We have a few hens in a large walled Victorian cattle yard. Cattle long gone and now it is grassed over. We feed them whole wheat and they have access to some layers pellets. I was surprised, they do eat the pellets but don't clear them up, they prefer the wheat. Being on grass, they find all sorts of other things to eat so alleviating the need to fill up on pellets i guess.
When I first left school, I worked on a farm with loads of bantams around the place. They were never fed but "scratched a living". That didn't stop them laying; Bill Jacobs, the shepherd taught me how to get a cup of tea by timing our deliveries of "newly discovered eggs" to the farmhouse at the most likely times to be offered one.
Otherwise it was "keep an eye out for when Sally gets back".
Then: "Want a hand in with the shopping Sally?"
"Oh thanks Bill, would you like a cup of coffee?"
@Clive, this is what I get get from village pet stores
I've 22 geriatric hens and a cockerel that I could happily strangle.
They were laying 10-14 eggs per day through summer ,now down to 2 a day,,they cost more to feed than what they are worth,I would get shut of the lot but I was out voted
Grains can be fed whole to hens as they have a crop to break them down with, although I do find some struggle with whole maize. You shouldn't feed hens barley as apparently they don't have the enzymes to break it down or something?! I've not had any first hand experience of any problems caused by it though.