Feeding is a basic daily need for chickens, and while most chickens are natural foragers, they need to be fed proper, quality chicken feed to enjoy their best life and reliably produce the best, tastiest, healthiest eggs.
A chicken’s diet needs to be balanced in terms of carbohydrate, vitamin, protein, and mineral content. The birds should have a constant supply of commercial pellet food to nibble at during each day, as well as table scraps, grit, corn, and treats. Feeders need to be topped up daily otherwise dominant chickens will prevent others from accessing their share of food.
Most chickens will get enough protein from late winter through early autumn from a good quality commercial feed as well as foraging for bugs, insects, worms, lizards, and even small frogs.
Your chickens will most likely need you to help them out by providing more protein at certain times.
Why Do Chickens Need High Protein Food?
Requirements for protein vary by the stage of life of the chicken.
Protein helps your chickens produce and lay eggs. It is imperative for growth, feather production, growing nails, maintaining the beak, and creating eggs. As well as needing protein to produce eggs, it is essential when your chickens are molting.
Molting refers to losing feathers. Feathers are keratin, which is 90% protein. Molting occurs each year in later autumn and early winter when breeding season has finished and the birds grow new winter feathers. Your birds will look scruffy and semi-naked during molting, but it’s normal!
New feather growth can be uncomfortable for your chickens and the birds can be extra sensitive. At this time, and until your birds have their new coat of feathers, your flock needs an extra boost of protein. They will also need plenty of fresh water at all times.
You can either purchase high protein chicken feed for your birds or add moderate sources of it to your regular feed such as:
- Meal worms – fresh or dried
- Freshwater prawns
- Raw, unsalted nuts – chopped walnuts, almonds, peanuts
- Oats – raw or cooked, whole or rolled
- Seeds – sunflower, pumpkin
- Herbs – coriander, basil, dill, fennel, parsley, saffron, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, spearmint
High Protein Snacks for Chickens
Chickens love a treat. As well as those mentioned above, you can try offering them these foods for molting chickens in moderation – but be very careful not to overdo it:
- Cooked eggs – try omelette or scrambled eggs
- Shellfish – raw or cooked meat, shells, and innards of prawns, lobster and other shellfish
- Cooked turkey or chicken is high in protein – when you have a roast chicken, give your chickens the carcass to peck at
- Meat scraps – pork, lamb or beef, either raw or cooked and including the bones can be given to chickens
- Fish – tuna, sardines (no additives including salt or oil if tinned)
- Sprouted lentils – mung beans, peas, beans, alfalfa
- Chick feed
- Hemp seeds
- Cauliflower, Broccoli, Spinach
Too Much Protein in Chickens
Have your chickens been getting too much? It is possible to overfeed your chickens, and overfeeding protein has its own unique consequences. Too much can damage the kidneys and cause malnutrition.
Signs of too much can include:
- Rapid growth and weight gain
- Avian gout
- Laying too soon (before 16 weeks)
- Organ failure
- Skeletal issues
- Double-yoked eggs more than very occasionally
- Laying more than one egg per day
- Laying a second egg with a thin or soft shell
- Reduction in rooster fertility
The right balance of protein will improve your chickens’ health and state of mind. They will be more comfortable during molting, lay better, and feel happier. Just remember that when the molt is done, go back to your regular feeding patterns.