You can find numerous opinions about chicken scratch mix and whether it benefits your poultry or not. The answer to this question is complicated because there is no standard mixture with precisely defined ingredients, making the dilemma even more difficult.
For a start, you should know what exactly is chicken scratch and asses under what circumstances it is good to introduce it into the chickens’ diet. Let’s see when and how to offer this food type to your flock to avoid possible health issues.
What Is Chicken Scratch?
Chicken scratch (scratch grains, scratch mix, plain scratch, grain mix) is a chicken feed type looking like muesli or birdseed. It is made of legumes, seeds (sunflower seeds), and whole grains (wheat, corn, barley, millet, oats), but you can find it crushed into smaller but still visible pieces.
In the past, farmers tossed excess grain onto the ground instead of using feeders, hence the name. Without large farms and industrial feeders, these chickens ate leftovers remaining after cows and horses fed, besides bugs, grass, and weeds.
Nowadays, you can find various chicken scratch types available on the market, including those supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Even though chicken owners can choose between 5-grain and 2-grain scratch, some often make their own products instead of buying industrial mix.
It entirely differs from scientifically formulated chicken feed that provides exact amounts of nutrients these birds need, depending on their type and age. Such a mix includes vitamins, vital amino acids (methionine), calcium carbonate, selenium, ferrous sulfate, and copper sulfate.
On the other hand, you can offer chicken scratch as a treat or up to 10% of their daily food intake. Since these leftovers provide only 8% to 9% protein, they should never be the base of birds’ diets. Otherwise, you will face decreased egg production, or hens may start laying soft-shelled eggs or those without shells.
Chicken Scratch vs. Chicken Feed
Both chicken scratch and chicken feed are food types, but their nutritional value significantly varies. For instance, the scientifically balanced commercial chicken feed includes wheat, corn, alfalfa grains, and soybean.
It is enriched with additional vitamins and minerals, including trace elements, ensuring healthy hens laying high-quality eggs. On the other hand, scratch is a synonym for junk food lacking crucial nutrients. The differences between these two options include the following:
The high-quality chicken feed contains 15% to 18% protein, while that percentage is less than 10% in chicken scratch (typically 8% to 9%).
Chicken feed is supplemented with approximately 3% calcium, while chicken scratch almost lacks this mineral.
You can find chicken feed only in farm-and-fleet stores. On the other hand, chicken scratch is available in most pet supply stores and departments.
Scratching behavior encouragement
Providing chicken feed discourages chickens from scratching activity and looking for bugs. On the other hand, chicken scratch encourages such behavior.
While chicken scratch includes various ingredients in non-standard amounts, you can find chicken feed in several forms. They provide necessary nutrients depending on demand.
Starter feed – This protein-rich feed type is intended for chickens in the first six weeks of their life.
Grower feed – This transition feed includes less calcium and vitamins since chickens still don’t need them. Sometimes, you can find a starter/grower combination usable until chickens are twenty weeks of age.
Layer feed – As a base diet for older chickens, this feed type includes a required balance of proteins, vitamins, and minerals, particularly calcium.
Broiler feed – You should pick out this protein-packed feed type when growing chickens for only dual-purpose or meat. It promotes growth and cheapens production.
Mash – Most farmers use this loose, easy-to-digest, and unprocessed chicken feed as chick starters.
Crumble – This compact feed reminds the oatmeal texture, making it more convenient to manage than mash.
Pellets – Farmers use them as the most common feed type for adult chickens. Pellets are convenient and sizable enough to prevent them from going to waste when poultry overturn the feeder.
Shell grit – It is crucial in a chicken’s diet when you keep them inside without letting them roam freely. It is also an excellent calcium source when you often serve chicken scratch to your poultry. It will promote quicker digestion and allow producing eggs with solid shells.
Medicated and unmedicated feed – You can choose between these two options depending on your needs. The medicated chicken feed includes amprolium, protecting chickens from coccidiosis. On the other hand, regularly vaccinated poultry intended for organic production is typically fed with unmedicated feed.
