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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
My family has always had chickens while I was growing up so I'm not a complete newbie at this, but back then the biggest flock we ever had was about 12 birds so it didn't take much thinking. Well now I've somehow become a chicken farmer and have 67 hens of my own, so I'm still sort of learning how to manage a much larger flock. I mostly have Rhode Island Red & Rhode Island White crosses, but also a few Buff Orpingtons, 4 Black Australorps, 12 Tetra Tints, and 15 Golden Comets. Half of them aren't laying yet but will be in another month or so. The other half are laying and I sell the eggs to friends and neighbors and customers that come in to my mom's store in our small town. I have a lot of egg customers. Who doesn't love fresh eggs? But anyway, I digress. That's just a bit of background, now on to the point:

My hens are of course cage free but aren't completely free range. I have the flock separated in half and they each have a big roomy coop and an outdoor fenced in dirt yard. So they have lots of space to move around and they get sun and fresh air and can scratch in the dirt and dust and all that, but they don't get a lot of food from their outside area. I do throw them grass clippings and weeds and culled veggies from the garden, plus table scraps and whatever else I come up with.

Now the actual point to this thread is do my hens need laying mash free choice? I am going thru a ton of feed, it seems like all they do is eat! I have two hanging feeders in the one coop and a hanging feeder and home made trough feeder in the other. It seems like I'm filling them constantly to always keep food out because I read that the more they eat the more they lay and laying hens need free choice mash at all times. I've started giving them cracked corn too to try to supplement the mash a little bit because it's so expensive since I'm feeding so much. They love the cracked corn but still get lots of mash too.
Well, I talked to some other people who've had chickens for many years and they say I'm way over feeding them. They say giving them mash all the time isn't good and will make them fat and lazy and they'll burn out fast as layers. They say the don't need mash every day or constant free choice food of any kind.

Is that true?:confused: Am I over feeding my hens? They aren't laying as well as they should be so I suppose I must be doing something wrong. They always have lots of fresh water, I keep multiple waters in each coop & fence.
Is there a rule of thumb of how much feed a chicken needs per day if free choice isn't necessary? I've considered letting them out to free range completely in the afternoon for a few hours before dark to help save on feed costs somewhat, but I'm afraid they won't go back to the coop on their own at night. If they don't then they'll probably get eaten because I live way out in the country and there's lots of wildlife. Plus I'm afraid they'll head straight to the garden and be destructive.

Any insight for me? Sorry this is so long! :eek:
 

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because I read that the more they eat the more they lay and laying hens need free choice mash
This is patently wrong, so discount whatever source from which you gleaned it. ;)

My advice to you is to invest in electric poultry netting...extremely inexpensive and worth its weight in gold. It will allow you to free range your birds and change paddocks for them to keep them in fresh forage. It will also deter any 4 legged preds in your area.

http://www.premier1supplies.com/c/fencing/

For less than $200 you can have a pred proof fence that is portable, last for years and will pay for itself in your feed bill.

This one was $164 with free shipping~I already had the fence charger but these are pretty cheap at any feed store:



You can start using trough style feeders~also inexpensive to make~and feeding once per day...if free ranging in the paddock, it should be fed in the evenings except for winter months, when it can be fed in the morning.

Feeding confined birds free choice will not make them lay better...it will actually make them lay less and have laying issues due to the fat deposits around their reproductive organs.

You can also stretch your feed by feeding fermented feeds~there is a thread on it here in the feed/water section~and provide better health, higher laying performance, less feed consumption, bigger yolks, better coop environment all in one simple free step.

It will also give your eggs a better flavor...your customers will definitely remark on the mild, sweet flavor of the eggs.

A few minor adjustments can save you money in the long run and improve the health and happiness of your flock, while improving your overall experience with chickens.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I'm not sure what fermented feeds are, but I'll go check out the thread you mentioned and find out. Thank you for the suggestion.:)

I've seen the electric poultry netting fence before and it seems like a great idea if you have the right set up for it. Unfortunately where my chicken coops are there's no room for adding more fencing other than what they already have, and their coops aren't moveable. Eventually I want to build a new chicken coop that's much larger and designed differently, and then I would like to build them a pasture instead of dirt yards. Maybe divided fences so they can be rotated like I do with my horses and goats. But right now I can't afford to change their set ups a whole lot, that's in the future. But where they're at right now isn't bad. Not real fancy but they seem happy and look healthy. But I do like the idea of the poultry electric netting. In the future for sure.:)
 

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If you have the right dog, you won't need the fencing and the birds can just range in the dog's area~provided you don't have neighbors they will encroach upon.

