7 Surprising Rules for Feeding Chickens

7 Surprising Rules for Feeding Chickens Blog Cover

Feeding your chickens is one of, if not, the most important task when it comes to raising backyard chickens. Get it right and you will have a healthy flock who merrily cluck every time you bring them one of their favourite snacks or kitchen scraps!

Get it wrong, and it can lead to reduced egg production, deformed eggs, feather picking and other unwanted behaviour.

So, let’s gets straight into all you need to know about feeding chickens.

What Should You Feed Chickens?

Once you know what you’re doing, feeding your chickens is quite straight forward. We think what makes it tricky are some of the false myths posted online about what you can and can’t feed your chickens (such as feeding your chickens potato skin is bad for them- this is false! Chickens love potato skin).

The basis of any good chicken diet is a high quality poultry pellet (source).

We feed our girls layers pellets which provide them with the right amount of protein and minerals to keep them laying eggs! Pellets normally contain: wheat, salt, maize, sunflower seed and oats.

Feeding Chickens Pellets
© Andrew

Feeding your chickens pellets ensures that they are getting vital vitamins, nutrients and minerals form their food source to keep them healthy. This is even more important if your girls don’t have much outdoor space- because they won’t be able to get minerals and salt from the ground.

In addition to their core diet of pellets you can feed them grains such as corn or wheat to give them some variety.

Now the boring feed has been covered let’s talk about what else you can feed your hens.

Chickens love fruit and vegetables and you can give them this daily. Our girls love: vegetable peels, bananas, apple cores, carrots and broccoli. You are safe to feed chickens pretty much any vegetable or fruit except any raw green peels (such as green potato peel) and any citric fruits such as oranges and lemons.

Just remember they need whole grain, low salt and low sugar foods.

Does this mean you can’t feed them scraps from your dinner? Absolutely not, we discuss which kitchen scraps we give our girls later on in the article.

How To Feed Chickens

So now you know what you should be feeding your chickens the next question is how should you feed them?

We feed our chickens pellets once in the morning and once in the evening- remember they like to eat small portions but often.

Some people prefer to throw chicken pellet straight onto the floor and let their chickens peck at it there. We put our pellets into a chicken trough to keep them clean and dry.

Chicken Pellets in Chicken Feeder
© Tiggy

How Much Should You Feed Them?

Generally free-range chickens won’t over eat so you can’t over face them. If you put too many pellets in their feeder they simply won’t eat them.

Be careful to make sure not to leave any pellets or feed out overnight because this will attract pests such as mice.

Over time you will learn exactly how much feed your chickens need and this will depend on the breed, how active they are and the time of the year. If you are constantly finding feed in the trough then reduce the amount you give them slightly.

We have 12 hybrids and find that 4 large handfuls each morning and evening keep them happy.

Interesting side-note: a hen needs roughly 4 pounds of chicken feed to produce 12 eggs (source).



How Often Should You Feed Them?

This will depend more on your circumstances than on the chickens. If you are retired or spend the majority of your time at home then you can feed them pellets several times throughout the day.

However if you work or are away from your home throughout the day then you are best feeding them once in the morning and then again during the evening when you’re back home.

One thing to keep an eye on whilst you are feeding them is to make sure the most dominant (remember our discussion on the pecking order?) hens don’t eat all the food. If this is becoming an issue consider feeding the weaker birds on their own to ensure they get some food.

Water for Your Hens

Providing your hens with water is very straight forward, you just need to make sure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times.

You can place the water in any sort of plastic container, but the easiest way is to buy a drinker.

During the winter if you live in a colder climate, the water will probably freeze over during the evenings, so just make sure to break the ice up and clean out the bowl in the mornings.

Feeding Chickens Table Scraps

Of course no chicken feeding discussion is ever complete without discussing table/kitchen scraps.

Feeding chickens potato peel

One of the many benefits of keeping chickens is that the vast majority of your kitchen waste can be fed to them. This means they get a varied diet and you get to save some money!

