Updated: Nov 3
Have you ever poured out the end of a bag of feed only to find what's left is mostly dust? Or cleaned out the chicken coop to find that much of what's getting mucked out is actually wasted feed? Do you ever wonder if you should be choosing a different type of feed? There is little education on the differences in poultry feed forms. Making an informed purchasing decision can change many things for the better in your flock. Here are four reasons to avoid mash feeds:
In order to understand the three types of feed, it's important to understand how these feeds are created. Most importantly, the feeds are created from the same ingredients but go through a series of processes that turn them from one form to another. Lets start at the beginning.
The grain ingredients for chicken feeds are first ground up into a powdered form, and then mixed together with protein meal and health supplements. This basic powdered form of feed is called a mash. Mash feeds are suitable for chickens of all ages and sizes. They're used in chick feeds and adult feeds, and can be fed to full size chickens and bantams. It is the least processed, and often least expensive form of complete feed. Despite the attractive price tag, mash comes with it's share of unfavorable effects.
Feed Dust: The ground grains in this feed produce the most grain dust of any form of feed. Feed dust is a waste of feed the chickens cannot eat, and also poses a respiratory hazard to chickens and humans alike.
Feed Separation: Mash quality is evaluated by its uniformity in mash size: so the cheaper the grain, the larger the disparity in grain sizes, and the more feed separation occurs. Feed separation allows chickens to peck through the feed, selectively eating the larger, higher calorie ingredients over the smaller more nutritionally dense ingredients.
Feed Waste: While picking through the separated feeds, they use their beak or feet to scatter the mash from the feeder to the ground for a better look at what's available to them. Once it hits the ground much of this feed is never eaten. It is too small to find in the dirt, and becomes stale or contaminated with chicken feces.
More Rodents: The mess of feed on the ground attracts mice and rats, and increases the chance of diseases introduced by rodents, and illnesses associated with moldy feeds. (More on keeping rodents out of the coop here.)
The next process in feed production includes high heat, moisture, and pressure to compress mash feed into a larger form called pellets. Pelleted feeds should only be fed to adolescent and adult full size hens. They're too large for baby chicks and many bantam breeds.This second process may add a bit more to the price tag, but it comes with great results:
Easily Digested Feed: This step naturally breaks down some starches in the feed, which makes it more easily digested by chickens.
Well-Balanced Diet: Because the ingredients are well mixed in each pellet, this form of feed ensures a well-balanced diet and better feed conversion and performance in chickens.
Less Waste: Because the pellets eliminate feed separation, chickens scatter less feed in search of the tasty bits. If pellets are knocked from the feeder to the ground, their large size makes it easier for chickens to find while foraging, reducing waste.
Less Feed Dust: The moisture and pressure of this last process compress the ground feeds into a pellet that eliminates a significant amount of feed dust.
The last process in feed production rolls or cracks the pellets into smaller chunks called crumbles which are larger than mash, but smaller than pellets. The process of crumbling feed does create a bit more feed dust, but generally produces the same great results as pelleted feeds. Crumbles are an excellent substitute for mash feeds for baby chicks and bantam breeds.
Whole Grain Feeds
Whole grain feeds are said to retain more nutritional value in their natural state because they do not suffer from oxidation that occurs after the grains have been ground up. They also aren't subjected to the steam and pressure in pelleting which may degrade the quality of the ingredients. Whole grain feeds have an even greater reduction in feed waste and feed dust even when compared to pellets or crumbles. This form of feed is more difficult for chickens to digest and requires more grit for chickens to maximize the nutritional value of the feed while grinding it in their gizzard. They also need more calcium supplements when eating whole grain feeds.
If you're planning to switch to a whole grain feed, make sure to do so by slowly introducing it over a period of three to four weeks.
Have your chickens refused to eat crumble or mash feeds, or revolted when served pellets? Share in the comments if you've switched from one feed to another with really good, or not so great results.