feeding-guide-for-rhode-island-red

Rhode Island Red Delights: A Step-by-Step Feeding Guide for Optimal Health

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Now I know what you’re thinking – “Tanner, you ain’t no chicken farmer, what do you know about feeding Rhode Island Reds?” And you’d be right, I ain’t no expert.

But let me tell you a little story…

Last year my buddy Steve convinced me to buy a handful of Rhode Island Red chicks for his backyard flock.

I figured, how hard could it be? Just throw some feed at ’em and let ’em do their thing, right? WRONG.

Those little chicks turned into hungry teenagers faster than you can say “chicken scratch” and I quickly realized I was in over my head.

So I did what any self-respecting ChickenDad would do – I hit the books and turned myself into a bonafide expert on feeding Rhode Island Reds!

Now I may not be a career chicken farmer, but when it comes to feeding Rhode Island Reds, I know my stuff.

And today I’m gonna share all that hard-earned knowledge with you fine folks. Get ready for a crash course in keeping your Reds happy and healthy!

Chick Starter Feed

When you first get your Rhode Island Red chicks, you’ll wanna start them off with a high-quality chick starter feed.

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This will give them the nutrition they need to grow big and strong in those critical early weeks. Here’s what to look for in a chick starter:

  • Minimum 18% protein – Protein is essential for muscle growth and development in chicks. Look for a feed with at least 18% but ideally 20-22% crude protein from quality sources like soybean meal, fish meal and even some animal by-product meal for amino acids.
  • Medicated to prevent coccidiosis – Coccidia parasites can wreak havoc on a chick’s gut so make sure your starter feed contains medication like amprolium or decoquinate. I prefer brands with all-natural coccidiostats like oregano, garlic and yucca extract.
  • Nutrient-dense ingredients like corn, soybean meal, wheat – Avoid fillers like soy hulls, cottonseed, etc. The first few ingredients should be energy-packed sources like whole corn, soybean meal, and soft winter wheat.

I recommend buying starter feed specifically formulated for meat birds like Rhode Island Reds. It’ll have higher protein levels to support their rapid growth.

For example, Purina Start & Grow High Protein contains 30% protein from fish meal and higher fat content for weight gain.

Feed your chicks starter until they reach 16-18 weeks old. Give them free-choice access so they can eat as much as they want.

Grower Feed

Once your Rhode Island Reds reach 4-5 months, it’s time to transition them to a grower feed.

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This has slightly less protein but more calories to keep that rapid growth going. Here’s what your grower feed needs:

  • 16% minimum protein – Shoot for 16-18% crude protein from plant and animal sources. This feeds muscle growth while avoiding excess protein.
  • Higher calorie count than starter feed – Look for grower feed with at least 3,100 kcal ME/kg for energy. Added fat from soybean oil boosts calories.
  • Added calcium for bone development – Rapidly growing Rhode Island Reds need more calcium, so make sure your grower feed has around 1% calcium from sources like oyster shell and calcium carbonate.

I like to slowly transition my Reds to the grower feed over 2-3 weeks, mixing it with decreasing amounts of starter feed. This prevents any digestive upset from a sudden change.

For example, I’ll do a 25/75 starter/grower mix for a few days, then 50/50, then 75/25 before going full grower feed. Keep feeding grower until your birds reach maturity around 6 months old. Give them free-choice access.

Layer Feed

While Rhode Island Reds are raised primarily for meat, the hens start laying eggs around 5-6 months of age.

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So you’ll want to provide them with a quality layer feed formula once they reach maturity to support egg production. Here’s what layer feed offers:

  • 16% protein, 3.5%+ calcium – Layers need less protein but require calcium for eggshell formation. Aim for 16% protein, 3.5-4% calcium.
  • Added nutrients for eggshell strength – Vitamin D, phosphorus, and manganese promote shell quality. Look for feed with supplements.
  • Lower energy density to prevent obesity – Too many calories will make hens fat. Layer feed has around 2,750 kcal ME/kg.