Make sure to try and feed your chickens wholesome foods, such as rice, pasta, oats, fruits, vegetables and wholemeal bread. As a general rule if you can eat it so can they. However this excludes any fatty foods or foods with lots of salt in.

When we feed our girls scraps we tend to just cut it up into small (thumbnail sized) pieces and throw this straight onto the floor into their pen. We only place pellets in their trough.

You’d be amazed at some of the scraps your chickens eat- pizza, spaghetti and porridge to name a few!

Before you feed your chickens kitchen scraps, make sure to check your local regulations as in certain places (such as the UK) this can surprisingly be illegal.

5 Healthy Treats

Wow, these chickens sure are spoilt! On top of their pellets and kitchen scraps we’re surprised they still want to eat… but they do. Here are our girls top 5 healthy treats which we occasionally spoil them with:

  1. Worms: They absolutely love worms.
  2. Pumpkin: This includes pumpkin seeds.
  3. Apple Cores: Just throw the apple cores straight into the pen.
  4. Broccoli: For some reason they can’t get enough of it!
  5. Porridge: They only eat this during the winter months though.

 

What you Shouldn’t Feed Them

We’ve covered lots of food throughout the article that you shouldn’t feed chickens so we won’t repeat them again.

Other foods you shouldn’t feed chickens include: avocado, rhubarb, garlic, sweets, and any heavily processed food (i.e. crisps).

Just remember, as a general rule, if you can eat it so can chickens.

What Can Happen if Their Diet Isn’t Right?

A great email we received from a reader last week was ‘how do I tell if my chickens’ diet isn’t right’?

The first thing to say is, if you noticed a significant change to their eating habits, be sure to get a vet to look at them as soon as possible. However, if their diet isn’t right there will be certain signs such as.

Recued egg production: If the season hasn’t changed and their egg production changes significantly this could indicate something is wrong with their diet.

General unrest and feather picking: Again, if the season hasn’t changed and they are picking their feather or each other’s this could mean their diet isn’t correct.

Abnormal eggs: if you are finding that the eggs they do lay are too small or consistently contain double yolks, then this would indicate their diet isn’t right.

If you are looking for a handy cheatsheet, be sure to check out this, which was produced by the Australian Government’s Agricultural department.

Let us know what your chicken’s favourite treat is in the comments below.



Comments

  1. Lisa of Fresh Eggs Daily says

    Good article but actually white potatoes – all parts- contain the toxin solanine and should be avoided. Garlic is fine for chickens in moderation – mine get garlic powder added to their feed daily. And apple seeds contain cyanide, so feeding chickens apple cores isn’t really such a good idea. My suggestions come directly from the Merck Vet Manual – which is what I use as a guide in most cases.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Lisa thanks for getting in touch!

      When white potatoes are green it indicates the the toxin you mentioned, solanine, is present- However if it isn’t green it should be ok.

      We didn’t know about cyanide in apple seeds and we’ve just checked. Supposedly apple seeds contain around 0.6mg of cyanide per seed- so they would need to eat an awful lot of seeds to get poisoned but better to be safe than sorry! Sorry girls, looks like no more apples for you!

      • Rosalie Ferguson says

        I core my apples and chop them up and mix in oatmeal and unsalted sunflower seeds, my girls love it! My problem is my two Plymouth bared rocks and one Rhode Island red are getting their feathers on thier breastfeeding down to their butts plucked out and their skin is red the other Rhode Island red is as pretty as a picture! Is she bulling?

        • The Happy Chicken Coop says

          Hi Rosalie,

          I really like this mix and I will try this with my hens this week 🙂

          It seems quite likely considering that the RIR is in such great shape! You’d think if it was a molt or mites then all three would be loosing feathers…

          Claire

        • Ralse says

          Just smack the cores to a hard surface and most seeds just pop out. Even so, a tiny amount of cyanide won’t kill them and if it did it would do so acute.

