“They don’t like the pellets as much as the scratch grains.”

A new customer commented on this, and I thought it was so useful I wanted to share it. Birds don’t like pellets as much as they like scratch grains, and that is a fact of life. I don’t like any foods as much as I like chocolate and coffee, but that doesn’t mean I get to live on a diet of chocolate and coffee, as cool as that sounds. Same for the birds. Here’s what he said, in part:

“My layers are not fond of the pellets. They free range and get to pick over our compost pile. I do give them scratch when putting them into their shelter at night and when we are going to be away to attract them to the shelter. They are eating the pellets but slowly. These 12 hens are producing between 8 and 10 eggs daily. The egg shell quality seems to have improved.

Is this normal behavior? They seem hungry but when offered pellets they lose interest quickly and start hunting elsewhere.”   John W.,  Redmond, OR.

And here’s my answer to him:

The little brats!

Actually, you are right. It is normal behavior for this time of year especially. There is more interesting stuff available elsewhere, bugs and worms from the compost pile, sprouting grasses, leftover vegetable bits, and of course, their favorite of all, scratch grains.  Like kids, they will eat what they like first, and they like those other things better than pellets and always will. Their brains are programmed to prefer small stuff that moves like bugs and worms first, seed-sized things of certain colors and shapes second, pellet sized things farther down the list, down to powdery, dusty stuff at the very end of the list.

So they are getting reinforced for going into their pen by getting “ice cream” — which works, don’t get me wrong! — and the pellets are not as exciting. However, if they eat just grains, they will be like kids eating Doritos, always hungry, getting fat, and here the allusion breaks down because kids don’t lay eggs. But if they did lay eggs (the kids), the kids eating the Doritos wouldn’t lay any, because they would have no protein, just carbs.  If the hens just eat the carbs and skip the proteins they won’t have enough protein available to lay eggs with, since eggs are mostly protein.

Hens do have a certain “protein hunger” they will try to satisfy, and the pellets satisfy that, but it is not as strong a feedback message from their little brains as their need for carbohydrates. They could stay alive a long time on just carbs, which is why their bodies give them such strong encouragement to eat carbs, but they wouldn’t lay many eggs as hens or grow if they are young chicks or pullets.

One of the research farms did a USDA SARE research grant project in which they compared our feed to a well-known commercial feed, and a surprising finding on their part was that the birds fed the less dense protein feed acted hungry all the time and ate all the time, whereas the birds fed our feed ate less, weren’t as frantic to get to the feeder, and ended up weighing more at the end of the trial. But they definitely did not mob the person feeding them. They’d wander over, eat a little and wander off again. Basically, they were full most of the time.

Now your birds are not confined like theirs were, and they get to pick and choose from the other good stuff out there, so I’d expect them to eat what they want and lay as many eggs as they get enough protein to produce, not necessarily as many eggs as you would like. So — more scratch grains = fewer eggs. If you wanted them to just produce the maximum eggs, you’d need to keep them from doing that and lock them up.  But it sounds like things are working pretty well for you, giving up a few eggs in order to have the hens get the benefits of being out when you want them to be and in when you want them to be, and that is nothing to sneeze at.