeds do not entirely replace meat or animal protein feeds to advantage, but in sections where they are produced may be used to replace one-fourth to one-half the meat scrap. Of the high-vegetable-protein feeds cottonseed meal has given us the best results, followed by peanut meal, soy-bean meal, and velvet-bean meal, named in the order of their values. Not more than one-tenth of the mash should be composed of cottonseed meal, as the use of a larger proportion of cottonseed meal cuts down the egg yield materially and may affect the quality of the eggs, producing spots and blotches on the yolks which make them look bad. Other high-vegetable- protein feeds which can be used with success for poultry are gluten and linseed meal.

Green Feeds, Grit and Oyster Shells

Green feeds should be supplied to hens confined in small yards and also to all hens during the winter, when no green feed is available in the yards. Free range or large yards kept in grass will furnish ideal conditions for green feed, and where smaller yards have to be used they should be divided into 2 parts and used alternately, planting the vacant section 2 or 3 times yearly with a quick-growing green crop, such as rape, oats, wheat, rye, or barley. This method furnishes green feed and also helps to keep the yards sweet and clean, which is a very important consideration.

Good kinds of green feeds are sprouted oats, alfalfa meal, chopped alfalfa and clover hay, cabbages, and mangel beets. In ordinary cellars cabbages do not keep so well as mangel beets, so they should be used up first. Cabbages may be hung up in the poultry house; the beets are usually split and stuck on a nail on the side wall of the pen about a foot above the floor. Vegetables which have been frozen can be thawed out and fed to fowls, but do not keep well after thawing. Clover and alfalfa may be fed as hay cut into one-quarter or one-half inch lengths, or they may be bought in the form of meal.

Oats for sprouting are soaked overnight in warm water and then spread out from one-half to one inch thick on trays having perforated bottoms and put into an oat sprouter. Water the oats thoroughly and turn the trays around once daily to promote even sprouting. Artificial heat should be supplied in cool weather by the use of a kerosene lamp or by some other means. Use a good grade of oats and allow a square inch of sprouted-oat surface per hen daily, feeding these sprouted oats on the floor of the poultry house or in the yard. Feed at any time after the sprouts are well started, which usually takes from 5 to 7 days. Keep the sprouter clean and spray it occasionally with disinfectant to prevent the growth of mold spores. ,

Keep oyster shells and grit before the hens all the time. These substances are an inexpensive but quite necessary part of the ration. Hens will eat about 2 pounds of oyster shell and about 1 pound of grit each in a year.

Grain Consumed in Producing a Dozen Eggs

The feed cost of producing a dozen eggs depends upon the quantity and price of the grain consumed. If hens have free range on general farms they pick up considerable waste grains and other feed and are fed largely on grains produced on the farm, thus materially lowering the feed cost of the eggs. The prices of grains vary greatly in different sections and in different years, so that only the grain consumed in producing a dozen eggs, not the cost, is included in this bulletin. The grain consumed per dozen eggs will depend very materially upon how successfully the hens are fed and managed, but the following table gives the average results of our experiments, including several different pens, in which the general-purpose fowls produced an average egg yield of 130.5 eggs as pullets and 88.1 as yearlings, while the Leghorns produced an average of 138.7 eggs as pullets and 124.9 eggs as yearlings:

The general-purpose pullets ate in a year an average of 6.7 pounds of feed per 1 dozen eggs produced and the yearlings ate 9.6 pounds. The Leghorn pullets ate 4.8 pounds and the yearlings 5.5 pounds. The general-purpose pullets ate 1.9 pounds more feed in producing a dozen eggs than the Leghorn pullets, and the difference increases very rapidly with the age of the stock, the general-purpose yearlings consuming 4.1 pounds more feed per dozen eggs than the Leghorn yearlings; therefore the Leghorns produced eggs more cheaply than the general-purpose breeds. The value of the general-purpose breeds for market or for hatching and breeding makes them usually the most desirable breeds for the general farmer and the backyard-poultry raiser, while the Leghorns are especially adapted for commercial egg farms.


  • Use home-grown grains and their by-products, supplemented with meat and fish scrap or milk.
  • Mix these feeds to make a properly balanced ration.
  • Feed a scratch mixture of whole or cracked grains twice daily.
  • Feed a mash, either dry or wet, made of ground grains and meat scrap.
  • Supply more than one kind of grain.
  • Make the hens exercise for their feed.
  • Give a light feed of grain in the morning, only supplying what the hens will clean up in a half hour.
  • Always give a full feed in the afternoon, especially in cold weather.


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