Chicken Scratch Benefits
Moderate feeding poultry with scratches won’t hurt them, and chickens will probably enjoy yummy ingredients. This mix shouldn’t be the primary poultry food, but it improves food conversion and digestive health when combined with complete chicken feed. Numerous benefits include:
Encourage foraging – It is an excellent way to encourage foraging among free-range chickens and reduce egg eating related to boredom.
Diet variety – Chickens need various ingredients, so you should provide tasty snacks different from a regular daily feed.
Boost the body heat – Scratch grains require more energy to digest, generating more body heat. So, they help chickens maintain a warm body temperature, which is crucial during cold winter nights.
Reward – Your chicken will more willingly tolerate unpleasant actions like delousing the coop when you offer scratches as a bribe.
Reasons to Avoid Chicken Scratch
You should avoid using even a complete chicken scratch as the primary feed for your poultry for many reasons, such as:
Lack of nutrients – It is a decent choice for free-range chickens able to make up for the lack of nutrients by ingesting pebbles and worms found in the soil. However, laying hens fed that way always produce fewer eggs and meat and have a lower lifespan on average.
Age limitation – You should avoid offering this food type to young pullets until reaching five or six weeks. Since their natural ability to digest is insufficiently developed, they may suffer from digestive problems when feeding that way.
Selective eating – This food type is a bad solution for newborns and young chickens because it encourages selective eating. After getting different grains, they will consume their favorite ones first, although the tastiest seeds and grains are not always the healthiest option.
As a result, chickens may become overweight and suffer protein deficiency, decreasing egg production. Additionally, it includes fewer vitamins and minerals, particularly essential calcium, since scratch is never well-balanced.
Encourage scratching activity – Chickens fed on scratch mix tend to roam around looking for their favorite food. That way, you will face food spillage and more waste. These ingredients spilled on the ground are often contaminated with feces, causing diseases and attracting mice and rats.
Modern chicken breeding – New breeds are developed to thrive only on a complete feed. Therefore, feeding them chicken scratches lead to lower egg and meat production and increased health issues.
Budget – If you have a limited budget and space, consider excluding chicken scratch from your poultry diet. This food type is unnecessary, so there is no need to spend money and occupy the room by keeping a bag of 50 pounds (22.70 kg) in the corner.
Chicken Scratch as Treats
Even though the scratch mix is not balanced, it can be nutritious, and you should offer it to your poultry occasionally. Combining it with standard feed will provide enough protein and calcium and add some joy at the same time.
Ensure that offered amount never exceeds 10% of the total daily food intake (1 to 2.5 tablespoons per chicken). Additionally, it should be the last food provided at the end of the day after a regular feeding.
That way, you will prevent food waste and overfeeding with unhealthy ingredients packed with carbs and fat. Simultaneously, digesting scratch grains will become beneficial for chickens because they:
- Increase metabolism
- Help chickens stay warm despite cold winter nights
- Bust energy
- Prevent boredom
It is on you to assess whether to offer this food type daily or occasionally. The schedule depends on your chickens’ feeding habits and your reasons for keeping poultry.
Homemade Chicken Scratch
When you want to make a homemade chicken scratch, you can include the same amount of various grains, like:
- Whole wheat
- Cracked corn
- Oats and barley
- Sunflower, flax, and chia seeds
Other desirable ingredients include:
- Oat groats
- Split peas, preferably dried
- Dried grubs or mealworms
If you want to offer your chickens various ingredients, you can sometimes add a few others to the mix, like:
On the other hand, never offer some table scraps potentially toxic to chickens, such as:
- Meat and greasy food
- Milk and dairy products
- Eggs and egg-based food
- Moldy bread
- Whole potatoes or their peels
As you can see, you should never use chicken scratch as a primary poultry food, but it can be a convenient treat you can offer occasionally. Be aware that only a well-balanced diet benefits your chickens, while regular use of scratch may compromise your flock’s health.