Corn is the primary ingredient in chicken feed, providing calories, vitamin A and protein. It's less expensive than wheat, soy, millet and barley, and most chickens love it whether dried, canned or on the cob. Corn can be replaced in chicken feed as long as caloric and nutritional needs are met. Most commercial feeds contain corn, wheat, soy and rice, but you can easily make a good quality feed yourself without corn.
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Basic Chicken Nutrition
Like all animals, chickens need protein to grow and thrive; daily amounts depend on the age of the chickens and whether they are raised as pets or for meat or eggs. Generally, from birth to six weeks, they need a diet of 18 per cent protein; six to 14 weeks, 15 per cent protein; and over 14 weeks, 12 per cent protein. Laying hens need a diet containing at least 15 per cent protein. Grains provide necessary calories and a little fat but are low in vitamins and minerals, so commercial feed has added supplements. Vitamins A, D, E, K, all the B vitamins, plus minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium are essential. Chickens also need a lot of fresh, clean water and greens. The University of Missouri Agriculture Department is a source of comprehensive data on the specific nutritional needs of poultry.
The advantages of corn are that its fat and carbohydrates seem to be more digestible than those of oats, barley or wheat. It's also low in fibre, which chickens don't utilise. The disadvantages of corn are that it's usually genetically modified and has pesticide residue, and it deposits more fat on the bird than oats, wheat or barley. Corn isn't an ingredient of poultry feed in other countries, such as Australia. Feed can be made with wheat, sorghum, barley, rye, oats, triticale, soy, sunflower meal, dried peas, meat meal, fish meal, wheat germ, sesame seeds, kelp, ground peanuts, flax and brown rice.
Chickens are omnivores and will eat just about anything, including what you didn't finish for dinner. Keeping in mind that they need protein, vitamins and minerals, give them grated low-sodium cheese, chopped lettuce, yoghurt, bread, uncured meats, cabbage and even fruit. Avoid feeding them citrus, salty foods or green potato peels, as these are toxic. If possible, let them free range on grass, and let them rid your garden of snails, slugs and insects; just be sure bait or pesticides haven't been used. Before commercial feed, chickens thrived on plants and bugs.
If you're omitting corn-based feed due to genetic modifications or pesticide content, consider that organic chicken feed made with organic corn and other grains is readily available, but it is more expensive. Just as for humans, buying organic can increase the nutrient content while reducing pesticide and GMO consumption, and you will know your flock has produced pesticide-free eggs and/or meat. If you suspect your chickens are intolerant to corn, it will take from 50 to 70 hours to clear the corn from their digestive tracts. Your chickens can thrive on a corn-free diet, but if they show any signs of illness, contact your veterinarian.
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