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Choice-feeding can be an easy way for small flock owners to feed their laying hens. When you choice-feed your hens, you do not have to worry about grinding the grain or mixing it accurately with a supplement. Instead, you have separate feeders for the grain and supplement and let the birds choose how much of each they want to eat. If the feed mill making your supplement recommends that you add extra limestone or oyster shell, you will have a third feeder full of one of these calcium sources.
Laying hens can make good nutritional choices and pick out the amount of grain, supplement and limestone or oyster shell that they need to be healthy and productive. Hens fed this way will lay as many eggs as hens fed a traditional laying hen diet as long as you follow some basic rules:
You do not need to grind the whole grain when you choice-feed your hens. The birds will readily eat whole wheat, whole oats or whole barley (but they can have difficulty eating whole corn). After about three weeks of eating whole grain, the hens' gizzards will increase in muscle mass and will grind the grain as efficiently as a hammer mill. Hens can successfully consume 70% of their diet as whole grain when it is choice-fed. It is important to note that if you want to mix whole grain, supplement and limestone together into a traditional laying hen diet that is fed in one feeder, you should not have more than 50% of the diet as whole grain. The rest of the grain in the feed should be ground. At higher levels of whole grain, the hens sometimes have trouble finding the supplement amongst all of the grain. When the grain, supplement and limestone are in different feeders, these separation problems are avoided.
In summary, choice-feeding can be an easy method of feeding small flocks of laying hens that are kept on the floor. You will avoid the labour of grinding the grain, weighing the feed ingredients and mixing them together. As long as you give them the opportunity to make clear, easy nutritional choices, the hens will be healthy and productive.