Since your Reds likely won’t lay as heavily as dedicated egg breeds, you can continue feeding a grower ration. But having an organic layer feed like Flock Raiser available lets you tailor their nutrition for optimum eggs. I like to feed my Reds layer feed mornings when egg production is highest and grower feed evenings for growth.

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Supplements

In addition to complete feed rations, certain supplements can promote Rhode Island Red health and productivity:

Probiotics – Healthy gut flora improves digestion and nutrient absorption. I give my Reds a probiotic powder called Poultry Pro-B once a week. Just mix it into their feed.

Omega-3s – These healthy fats boost immune function and make feathers shine! I add omega-3 rich flaxseed to feed at 0.5-1% of the ration.

  • Oyster shell – Provides extra calcium, especially for laying hens. Offer free-choice.
  • Grit – Insoluble granite grit supports gizzard function and digestion. I sprinkled grit in their feed every 2 weeks.
  • Treats – Crack corn, sunflower seeds, meal worms – great for training! Give sparingly.

There you have it folks, everything you need to feed your Rhode Island Red flock like a pro! From chick to layer, I’ve walked you through the precise nutrition these birds need to thrive. With the right feed and supplements, you’ll have big, healthy Reds in no time. Now all that’s left to do is sit back and watch your flock grow.

Water

Providing fresh, clean water is just as important as feed for your Rhode Island Reds. Chickens need water for digestion, nutrient absorption, regulating body temperature, and transporting nutrients.

Here are some tips on watering your flock:

– Supply clean water daily – Empty and scrub waterers at least once a week to prevent algae buildup. Rinse thoroughly before refilling.

– Allow minimum 1.5-2 inches per bird of waterer space – Overcrowding water sources creates competition. Size waterers appropriately.

– Use additives for healthy birds – I add apple cider vinegar and electrolytes to my flock’s water a few times a week. The vinegar lowers the pH for better gut health and electrolytes provide trace minerals.

– Consider nipple waterers – These eliminate spills and keep water cleaner. Great for warm climates. But higher upfront cost than founts or troughs.

– Place water sources in shade – Prevent algae growth and dangerous overheating in summer by keeping water in the shade. Move if needed.

– Use heaters for winter – Frozen water can lead to frostbite on combs and wattles. Submersible heaters or heated basins prevent ice.

– Encourage drinking – Floating a lettuce leaf or citrus slice on the water encourages hens to drink more. Important in summer.

Keeping multiple fresh water sources around the coop prevents crowding and ensures your Reds stay hydrated and productive year-round. Don’t skimp on the water for these thirsty birds!

Feeders

The right feeder set-up makes feeding your Rhode Island Reds a breeze. Here are my tips for feeder success:

– Allow 2-3 inches of space per bird – Overcrowding causes competition and waste. Size your feeders appropriately.

– Use separate feeders for layer and grower/starter rations – Lets you tailor nutrition without confusion. Label feeders clearly.

– Choose durable feeders – Metal or hard plastic lasts longer than cheap plastic/paper feeders. Go galvanized steel for maximum durability.

– Consider design – Trough-style feeders are great for chicks. Adult Reds do well with open trays or tube feeders to minimize waste.

– Place on a wooden platform or hardware cloth – Gets feeders off the ground to reduce parasites and moldy feed.

– Scatter feed to encourage foraging – I scatter a portion of the day’s feed in the run to mimic foraging. Promotes natural behavior.

– Check feeders twice daily – Top off feed to keep Reds growing. Remove any old, wet feed to prevent mold.

– Clean feeders weekly – Scrub inside and out with soap and water. Rinse thoroughly before refilling.

Proper feeder setup reduces conflicts, contamination, and waste for your flock. And the birds will reward you with maximal growth and egg production!

Free-Range Considerations

While I love letting my Reds free-range, I had to make a few adjustments for their safety and health:

– Start young – Chicks raised on pasture adapt best to ranging. Introduce sheltered outdoor access at 4 weeks so they learn the area.

– Provide shelter – A mobile coop gives shade, protection, and a home base while ranging. Rotate it to fresh pasture.

– Use securely fenced ranges – Red’s don’t fly well but can cover ground quick on foot. Fence pastures to contain them.