      • ChickenLady says

        Seriously if your girls have been happily eating the apple cores seeds and all then I agree it would take an aweful lot to raise cyanide levels to a toxic level. It’s almost like the government banning the purchase of apricot kernels as they contain arsnic! Did the government forget to mention the other amazingly curative elements within the apricot kernel that negate the minute amount of arsnic found! Everything within a food product wether it be for us or for our wonderful chicks needs to be seen in totality not as a singular scare tactic xx
        Enough said and happy feeding 🙂

        • The Happy Chicken Coop says

          Hi Elizabeth,

          As a rule I don’t feed them nuts because they tend to be high in salt which is bad for them…

          Claire

      • Annie says

        I haven’t had chickens in a long time so I forget some of the food basics, there’s the chick feed and then when do you wean them over to layer? Like 17-18 weeks?

  2. Philip Davis says

    Feeding my my old lady hen [house hen] broccoli is that cooked or raw? Also are grapes all right to give to her she loves them I limit her to about three or four a day is that too many? I make an effort not to kill her with kindness but she is well loved and a real character. Her name is Jeany she is xbat.

    many thanks Phil Davis

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Phil,

      I feed the broccoli to them cooked, because it’s normally left over form what we don’t eat at dinner. Though you can give them raw broccoli in small quantities once in a while…

      Oh yes grapes are fine 🙂 Here is a little trick I use to spread them out- just slice the grapes in half so it keeps them occupied for a longer period of time!

      Claire

  3. Kristie says

    How do I know my birds are getting enough grit? We just got our first 4 hens last night and their run is grass. We are feeding them layered pellets cuz they are 7 months and laying. I want to make sure they are getting enough grit to digest but I’m not sure how to tell? Are there any indicator?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Kristie,

      You can normally tell just through their eggs. If the shells are nice and strong then they are getting enough grit 🙂

      Claire

      • Kucklin says

        Grit helps them digest food. To help make shells, you want oyster shell as a supplement.

        If they are free range, they are probably getting enough grit. If not, keep some available. As with the oyster shells, they will take what they need.

          • The Happy Chicken Coop says

            Hi Georgie,

            We tend to just scatter a large handful on the floor once every couple of weeks 🙂

            Claire

          • Eric says

            I bake and then finely grind my hens used shells. I keep the powder in a jar and add it to their feed. Works great as grit and it’s free.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Travis,

      I would feed them laying pellets as their primary diet and then give them snacks and treats as a supplement!

      Claire

      • Siquala says

        Advisable to feed layer ration only when they start laying not before as it will be too much protein, I have been told by vets and at conferences. Also advised to NOT feed layer ration to males as it can cause blockages. Best to feed males a finisher ration.

        • chris says

          Hi, how do u keeep ur rooster on a separate diet if he’s in the coop with thr ladies? I find mine has his head in the feeder an awful lot. I can’t separate them at feeding time.

          • The Happy Chicken Coop says

            Hi Chris,

            If they are in the same coop you can’t keep them on a separate diet. Unless, you separate him each time they feed and opt to restrict their feeding to certain hours of the day.

            Claire

  4. Marty says

    We have had a lot of rain . It was so wet I had to open another part of my garden. There coop is off the ground (24″) Can too much wet ground hurt them?…

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Marty,

      It depends how much water there is- you definitely don’t want it to be like a pond!

      As long as it’s just a bit damp and there is no lasting surface water then they will be fine.

      Claire

  5. Ralse says

    I’m currently making an analysis of our organic waste to see if I can optimize things. It’s strange that I couldn’t find any feeding article yet that says you can’t feed chicken meat waste to chickens. For some people this may seem obvious, but it still makes me wonder, isn’t it illegal to do so in many countries? Also, a lot of articles say you shouldn’t feed chickens more than 20% of their diet with organic waste, so 80% is purchased food, what is your advice?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Ralse,

      Thank you for getting in touch.

      The only difficulty I see with feeding chickens organic waste is being able to calculate exactly how much nutrition they are getting.

