Chicken feed may not be something you give a great deal of thought to – you go buy a bag for your hens and that’s it.
Companies that manufacture chicken feed actually give a great deal of thought, time and research to feeding all poultry exactly what they need.
If your hens are eating the right feed you will be rewarded with healthy hens than lay lots of eggs for you. But feeding them the wrong feed can be a disaster for their health and also egg production.
In our complete guide to chicken feed, we are going to take a look at: basic requirement requirements, what goes into each type of feed, the perfect feed for your flock and lots more.
Basic Feed Requirements
Over many years now the poultry feed industry has researched and refined the essential nutritional requirements of poultry, from chicks to adult, from chickens to quail, turkey and others.
The feed that they produce is formulated to maximize the growth and egg laying potential of each bird.
Needless to say this is a huge improvement over the way our great-grandparents would have fed chickens! Back in the ‘old days’ chickens would have to survive on what they found in the barnyard and any offerings from the farmers’ wife.
Research has shown that many nutrients are needed by all birds to a greater or lesser degree, your feed should include:
- All feed contains protein. The amount of protein will vary based on the age of the bird or type of bird (more on this later).
- There are usually some amino acids – lysine and methionine are the commonest.
- Vitamins – most often A, E, D3 and B12 plus trace mineral elements such as phosphorus and copper sulfate.
- Enzymes to help with digestion and of course fiber in the form of the grain in the product.
- Some feeds may have other additives such as Omega 3, but this varies brand to brand. This added Omega 3 increases the egg’s Omega 3 count, making eggs healthier for people to eat.
Always read your product labels so that you know what they contain. You will find the labels attached to the bottom of the feed sack or in the case of smaller bags of feed, it may be printed onto the bag itself.
Chicken Feed Terminology Explained
Chicken feed has several key phrases and if you don’t know them the feed bag labels will likely confuse you!
Here’s a list of the most frequent terms:
- Pellets: Chicken feed is made into pelletized form for ease of use and decreased waste.
- Crumbles: Pellets that have been reduced to chick size pieces for ease of eating.
- Mash: Mash is basically unprocessed feed. The particles are very small almost powder-like. It can be used for chicks or adults and it can be fed dry or wet.
- Fermented: This is any type of chicken feed that has been mixed with water and allowed to ferment naturally.
- Medicated: This is feed that has been treated with a coccidiostat to help chicks to overcome any possible attack by coccidian protozoa.
- Un-Medicated: Chick feed without a coccidiostat.
Perfect Feed for Your Flock
Once your pullets start laying eggs they can be changed over to layer feed which is usually around 16% protein. Don’t move your hens onto layer feed until they start lying, as it can damage their kidneys.
From now on layer feed will make up the majority of your chickens’ diet.
Layer feed has less protein (typically 16%) and in general does not contain as many vitamins. However, this can vary from brand to brand. Feed manufactures work to ensure their feed has the right balance of calcium, protein and other key minerals and vitamins.
At the moment our favorite is Scratch and Peck Feeds Naturally Free Organic Layer Feed. It meets all the requirements mentioned above, its non-GMO, organic, and milled here in the US.
It is best to change gradually since an abrupt change can cause diarrhea or other gastric problems. If you have used crumbles up until now, don’t worry about changing up to pellet food. The birds will adjust nicely and pellets are less wasteful.
Other Types of Chicken Feed
Feed for Meat Birds
If you are raising meat birds, you will know they require a much higher protein content to keep up with their rapid development.
If you don’t give them sufficient protein they will fail to thrive and you may have significant health problems with them.
The life of a broiler chicken is very short, sometimes as little as 5 weeks before they are culled. During this time they need a high protein diet, between 22-24% is recommended. Several feed companies have made it easy for us. They make a 22% protein feed specifically for broilers.
This can be fed from hatch to ‘dispatch’ without changing or modifying feed. The feed contains all of the essentials needed for rapid growth in these birds.
All Flock Feed
All Flock feed is as they say; it’s suitable for a variety of birds including: chickens, ducks and turkeys. However the amount of protein needed by turkeys and game birds specifically is much higher.
It will generally contain around 16% protein plus key vitamins and minerals. It should not be used for birds under 7 weeks of age.
