Chickens 101: Signs of Good Nutrition and Healthy Birds
As you get to know your flock, you’ll learn your birds’ personalities and habits. If their attitudes, behavior, or performance change, investigate your management and nutrition for possible gaps, or potential management stressors.
Many flock raisers begin by looking at nutrition as the first reason for flock problems. But if you are feeding a complete feed for at least 90 percent of the diet, nutritional deficiencies are unlikely. Evaluate other reasons that bird behavior and performance may change—from stress and predators to shorter days, illness, or over-treating.
Always remember, a quality nutrition program is the cornerstone of bird health and happiness. Hens receiving the nutrients they need are better equipped for success because they channel nutrients directly into their eggs, appearance, and health. You’ll be able to tell birds are receiving the nutrition they need by their appearance and behavior.
If you are feeding a complete feed and not over-treating, you should notice:
Strong eggshells: Strong shells are about 0.3 millimeters thick and serve to protect the inside of the egg. Strong shells often break in a crisp, clean line. Strong shells are an indicator of healthy birds and good nutrition, showing hens are receiving the calcium they need.
Consistent egg production: The number of eggs hens produce can vary greatly by breed, but most average to above-average egg-laying breeds will produce 5-6 eggs per week during their prime laying years. Expect peak performance in the first year, with egg production decreasing year-over-year as hens age.
Dark, golden yolks: Many flock raisers praise farm fresh eggs for their vibrant golden yolks. Rich yolks are a result of xanthophylls in their feed, a natural yellow-orange pigment found in plants and yellow corn. Pale yolks are a sign that hens may not be getting enough xanthophylls in their diet, which can be caused by too many treats or scraps.
Shiny feathers: When not in molt, healthy feathers have a sheen that gives birds a slick appearance. Healthy feathers are vibrant and sturdy. Some of our fans have referred to their bird’s feathers as having the “Purina® sheen.”
Brightly colored combs: When a hen begins laying eggs, her comb and wattles will get larger and blood flow will increase, which causes them to be a darker red color. When those hens molt or stop laying eggs, the combs and wattles will fade to pink or a pale red color and will also shrink in size. When she returns to laying eggs, the combs and wattles will change again.
High energy: Healthy chickens are social, curious and should feel energized to freely move throughout the coop, run or backyard. A lack of movement, low head carriage, and overall depressed appearance may be a sign that something is wrong.