      I think a 80/20 breakdown is sensible. I always make sure my girls get the majority of their intake from layers pellets and then they get snacks and treats throughout the day…

      Claire

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Carole,

      They can technically eat onions but the taste can spread into the eggs, so I wouldn’t recommend it!

      Claire

  6. TERESA KEEVER says

    Just got 2 chickens first time and they seem happy. They follow me every where I think it’s because I fed them from my hand first day. Built my own coop it’s bit higgly piggy but it’s up and I hope Thelma and Louise start laying

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Teresa,

      Congratulations!

      Welcome to chicken raising and I’m sure they will start laying soon 🙂

      Be sure to email us if you have any questions along the way,

      Claire

  7. Tammy Renee' says

    By reading this article, questions, comments and suggestions has been very helpful. Just 4 days ago I purchased 5 hens whereas I have gathered 6 eggs thus far. How do I know which hens are laying? There are 3 RIR and 2 white hens.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Tammy,

      Unless you sit and watch them in and out of the nest box it’s difficult.

      However, your RIR’s will lay brown eggs whereas your white hens (presuming they are leghorns) will lay white eggs.

      Claire

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Lauren,

      You can feed some vegetables raw. But as we feed all our vegetables as leftovers, they have already been cooked yes 🙂

      Claire

  8. loren says

    How much meal worms should I fees to four hens?
    I raise both large,which are about an inch long, , and super worms that are about two inches long.

    • Dee says

      yes ,you can,I do this from the beginning.I just place in the microwave for 3-4 minutes or in oven high temp for 5-10 minutes,after that I grind ,is powder,they love it. I save all the shells,I wash and let dry.
      My problems is the pallets,I have organic pallets ,very expensive ,but they wouldn’t touch,get on my last nerve.No more treats ,for sure.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Lesley,

      I’ve seen chicks as young as a few days old eating mealworms- so you can’t really give them snacks ‘too young’.

      However I tend to wait until they are around 16 weeks until I start giving them treats,

      Claire

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Stuart,

      Yes. A simple rule of thumb to help you is if you can eat it, so can your hen!

      However, this doesn’t apply to salty foods,

      Claire

  9. Linda says

    Hi Claire,
    I have just acquired an Isa Brown, a Leghorn and an Australorp, all beautiful hens. My question is, should I feed them overnight…I’ve heard their crop needs to empty?!? they are free range on 2 acres during the day and roost in the coop I’ve built them overnight (hasn’t fallen down yet:), I work shift work and so feed them grit and pellets am and pm and they are spoilt rotten in between, they get plenty of exercise following me everywhere I go, just don’t want to overfeed the girls? They seem to eat what they want and then move on to bugs, insects, worms etc…

  10. Keren says

    Hi. I have 3 Americanas, 1 white leghorn, and 3 Production Reds. (Not sure if that is related to RI Reds or not.) I have been feeding layer crumbles. What is the difference between the layer crumbles and layer pellets?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Keren,

      Not really any nutritional difference.

      The only difference is their texture, crumbles are just crushed up pellets 🙂

      Claire

  11. Susan Woods says

    I have a chicken that just showed up in my yard and has adopted me. No one has been able to catch her as she is incredibly fast, but she always come back to me so looks like I have a chicken. I have grown attached to her & want to care for her in healthy / positive ways so thank you all for your input on feeding chickens.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Susan,

      I hope you’ve managed to catch her now 🙂

      Not a problem, I’m happy the website is helping you!

      Be sure to drop us an email if you have any questions or get stuck along the way,

      Claire

  12. Wendy says

    We have been feeding our 8 chickens grain mixes (can’t get pellets near us in Spain) and I have also been giving them mung bean sprouts and sprouted rye and oats which have grass on them every 3 or 4 days. They also get spinach, lettuce and any left over veg. They rush over to the corner of their run whenever they see us and some days if we are out often we don’t get many eggs. We wondered if we gave them enough food once a day, they would not always be thinking of treats every time they see us. Any advice please, we are beginners.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Wendy,

      Even when my girls are full they still rush over to me thinking there are more treats coming- I don’t think it’s something you can stop!

