Feeding your chickens is one of, if not the most important, tasks 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 favorite snacks or kitchen scraps!
Get it wrong, and it can lead to reduced egg production, deformed eggs, feather picking, and other unwanted behavior.
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 straightforward.
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 from 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 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 favorite feeds in the table below.
|Scratch and Peck Feeds Naturally Free Organic Layer Feed||25lb||
|Kalmbach All Natural Layer Feed||50lb||
|Manna Pro Layer Pellets for Chickens||50lb||
|Scratch and Peck Feeds Naturally Free Organin Grower Feed for Chickens||10lb/25lb/40lb||
Our Picks On Best Chicken Treats
Best Black Soldier Fly Larvae
Grubblies World Harvest– Natural Grubs for Chickens
- Healthier Feathers
- Stronger and healthier eggshells
- Healthy Daily Snacks
- Easier Round Up
- Grown with Love. Grubblies World Harvest all-natural grubs are sustainably grown on farms around the world. No additives. No preservatives. No sprays. 100% natural, non gmo grubs.
Our Best Feed Pick
Chicken Feed Crumbles
- Rich yellow yolks
- Calcium Manganese and Trace Minerals
- Essential Amino Acids
- Key Levels of Vitamin A, D, E
- Prebiotics, Probiotics and Yeast
How To Feed Chickens
So now you know what you should be feeding your chickens, the next question is how you should 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 of The Best Chicken Feeder
Best Black Soldier Fly Larvae
Grandpa’s Feeders Automatic Chicken Feeder
- BUILT TO LAST
- FEED ON DEMAND
- LARGE FEED CAPACITY
- SAVE MONEY
- TRUSTED FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS
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 won’t eat them.
Be careful not to leave any pellets or feed them out overnight because this will attract pests such as mice.
Over time you will learn exactly how much feed your chickens need, which 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.
It would be best if you also were sure to clean up any leftover scraps. Remember that leaving them can attract insects, like ants and flies, or even attract rats.
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 most of your time at home, 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 straightforward.
You need to make sure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times.
You can place the water in any plastic container, but the easiest way is to buy a drinker.
If you live in a colder climate during the winter, the water will probably freeze over during the evenings, so 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 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.
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: 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 that we won’t repeat them.
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.
It would be best if you fed chickens off the ground. That may sound like the complete opposite of every old movie showcasing chickens.
You probably picture a farmer with an apron nonchalantly tossing corn to her chickens.
While the image is picturesque, the circumstances might be a tad different for us.
For example, your chickens may not be free-range, meaning they are in a small space of confinement.
This means they are living amongst their droppings.
Throwing feed on the ground in a coop is not the same as tossing a few snacks to chickens who have the run of the yard.
It’s best to use a tray, feeder, or your dish of choice to feed your chickens and keep their feed out of their own feces.
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 in 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.
Reduced 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 find that the eggs they do lay are too small or consistently contain double yolks, this would indicate their diet isn’t right.
If you are looking for a handy cheat sheet, be sure to check out this, which the Australian Government’s Agricultural department produced.
Common Questions About Rules for Feeding Chickens
If you still have lingering doubts, the following questions and answers should clear them up with ease.
Is It Illegal to Feed a Chicken Chicken?
Yes, in many places, including the United States, you cannot legally feed a chicken. This is because it is illegal to feed an animal any meat that is from the same animal.
This law helps reduce the risk of diseases that only affect certain species.
What Is Not Safe for Chickens to Eat?
It would be best if you never fed your chickens avocado (specifically the peel and pit), candy, chocolate, citrus, dry beans, rotten or moldy food, green potato skins, or junk food.
Do I Need to Feed My Chickens If They Are Free-range?
Yes, even if your chickens are free-range, you should feed them.
It would be best if you thought of access to pasture as a supplement to their diet. It would help if you still fed the chickens to provide them with the essential nutrients they need.
Remember that they need proper nutrition to remain healthy.
Why Is It Illegal in Some States to Feed Chickens Mealworms?
It simply is not suitable for your chickens to feed them insect protein. While not all areas ban this, some do. The issue comes from the fact that most mealworms and other insects dried for use in protein tend to be raised eating animal protein and waste.
This is not good for your chickens as you have no control over the feed quality or even whether the mealworms consumed chicken meat.
What Happens If You Feed Chicken to a Chicken?
Remember that you should not feed chicken to a chicken. This increases the risk of chicken-only diseases and is illegal in most areas.
That said, no one will know if you give chickens some scraps of leftover chicken. They will simply peck off and eat the soft tissues, fat, skin, and meat if you do this. They will not eat the bones as they physically cannot.
Let us know what your chicken’s favorite treat is in the comments below.