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– Watch for predators – Larger Reds are safer free-ranging than bantams but still vulnerable to hawks, foxes, coyotes, etc.

– Limit range time – I only let my Reds range mornings and evenings when they’re less likely to wander far. They stay penned rest of day.

– Provide feed and water – Scatter feed so Reds don’t have to leave the pasture to eat. Move water sources along with shelter.

– Check birds for injury – Trim bushes, walk the range looking for hazards. Remove anything that could harm your chickens while out.

With some common-sense preparation, Rhode Island Reds thrive ranging on pasture. But don’t take their safety for granted. Proper precautions keep your flock healthy.

Transitioning Feed Forms

It’s important to properly transition Rhode Island Reds between starter, grower, and layer feeds as they mature. Here are some tips:

– Slowly mix new and old feed over 7-14 days – Sudden feed changes can upset digestion. A gradual switch prevents this.

– Time changes based on age not size – Follow diet changes recommended for each age range regardless of individual size. This meets nutritional needs.

– Handled chicks transition easily – Chicks handled young accept new feeds readily. If introducing feed changes to unhandled older birds go extra slowly.

– Watch droppings – Loose stool is a sign of nutritional upset. Slow transition until droppings normalize.

– Make changes during stable conditions – Extra stressors like extreme temps or overcrowding can exacerbate feed change reactions. Avoid these times.

– Separate by age after 6 weeks – Older chicks out-compete younger ones for starter feed. Separate ages to ensure proper nutrition.

– Provide grit/oyster shell – These supports digestion, especially important when transitioning feed forms. Make available free-choice.

With proper timing and gradual feed changes, your Reds will stay happy and healthy. It does take some extra management but pays off in productive birds.

Avoiding Common Feeding Pitfalls

Over the years I’ve made plenty of feeding blunders with my Rhode Island Reds. Here are some common pitfalls I’ve learned to avoid:

– Don’t assume feed is nutritionally complete – Check protein, fat, fiber levels. Supplement if needed. Generic feed may not meet Red’s needs.

– Don’t limit starter feed intake – Growing chicks need unlimited access to high-protein starter. Limiting intake stunts growth.

– Don’t forget the grit – Insoluble granite grit helps Reds digest feed fully. Make available from day one.

– Don’t use medicated layer feed for Reds – Excess medication can harm them since they’re not heavy layers. Use non-medicated options.

– Don’t leave feed exposed – Cover or bring it inside to prevent mold, rodents, moisture damage. Discard old feed.

– Don’t use plastic feeders once chicks start roosting – They’ll roost on plastic feeders and contaminate the feed. Switch to metal or rubber pans.

– Don’t mix old and young birds – Overly competitive older birds will hog resources and limit younger bird’s intake.

Avoiding these simple mistakes keeps your Reds healthy and growing at their genetic potential! Set them up for success with proper feeding.

Feed Amount Guidelines

Knowing how much to feed your Rhode Island Reds takes the guesswork out of keeping them well-nourished. Here are some feeding guidelines:

– Chicks 0-8 weeks – Free choice complete starter feed. Approximately 1.5-2 lbs per chick over the first 8 weeks. Provide unlimited access to ensure proper intake.

– 8-20 weeks – Free choice complete grower feed. Around 5-6 lbs per bird total fed over this rapid growth phase. Again allow unlimited access.

– 20 weeks to maturity – Free choice complete grower feed. Expect hens to consume 1/4 lb per day, males 1/3 lb per day. Adjust based on body condition.

– Laying hens – 1/4-1/3 lb complete layer ration plus 1/2 lb grower or corn. May need more with heavy production. Offer calcium/grit free-choice.

– Adult males – 1/3-1/2 lb complete grower or meat bird feed. Breeding males need extra during peak mating season.

– Treats – No more than 10% of the total ration. Too many treats reduce proper nutrition intake.

Monitoring feed amounts for each life stage ensures your Reds get proper nutrition without over-feeding. Being familiar with expected consumption makes it easy.