That's what I do...the fencing pictured was just for meat birds but I quickly found I didn't need it, though it's a great idea for people living with neighbors and stray dogs in the area. My birds usually range without fencing but with a dog on guard.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I live on a dirt road and have 80 acres of land. Our closest neighbors are fields away with trees and pastures in between. So that's not a concern. Our garden is partly fenced in already, so I was considering just closing off the front and putting in a gate for us to get through. That way it wouldn't be completely open for the chickens to just waltz into if I decided to let them out completely loose. I know a few of them could fly over the fence, but 90% of them wouldn't. And that's probably good enough. I just can't have them all in there tearing up the garden.

I figure if I just let them out in the afternoon they wouldn't wander real far with just a few hours of day light left. But my concern is that they won't put themselves back in their coop. I close their chicken door at night because we have problems with ***** and other wildlife. So when they all go in to roost inside the coop I walk back down to the barn and shut their chicken doors to make sure they don't become something's dinner! But if they won't go back in I'll have a major problem. Same with if they don't go back in to the nests to lay their eggs, I'd never find them!

I have 4 dogs (well, 2 are mine and 2 are family dogs), but they're not chicken guardian material. Well, one might be if taught but he's not allowed out loose by himself. The others won't work either. One would ignore them, the other chase them for fun, and the last has a hunting instinct.;)
 

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That can all be trained right out of them! Just takes a little effort is all. The chickens always come back to roost and those that do not~rare~are picked off and the problem is resolved.

Sounds like you have an ideal place for free ranging but just need to use the dogs effectively. My dog is on an invisible wireless fencing system that is based in the middle of the chicken's range and he is on duty 24/7. I never have to lock up any coop or even shut the door.

He also has an extreme hunting instinct.... ;) That's what makes him so effective at his job!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Our house sits way back off the road, and my chicken coop and barn are down the driveway closer to the road. We used to let our dogs out loose but then one of mine got hit by a car. Hard to believe on such a quiet dirt road but it happened. Now I'm terrified to let them out loose, especially since they have that pack mentality going on and if they all start chasing something it's so hard to get them to listen. One on one they're fine. All four together? Good grief. So we have a big dog fence now outside our house, but it's no where near where the chickens are now.

I used to have a coop up by the house but it's small so I stopped using it. One time when Myka, one of my dogs and actually the one that got hit by the car (she survived), caught a chicken that had gotten out of the fence. She would have killed it if I hadn't caught her. She knows she did something majorly wrong and I don't know if she'd do it again, but I'm afraid to find out! Then my mom's dog has a herding instinct. Likes to chase my goats.:mad: She's a brat. Then there's my beloved Chance who is the retriever of the bunch. If anyone could handle the job it'd be him, but he's such a big baby he'd cry if we left him outside alone. ;)

So a rooster maybe? Is it true that they're flock guardians? If you have more than one will they fight? Of could I have one per coop, so two?
 

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I feed my birds about 4 cups worth of feed in the morning, they free range for the rest of their food. I also free range with out a dog watching over my flock. I do have a dog and have trained him to leave the flock alone but don't use him for guarding. I also only feed fermented when I need the feed to last a little longer other wise its just pellets. Just remember what works for one person may or may not work for you. Just do what you feel comfortable with in the end :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thank you both, you've given me lots to think about.:) I think I'm working up to trying partial free ranging. If they'll put themselves back in the coop at night it might be all right. During the day I think they're safe enough. Not that I'll never lose one to a predator during daylight hours, but they do have a lot of cover for protection that they could run to if they felt threatened, and I'm outside a lot to keep an eye one things. And it would only be in the afternoon and evening because I wouldn't want to let them out until most of the eggs were laid for the day. Might just work!

I'll also have to figure out what you guys are talking about with the fermented feed. That's a new one to me.
 

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I chose to do the fermented feed as well. It's still new to me. Easy! Feed the pellets in the run during the day and the other at night. It's allready saved me money. I was going through a bag every 2 weeks. A bag here is 18.99 at TSC so I would assume it will cut that in about half. Not sure yet! I have noticed that the eggs are richer and brighter in color!
I also let the chickens free range in the evening only. We are on the lake here an about 5 a acres 2 of which are wooded areas. I'm afraid the hens will get to far into the woods. I had a rooster And 2 hens stay our over night because they did not make it back before dark. That was when they had all day to roam. Not had a problem since and they all trickle into the coop about the same time. I also close up the coop each night because we have a lot of raccoon fox and weasels here. The weasels are bad! They will catch hold of the chickens head and drain it dry. Eek! I've only lost 1 hen to predators so far. It was terrible. So every morning at 545 I open the coop and every night at 9 I close her up! You bet they are begging at 5pm to get out! They can see me when I open the screen door and start heading their way and they make a bunch of racket!!!
 
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