      I personally love to see my hens racing over to me… even if it is just the treats 🙂

      Claire

  13. Cheryl says

    Do chickens like a wet mushy feed for variety, any problems with it?
    I read that garlic is a natural way to kill any internal parasites in chickens. Recommendation was to feed minced garlic 2-4 times per year.Is this true?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Cheryl,

      Do you mean that you will mush up their pellets?

      In terms of garlic, yes you can crush a clove into their feed. Instead of feeding it as a routine though it should be used when your hens seem ‘down’ 🙂

      Claire

  14. Ginni Le Moigne says

    Thank you for this information , just came here because I wanted info on molting ,but got so much more, especially on the feed side and room for them. I have three RIR and they run around the farm doing their own thing every day. They follow me to my car and try to steal the dog treats. I was worried about my dog being with them as she does like chasing pheasants and trying to grab their tail feathers as they fly away .She is a boxer and likes to play with anything that moves ,anyway she was trying to eat their food the other day and one of the hens pecked her nose . So guess who is boss now . Great this pecking order thing .:-D

  15. mary says

    I have 4 chickens which I was given when they were small about 12 weeks old, They are now about 9 months old. I found your web site incredibly helpful in giving me advise on food and wellbeing. My chickens are now huge but as yet have not started laying. I was told this could be because they were growing during the winter months and therefore may not start to lay till spring, Could this be the reason or have I not done something I should have. They are feed layers pellets twice a day mixed grit weekly and corn and scraps as a treat. They seem in good spirits and seem happy.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Mary,

      Thank you for your kind words!

      This could absolutely be the reason, and I would wait until mid-spring to see if they start laying before getting too concerned 🙂

      Claire

  16. Mary Downs says

    What great advice from your notes I loved reading all of them and have gained so much knolege for the chickens Thankyou

  17. Becky says

    Hi. I’m also a new chicken mommy. Your site and information has helped tons. I have 5 and they are now 13 weeks. Since I’m not getting eggs yet my most favorite time is when they greet me at the pin door.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      So happy the site has helped you Becky 🙂

      Hope they start laying for you soon!

      Claire

  18. Fouad says

    What a great discussion! Found kaboodles of info on here pertaining to feed and general upkeep, in the comments. Thanks, champs!

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Kimberly,

      As I only give them leftover rice it is always cooked…

      If by old fashioned you mean coarse then yes that’s fine 🙂

      Claire

  19. Karen McKinzie says

    I am just starting to research raising chickens and have found your site and the Q&A very helpful.
    One of my concerns is going out of town for a couple of days once in awhile. Can they be left with sufficient food and water?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Karen,

      The biggest problem you will find with this is not being able to lock their coop at night- this is crucial as predators will attack at night time.

      Is it possible a friend could come over at night to lock the coop up?

      Claire

  20. Karen says

    Hi guys,
    Our 7 girls are about 4 years old and we are only getting about 3-4 eggs a day instead of 6-7 a day.
    We have a trough full of high quality chook food available at all times but also give them a tray of scraps each day that usually contains a lot of greens such as spinach or silverbeet, cooked rice, a bit of bread and some sort of meat such as sausages, steak, roast, curry etc..

    We’ve ‘heard’ that the meat will be stopping them from laying… seeking some advice please… it’s getting expensive to feed them for no eggs as a result..

    Thanks

    • mike says

      Chickens lay the most eggs their first year. The second year they lay less eggs, but they are larger. The third year and thereafter they lay even less eggs with no increase in size. I had a hen that was nine years old and only laid about eighteen eggs the last five years.

  21. Lesley Bateman Brougham says

    Any ideas would be welcome on how to build our 1st chicken coop. We live in Scotland so temperatures in the winter can be -10. Thank you, have read your blog, very interesting.