Sprouts and Fodder

Growing sprouts and fodder to supplement your Rhode Island Red’s diet provides important benefits:

– Live enzymes and antioxidants – The sprouting process increases these compared to dry seed. Boosts gut health.

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– Natural protein and fiber – Sprouts are up to 30% protein, full of fiber. Excellent nutrient sources.

– Vitamin rich – Sprouting increases vitamin content, especially vitamins A, B, C, E. Supports immunity.

– Bioavailable minerals – Enhanced mineral absorption from sprouts since minerals are plant-bound. Aids bone strength.

– Chick magnet – Chicks love nibbling fresh sprouts! Makes a great training treat.

– Easy to grow – Simple DIY sprouting trays let you grow right at home. Automated fodder systems available too.

– Fun foraging – Watching birds scratch through trays or peck at fodder mimics natural foraging behavior.

– Low cost supplement – Home grown sprouts are an economical way to boost nutrition. Buy sprouting seed in bulk.

Introduce sprouts early so Reds acquire the taste. Aim for 5-10% of the total ration from sprouts or fodder for balanced nutrition.

Fermented Feed

Feeding fermented rations to my Rhode Island Reds provides probiotic benefits:

– Promotes gut microbiome – The lactic acid bacteria in fermented feed benefit intestinal health.

– Improves digestion and feed efficiency – Fermentation breaks down antinutrients and makes nutrients more bioavailable.

– Supports immune function – Gut health and immunity are linked! Fermented feeds enhance disease resistance.

– Easy homemade option – Simply mix feed with water, molasses, and yogurt or probiotic powder. Allow to ferment for 2-3 days.

– Appealing taste – Birds eagerly consume the tangy fermented feed. The sour taste encourages intake.

– Long shelf life – The fermentation process preserves feed naturally. Lasts several weeks stored cool.

– Natural probiotics – No need for added supplements. Fermentation provides a broad spectrum of beneficial bacteria.

I like to ferment a portion of their grower or layer feed. Fermented coconut water makes a tasty, nutritious additive too! Start with 1 part fermented mix to 3 parts dry feed.

Foraging Considerations

Allowing Rhode Island Reds to forage freely provides enrichment but requires some planning:

– Start young – Chicks allowed to forage from a young age learn to supplement their diet well. Introduce foraging at 4-6 weeks.

– Provide adequate base diet – Foraging supplements feed, but complete feed should still make up most of the daily ration for balanced nutrition.

– Rotate pastures frequently – Prevent overgrazing or soiling of any one area. Use mobile housing to easily shift birds.

– Overseed with forage mix – Provides a diverse foraging base. Overseed annual ryegrass, alfalfa, clover, chicory, etc.

– Limit rich protein sources – Too much protein-rich forage can be detrimental. Avoid overgrazing legumes.

– Remove toxic plants – Walk the range regularly to identify and remove anything poisonous. Some common toxins are pokeweed, hemlock, nightshade.

– Offer loose grit – Grit helps grind and digest fibrous foraged materials. Keep oyster shell available for calcium.

– Hang leafy greens inside – You can encourage indoor foraging by hanging kale, spinach, cabbage just inside coop doors.

Guiding your Red’s foraging maintains a natural behavior while preventing overindulgence in any one plant source. Keep ranges diverse!

Monitoring Body Condition

It’s important to monitor your Rhode Island Red’s body condition to ensure proper nutrition. Here’s what to look for:

– Smooth, plump breast – Should feel cushiony and full but not bulbous in younger birds, concave in older birds.

– Layer of fat around tail – Palpate the abdomen on either side of the tail. A thin layer protects organs.

– Meaty thighs – Thighs should feel muscular but not bony or too fatty in young birds.

– Abdomen tucked up – Should have an inverted U-shape from chest to vent when viewed from side. Not bulging.

– Alert, bright appearance – Check eyes, comb and wattles. Any paleness, dullness indicates nutritional issues.

– Energetic activity – Lethargy, reluctance to move are signs of sickness or malnutrition.

– Smooth, shiny feathers – Poor coat condition indicates deficiencies.

Use these hands-on body checks along with egg and growth rates to identify under or over conditioned birds. Adjust feed amounts accordingly.

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