Providing your chickens with the right diet is essential to their health and well being. It will also makes a big difference to the volume and quality of their egg production.
Depending on the age of your chickens, they will have different nutritional requirements. A day old chicken will need to be fed different feed to that of an Adult chicken.
Here we will endeavor to help you choose the appropriate food for chickens, keeping them healthy and laying lots of eggs.
How to Feed Chickens
Chickens need a constant supply of food throughout the day, feeders must be checked in the morning to ensure they are topped up so that the chickens have access to plenty of food for the day. Also check that the feed has not been soiled, or contaminated.
Some dominant personalities may prevent more subservient chickens from accessing food – so, ideally, have a feeder inside the coop as well as one outside the run if they are free-rangers.
Chickens love to forage for growing grasses (e.g. clover), weeds, seeds, worms, insects, slugs and snails. Sometimes, a rooster may even catch a mouse and feed it to his hens! Backyard chickens will also happily eat food scraps (though not all of these are safe – more on this later).
While chickens are by nature great foragers, you also need to provide the best chicken feed that is tailored for their stage of life.
Best Chicken Feed
Chickens require a balanced and diverse diet of protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, and minerals. They require the right feed product:
Starter Chicken Feed –
Also known as “chick crumbs”, starter feed is suitable for hatching chicks up to six weeks of age. It contains 19% protein which baby chicks need as they do a lot of growing in their first 6 weeks of life. By feeding chick starter feed to your chickens it will give them everything that they need to grow into healthy adults and become good layers.
If your chickens haven’t been vaccinated, then you will need to feed them a starter feed that is medicated which will help prevent them getting diseases. To help you with making a decision on what starter feed to use we have compared your choices.
Grower Chicken Feed –
Between six and eighteen weeks, your chicks are known as pullets. These young birds will grow quickly and need the right feed to help them achieve this. Grower chicken feed, grower’s mash, or grower’s pellets are carbohydrate-rich and contain 15-16% protein.
Layer Chicken Feed –
Hens start laying between eighteen and twenty-two weeks of age. You should start to feed your chickens layers pellets from about sixteen weeks, so they will be getting the right nutrients to produce healthy eggs. Laying chicken feed, pellets, or mash contains 15-17% protein which enables regular, healthy egg-laying.
Chicken Scratch –
A mixture of cracked corn and grains. It contains few nutrients except for 8-9% protein but supplies your hens with calories and is very tasty! Feed scratch in moderation as a complement to chicken feed – if too much or fed exclusively, your hens will get fat and produce fewer eggs.
This is made up of tiny stones which chickens eat to help their digestion. It grinds food in the chicken’s gizzard (birds have no teeth, so food is swallowed whole). While they do forage for their own grit, they may not be able to find enough, so providing grit is very important. It may be added to feed or offered separately.
Oyster Shell –
Is a fantastic addition to grit which provides calcium, crucial for laying eggs with strong shells.
TIPS for Feeding your Chickens
- Provide a cabbage head for your hens to peck at – it is fun, entertaining, and good for them.
- If you run out of feed, hard boil and chop eggs (including shells) to feed your birds for a day or two. You can also give them most kitchen scraps, such as apple cores, broccoli, carrots, bananas, and most vegetable peels.
- Make sure your hens always have access to fresh drinking water.
What are the Different Types of Chicken Feed Available:
- Fermented Feed – improved enzyme and vitamin content and keeps your birds feeling fuller for longer.
- Medicated Chicken Feed – common in starter and grower feeds, it helps prevent coccidiosis and other flock diseases. It is not suitable for birds that have been vaccinated.
- Non-Medicated feed – ideal for vaccinated birds
- Organic Feed – balanced feed containing wheat, barley, fish meal, corn, molasses, flax seed, and other organic ingredients to produce truly organic eggs.
- Non-GMO Feed – created from non-genetically-modified organic ingredients.
Essential Nutrients for Maintaining your Chickens Health and to keep them Laying
To maintain health and to grow adequate feathers after molting, as well as to produce robust eggs, your hens particularly require protein in their diet. This is much easier to access when your hens can free-range, foraging for grubs and insects. The right chicken fee is also essential. You may also supplement your hens’ protein requirements by feeding:
Storage of Chicken Feed
Chicken feed needs to be kept in a dry, rodent-proof container so that it does not attract rats and mice and to prevent wastage due to it becoming soggy or mouldy. Ideally, use a metal lidded bin or large robust plastic tub with a well-fitting, impermeable lid.
What NOT to Feed Chickens
Some foodstuffs may be harmful to your chickens, or simply compromise the quality and taste of your eggs.
The following may kill your chickens:
- Dried or raw beans (e.g. kidney beans) as they are toxic to chickens. Birds may die within an hour of eating these.
- Any food showing signs of mold – including feed.
- Avocado, including the skin and stone – the toxin persin in avocado can quickly lead to heart and breathing problems and death.
- Green potatoes or green tomatoes – toxins present in these will poison your birds.
- Chocolate – like dogs, chickens do not do well if they consume chocolate. The darker the chocolate, the more dangerous it can be.
Also, DO NOT feed chickens:
- Potato peel
- Citrus fruit or peel
- Onion or garlic
- Salty foods
- Uncooked rice
- Coffee grounds
- Unshelled walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans
- Don’t use snail or slug baits or pest or weed killers if you have backyard chickens.
- Some plants can be poisonous to chickens – they will usually avoid eating these, but not always. Limit your hens’ access to (or get rid of) azalea, daffodils, daphne, anemone, clematis, delphinium, ranunculus, hydrangea, honeysuckle, foxglove, ivy, jasmine, lantana, lily of the valley, monkshood, oleander, rhododendron, sweet pea, tulip, and wisteria. (This is not an exhaustive list).
- Don’t give your hens (or rooster) leaves of rhubarb, tomato, or potato plants.
It’s not difficult to feed your chickens – they are not fussy eaters and they love treats. Follow these guidelines and you’ll have happy, healthy birds who lay beautiful eggs!