Let us suppose that the pullets intended for winter egg-production are well matured, and in their laying quarters, and that the farmer's object is to get as many eggs as possible from them while such are at then-highest market value. In the first place, it must be borne in mind that fowls left to their own natural resources seldom produce eggs in winter, owing to the fact that during the colder months of the year the birds are unable to obtain sufficient natural food for the upkeep of their bodies with, in addition, the surplus necessary for producing eggs. Eggs are produced out of the surplus food not required by the fowls to maintain bodily warmth and build up animal tissue, so that, if we are to maintain a high physical condition in the birds, and at the same time obtain eggs from them' during the colder months of the year, we must feed them generously, and the food supplied must be rich in nutritive elements and of a warmth-creating nature. The food conducive to good results during the summer-time would be inadequate for the needs of fowls during the winter season.
If the fowls are running on orchard land, they will often be subjected to more exposure than will birds kept under more confined conditions, and will therefore need foods suitable for the creation of bodily. warmth, as well as for the building up of tissue and the formation of eggs. Heat-producing foods are those rich in carbohydrates, or fat-forming elements, and these should be used in the form of grains given to the fowls before they retire to roost, with the object of providing them with sustenance and bodily warmth during the long, cold nights. Maize is a grain food rich in carbohydrates, or heat-producers, and may be used in conjunction with other grains of a more nutritive nature, such as oats and wheat, but only during spells of frosty weather. The use of this grain in mild weather would tend to produce internal fat rather than bodily warmth.
The breakfast and noon feeds should be of a nutritive rather than of a heat or fat-producing nature, as during the daytime the birds can maintain bodily warmth by foraging or exercising under the scratching-sheds. To feed fowls on foods rich in carbohydrates during the daytime would be to create the internal fat that hinders egg-production. After a long night's fast, the fowls need food that will quickly appease their hunger, and, therefore, breakfast should take the form of a soft, warm mash. Fowls, like humans, need a varied diet to keep them in health, and the more variety there is in their daily rations the better they will thrive and lay.
Mashes for Fowls
Though the first feed of the day should be a warm, nourishing mash, it must not be of too concentrated a nature, as fowls need bulky as well as nutritious foods during the winter. Boiled vegetable matter may be used, to add bulk to the mashes. Fowls running on good orchard land will, in fine .weather, get sufficient green food to keep them in health, but during spells of inclement weather need vegetable matter in some form. If rough garden produce is not available, the best thing to use is finely cut clover chaff. This, properly used, possesses a much higher food value than green vegetables. A supply of chaffed second-crop clover should be stored up for winter use, and whenever the fowls are cut off from their grass runs, some of this food should be boiled and added to the breakfast mashes.
A good mash for the winter feeding of fowls may be prepared by mixing together three parts pea or bean-meal, two parts barley-meal, one part bran, half a part granulated meat or rough, boiled meat from the butcher's, and sufficient steaming hot clover and clover tea to render the whole stiff and adhesive. When mixed, the mash should be allowed to stand half an hour to part cook the meals, after which enough sharps should be added to work the mash into a crumbly state. The mash should be served to the fowls in a warm state, and as much as they will eat greedily in ten minutes should be allowed.
No hard and fast rule can be laid down respecting the quantity of food required by a certain number of fowls, as some breeds eat much more than others. Roughly speaking, the heavier fowls will require one and a half ounces of soft food each for breakfast, while for the lighter ones an ounce each will suffice. Should the weather be fine, the fowls will require no food between the breakfast and supper meals, as they will satisfy their wants by foraging, but should the weather be inclement, they may be confined to the scratching-sheds, and allowed a light handful of small grain, such as wheat, at noon. This should be raked well into the litter, so that the birds may be exercised in scratching for it.
The best grains to use as supper feeds are oats and wheat. These should be used alternately in mild weather, but should a spell of frost occur, they should be used in conjunction with maize. Half of oats and half of maize should be given one night, followed the next night by half of wheat and half of maize.
