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 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.
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.
Before we move on to discuss how to feed your chickens let’s finish this section by discussing how you can ensure you are feeding your hens a high quality feed. Your feed should be high in protein, organic, and ideally milled in the US. A good quality feed will ensure your hens are healthy and laying eggs. We have shared some of our favourite feeds in the table below.
Our Pick: The Best Chicken Feed for Layers
Scratch and Peck Feeds Naturally Free Organic Layer Feed
Scratch and Peck’s layers feed is one of my hens’ favorite. Its non-GMO, soy free and crucially its USDA certified organic. The feed is milled right here in the US and unless you are making your own feed your hens won’t get a higher quality feed. One thing I noticed soon after switching to this feed was the color of my egg yolks; they turned a deeper golden orange color and are bursting with flavor.
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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.
Our Pick: The Best Chicken Feeder
Grandpa’s Feeders Automatic Chicken Feeder
One of my favorite chicken feeders is Grandpa’s automatic chicken feeder. This on demand feeder means your hens will have access to feed all day round, which ensures optimal laying and healthy chickens. It also helps to eliminate feed spillage, keeps pests away and as a result means you save on feed cost.
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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.
|MIller Little Giant Poultry Waterer Fount||7 Gallons||
|RentACoop Chicken Waterer||5 Gallons||
|Rite Farm Chicken Waterer||2.5 Gallons||
|RentACoop Chicken Waterer||3.5 Gallons||
Feeding Chickens Table Scraps
Of course no chicken feeding discussion is ever complete without discussing table/kitchen scraps.
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:
- Worms: They absolutely love worms.
- Pumpkin: This includes pumpkin seeds.
- Apple Cores: Just throw the apple cores straight into the pen.
- Broccoli: For some reason they can’t get enough of it!
- 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.