Chicken scratch is a treat made of seeds and grains that has a long history in poultry farming. Originally, farmers used to give their chickens leftover grains, and this practice has evolved into what we now know as chicken scratch. In this article, we will explore when and how to feed chickens scratch for optimal results.
Chicken Scratch vs. Chicken Feed
While chicken scratch is a popular treat for chickens, it’s important to note that it lacks the comprehensive nutrients present in commercial chicken feed. Chicken scratch should not be a staple in a chicken’s diet; instead, it’s best used as an occasional treat. Commercial chicken feed is designed to provide a well-balanced and nutritious diet that supports optimal growth and egg production.
Differences Between Scratch and Feed
Protein and Calcium Content Distinctions
One of the key differences between scratch and feed is their protein and calcium content. Commercial chicken feed is formulated to provide the necessary protein levels for chickens at various stages of their lives. Scratch, on the other hand, usually has lower protein content and may lack other essential nutrients.
Chicken scratch got its name from the behavior it encourages – scratching. Chickens instinctively scratch the ground in search of food. While commercial feed also encourages this behavior, scratch grains provide a more direct opportunity for chickens to engage in this natural activity.
Guidelines for Feeding Scratch Grains
To maintain a healthy balance in your chickens’ diet, follow these guidelines when feeding scratch grains:
It’s recommended that scratch grains make up no more than 10% of your chickens’ diet. This ensures they receive the necessary nutrients from their main feed.
To prevent spoilage and attract pests, avoid leaving uneaten scratch grains in the coop. Feed only what your chickens can consume in a short period.
Allow your chickens to feed on scratch grains for about 20 minutes. This provides them with a treat and encourages their natural scratching behavior without overindulgence.
Frequency of Feeding Scratch
The frequency of feeding scratch grains can vary based on your chickens’ needs and your goals as a poultry keeper. Some chicken owners choose to offer scratch grains daily, while others use them more sparingly. Mixing scratch grains with their regular feed can help prevent overeating while still providing the benefits of scratching activity.
Benefits of Feeding Scratch
Feeding scratch grains by hand can help build trust between you and your chickens. This interaction can make them more comfortable around humans.
Natural Scratching Behavior
Scratch grains promote the natural scratching behavior that chickens exhibit in the wild. This activity keeps them engaged and active.
Warmth During Cold Spells
In colder months, scratch grains can be offered as a way to generate body heat through scratching and movement. This can be particularly helpful in keeping chickens warm during chilly weather.
Dangers of Feeding Chicken Scratch
While scratch grains have their benefits, there are also potential drawbacks to consider:
Overfeeding scratch grains can lead to obesity and malnutrition in chickens. Additionally, uneaten grains can attract pests, leading to infestations in the coop.
It’s important to remember that scratch grains are not a replacement for balanced feed. While they provide entertainment and enrichment, they lack the comprehensive nutrition that commercial feed offers.
Homemade Chicken Scratch Recipe
If you’re interested in making your own chicken scratch, here’s a simple recipe to try:
- Cracked or rolled corn
- Sunflower seeds
- Mix the above ingredients in a ratio that provides variety while ensuring no single ingredient dominates the mix.
- Store the homemade scratch mixture in a cool, dry place to maintain freshness.
FAQ about Feeding Chickens Scratch Grains
Q1: What exactly is chicken scratch?
A1: Chicken scratch refers to a mixture of seeds and grains commonly given to chickens as a treat. It encourages natural scratching behavior and provides entertainment for the birds.
Q2: Can I replace my chickens’ regular feed with scratch grains?
A2: No, scratch grains should not replace a balanced diet. They lack essential nutrients found in commercial feed and should only be given as an occasional treat.
Q3: How often can I feed scratch grains to my chickens?
A3: The frequency of feeding scratch grains can vary. Some poultry keepers offer them daily, while others provide them a few times a week. It’s important to monitor your chickens’ overall diet and adjust accordingly.
Q4: Can I make my own chicken scratch mix?
A4: Yes, you can create a homemade chicken scratch mix using various grains and seeds. Be sure to include a variety of ingredients to offer nutritional diversity.
Q5: Are there any risks associated with feeding scratch grains?
A5: Overfeeding scratch grains can lead to obesity, malnutrition, and pest infestations. It’s crucial to follow feeding guidelines and provide a balanced diet.
Q6: Can scratch grains be given to chicks?
A6: While scratch grains can be given to chicks, it’s important to prioritize their nutritional needs. Chicks require a higher protein content in their diet for proper growth and development.
Q7: Can I mix scratch grains with regular feed?
A7: Mixing scratch grains with regular feed can help prevent overeating and provide the benefits of scratching behavior without compromising their balanced nutrition.
Q8: How do scratch grains help keep chickens warm in cold weather?
A8: Scratch grains encourage scratching and movement, generating body heat in the process. This can help chickens stay warm during colder months.
Q9: Are there alternatives to scratch grains for chicken treats?
A9: Yes, there are alternative treats you can offer, including kitchen leftovers, mealworms, cover crops, sprouted grains, and insects.
Q10: Can scratch grains be fed to chickens that free-range?
A10: If your chickens have access to a diverse foraging area, they may receive sufficient nutrition from their environment. In such cases, scratch grains may not be necessary.
Feeding chickens scratch grains can be a rewarding and beneficial practice when done in moderation and alongside a balanced diet. These treats encourage natural behaviors, build trust between you and your flock, and provide entertainment. Remember that scratch grains should complement, not replace, commercial feed to ensure your chickens receive the essential nutrients they need for optimal health and productivity. By following the guidelines outlined in this article and monitoring your chickens’ well-being, you can create a happy and healthy environment for your feathered friends.