SHOREVIEW, Minn. — Dull, lethargic, low performance. No, we’re not talking about you before your morning coffee. These are signs you may have issues lurking in your backyard flock. Happy, healthy birds are confident, strong and productive.
“As you get to know your birds, you’ll learn their personalities and habits. Strong hens are confident, alert and strut their stuff,” says Patrick Biggs, Ph.D., a flock nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition. “If their attitudes, behavior or performance change, investigate your management and nutrition for possible gaps.”
Many flock raisers begin by looking at nutrition as a first reason for flock problems. But if you are feeding a complete feed that includes Oyster Strong® System for at least 90 percent of the diet, nutritional deficiencies are unlikely. Be sure you’re feeding a complete feed that matches your bird’s life stage. Then, evaluate other reasons bird behavior and performance may change – from stress and predators to shorter days, illness or over-treating. See Purina’s related article to help troubleshoot.
“Always remember, a quality nutrition program is the cornerstone of bird health and happiness,” Biggs says. “Hens receiving the 38 nutrients they need from their layer feed are better equipped for success, because they channel nutrients directly into their eggs, appearance and health. You’ll be able to tell hens are receiving the nutrition they need by their appearance and behavior.”
If you are feeding a complete layer 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, keeping bacteria out. They 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. By choosing a complete layer feed with Oyster Strong® System, the calcium hens need is included right in the bag.
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, sturdy and serve to protect birds from the elements. Be sure your layer feed is at least 16 percent protein for proper feathering. Add a dust bath with a peat moss base to the coop for chickens to clean themselves.
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.
“These six signs of a strong, happy hen are the result of a quality, complete layer feed and great flock care,” says Biggs. “Many flock raisers noticed these changes during our Feed Greatness™ Challenge feed trial. Each of the 38 unique nutrients in Purina® layer feeds work together to give hens everything they need to stay flock strong and lay strong-shelled eggs.”