So much for the feeding of fowls during the winter months. We will now deal with their feeding during the milder seasons of the year. Animal heat will be generated to a large extent by the more genial climatic conditions, so that foods rich in carbohydrates will not be needed. The morning mash may consist of equal parts, by measure, of bran, pea-meal, and sharps mixed with hot water and worked into a crumbly state. Biscuit-meal may take the place of pea-meal on alternate mornings, as fowls appreciate a change of diet. Should the orchard land be providing insect food in abundance, no animal matter need be added to the mashes, but otherwise the birds should be given at midday either granulated meat, that has been previously scalded with boiling water, fresh-cut bones, or rough, cooked and finely chopped meat from the butcher's.
The grains used for the supper feeds should consist of good plump oats and wheat given alternately.
Fowls kept on garden plots (see article dealing with shelters and runs on page 1576, Part 13, of Every Woman's Encyclopedia) may during the winter, be fed on morning mashes similar, excepting for the addition of boiled clover, to that recommended for birds running on orchard land, but whereas the latter birds may dispense with the use of the scratching-shed on fine days, the former must be made to work in it every day to keep them in good physical condition. The clover in the mash may be replaced by any boiled vegetables, except potatoes, which are too fattening to be used safely among fowls kept in small runs. Since the fowls will be managed in conjunction with vegetable culture, there need be no scarcity of green food and roots, and such should be used daily for adding bulk to the mashes.
In frosty weather supper feeds may consist of two parts oats and one part maize, or two parts wheat and one part maize, or the different mixtures may, with advantage, be used alternately.
An ounce of soft food should be allowed each bird for breakfast, and at noon a light feed of fine grain, such as wheat screenings, should be raked well into the scratching-shed litter. This will keep the birds busily employed until the afternoon, when green food or roots should be given them to peck at. If the green food, such as cabbage, is suspended a couple of feet from the ground, the birds will find exercise and amusement in jumping up to peck at it, but in no case should it be thrown on to the ground to become trodden upon and fouled. Roots, such as swedes and mangolds, should be split into halves and placed in wooden troughs.
During the milder seasons of the year the morning mashes may be prepared as for those fowls running on orchard land, and the grains used may also be similar. The fowls will get a good supply of animal food, such as worms, during the times that the plots are being dug over, but should there be a shortage of this essential factor in egg-production, meat must be added to the mash food. When the weather is fine and the ground dry, the use of the scratching-shed may be dispensed with by lightly burying the noonday feed of grain in the soil composing the run, and the outdoor healthy exercise will ensure robust health in the fowls.
All the grain food given should be scattered among litter, or lightly buried in the soil forming the runs. The birds should have their last feed of grain each day an hour before they retire to roost, which will allow them time to do some scratching whilst the light lasts. The morning mashes should be served in the winter at 8 a.m., and at other seasons at 7 a.m.
Soft food should be put into wooden or metal troughs placed in the open when fine, and under cover of the scratching-sheds in inclement weather. A good supply of cool, clean water should be kept within easy reach of the birds, as should also a trough containing sharp flint grit and crushed oyster shells, without which they will fail to digest their food or form shell for their eggs.
Feeding should be done at regular times, and the aim of the feeder should be to create activity among the birds. If overfed, the fowls will become lethargic, and fail to produce eggs, but if, on the other hand, they are a little underfed, they will be induced by a healthy appetite to forage among the grass or scratch about the earth runs.
A word may be added on the use of spices and tonics. Spices of a pungent nature, such as cayenne pepper and ginger, should not be used to promote egg-production, as they lead to liver troubles. If the fowls need a pick-me-up during the winter laying season, a little sulphate of iron may be placed in the drinking water, or a teaspoonful of mustard for every six birds may be added to the mash food. During the milder seasons well-fed fowls need no additional stimulant, and tonics and spices should be erased from the bill of fare.
All foods used should be clean and wholesome, as it is only under such conditions that the best results can be obtained.