  22. Kristi says

    I love to watch my girls when I add minnows to a shallow water pan.
    They are so fun to watch when they go fishing and when they catch one, they can’t just eat it, they run around the yard which alerts the others that they have something and the chase is ON. ?
    The fisher-hen eventually will put the minnow down to look at it and immediately it will be snatched up by another hen to keep the chase going.

  23. Katelyn says

    We have a mix of different breeds- they are very sweet. We have never cooked any of the peels/scraps we have fed them. Is it okay either way?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      For most food it is ok either way Katelyn. Just make sure to read the list of toxic ones to avoid 🙂

      Claire

  24. Vanessa Longfellow says

    Ive been reading about adding water to there feed and making a mash. It forments it. Ive been trying it. But my egg production has gone down. So its back to the dry feed.I have a lot of herbs in there feed and think that may not work in the mash… like garlic, oregano, parsley… Anyway Ive dropped from 14 eggs a day to about 10… Don’t think I want to keep trying this. It says that it better for the chickens. less poop…. any ideas.

  25. brigitte says

    I have 8 chicks, 1 month old. they love broccoli but I’m not sure how often I can give it to them. I have tried other fruit and vegetables but they don’t like banana, apples, cucumber and tomatoes but they follow me for broccoli !!

  26. olga says

    In there any alternatives to pellets? I really want to have truly organic eggs and most pellets are just not really great about ingredients. Is there a way to feed chickens unprocessed feed? What would it be?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Ogla,

      Yes there are alternatives. Ask at your local pet feed store for organic poultry feed.

      Claire

  27. Rosalie Gassen says

    I heard that chickens like a dirt or sand bath to keep pest away. What type of dirt or sand should I put in their dirt bath container?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Rosalie,

      Just regular plain old dirt will work fine! Just make sure its dry 🙂

      Claire

  28. GERALD ENOCHS says

    My granddaughter recently got 4 chicks (I believe they are White Leghorns) from her school. So, now I’m the proud owner of chickens. I really appreciate the information on your site as I have never raised chickens. I have a lot to learn, but wanted to make sure the new chicks, now 4 weeks old, are started out right. Should I leave food out for them at night?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Gerald,

      This is a personal decision, however I personally don’t provide feed over night.

      Claire

  29. Bell says

    My chickens love crickets & snails in shells. Snails used to eat my garden now the chickens eat them. I buy live meal worms at pet store… Once in while they find a lizard in the yard & chase the winner. Also a garden snake which they played tug of war. When we have hot days I give them frozen corn. I bought them a blue plastic pool but they don’t seem to like it, yet.

  30. Donna Shaw says

    Please help! My chickens like to sleep on the top of the passionfruit vine even in the rain. I built them a beautiful warm house but they wont go in. Theyre too fast to catch or try to herd them into the house during the day. When I try to move them in the night, they wake up and scream. Any ideas how to get them to go and sleep in their house? Thankyou

    • Kehaulani says

      Leave the door open and when you go to feed them in the morning place the food well within the coop and leave water for them also inside the coop. I have trained my girls to come eat when I ring the dinner gong. Ring it every time you feed them. Soon they will come running when they hear the gong. Then at nighrt you can close the door on them while they are feeding, just be sure the have somewhere to roost.

  31. Bryn says

    Chickens should eat the same as wild ground feeding birds like quail and pheasant. Greens and all kinds of worms-bugs should be the major diet. Corn and soy is hard on their liver and probably wheat too. Table scraps are fine occasionally. We seem to change animals diets to keep it cheap and convenient for us. Its just not right.

  32. Wikkett says

    My chickens wouldn’t go in their house either, we purchased an automatic chicken door opener, put them in their coop with the door closed and set the timer to open at 6am and close at 8pm. The smarter chickens taught the slow learning ones when to come in and out and now they all go in before the door closes at 8pm! Also keeps them safe from predators! It’s super funny watching them line up and enter the coop.

    • Sarah says

      That’s a brilliant tip, hoping to get chickens in the near future and think this is a great idea! It’s amazing that they’re teaching each other ?

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