Personally, I would only use this as a maintenance feed for grown birds.
Many folks make fermented feed for their flock – it’s easy to do, especially if you have a small flock.
Fermented feed is actually healthier for your birds.
The process of soaking the feed and grains, releases many of the locked in nutrients making them available to the birds.
Fermenting your feed also stretches your hard earned money – you will use less feed. It is a simple process to start and keep going. It really won’t take up much of your time and your hens will thank you for it. If you are interested in making your own fermented feed, please see our article here.
Which Type of Feed for Chicks
Chick feed can roughly be divided into two: starter and grower feed. What is the difference?
Starter feed is the feed you use from the point of hatching. The chicks will eat this from hatch until they are six weeks old. At week 6 you can gradually change over to grower ration. Why I hear you ask?
Starter feed has 20-24% protein content to give the chick’s metabolism all the energy it needs for rapid growth.
Grower feed has slightly less protein at around 18%. You may think this is not a big difference, but an overload of protein can cause kidney problems later in life.
In general, chick feed is higher in protein and contains several important vitamins to get the chicks off to a good start. It is also significantly lower in calcium than layer feed.
A quick word on finisher and developer feeds; these are designed to ‘finish’ pullets before they change over to layer ration.
If you are a purist on feeding your hens, you may well want to give them this while waiting to change over to 16% layer feed. I personally don’t use finished feeds, instead I feed my chicks the grower feed until they commence laying and I have not seen any problems from doing this.
Chicken Treats and Snacks Advice
Your hens come running to greet you when you get home, when you leave the house and any other time that seems good to them. I used to think they were pleased to see me, but I think they have ulterior motive…treats!
Giving your girls some treats generates a happy feeling all the way round, but hens are cunning.
You will soon find them camped on your doorstep looking for a handout before you can leave the house, sort of like a hostage situation!
Try to ensure the treats you give them are healthy: blueberries, blackberries, mealworms, scratch; bird seed all are good in moderation. Below we have picked out some perfect treats for your chickens.
I try to limit my ladies to treats first thing in the morning – they all escort me to fill up the bird feeders in my yard.
In addition to treats you should also supplement your chickens with grit and oyster shells:
- Grit: This is necessary for chicks and chickens to be able to process food other than feed. All chickens need grit so make sure it’s available if they can’t free range.
- Oyster Shell: Vital for hen health and strong egg shells. If the hen does not get enough calcium, she will start taking it from her body, leading to potential fractures.
Making Your Own Chicken Feed
Some folks like to make their own feed – I say more power to them. In today’s world where we are always rushed and balancing home and work, feed manufacturers have taken all the guesswork and labor out of feeding our hens.
In order to give your flock complete nutrition you will need to know the exact nutritional requirements of your flock (protein, vitamins, minerals etc.) in order to provide optimal healthy feed for them.
You will also need enough space to mix all your ingredients together.
Making flock rations is not as simple as slinging together a bit of this and some of that. It really is quite a precise science to get the equation right.
If you have the time and inclination to make your own that’s wonderful, but quite frankly if you have a small backyard flock of a few hens, you may find that it is too time consuming and expensive for you.
Something to be aware of: If feed is left around for a long period of time it will start to mold, so mixing 50lb of feed for 3 hens is probably not in your best interests.
Chicken Feeders 101
Once you have found the perfect feed, you will need to get a chicken feeder to place the feed into.
If you have kept chickens before, you will know that they will eat off the ground; they don’t care!
However, a chicken feeder will prevent waste and helps to keep feed fresh. You have two main types of feeders:
- Gravity feeders
- Automatic feeders
Whilst automatic feeders are more expensive they can save you a significant amount of money in feed bills.
The feed is enclosed inside the feeder which means it stays fresh for days; even if it rains outside.
They also do an important job of preventing pests and rodents from accessing the feed.
These feeders generally work by the hen standing on a pedal to open the feed box and then she can access the feed.
|The Best Hanging (Gravity) Feeder|
|Miller Galvanized Hanging Poultry Feeder
Gravity feeders are by far the most common feeders. They operate on the gravity principle; you fill them up at the top and the feed trickles down as it is eaten.
Simple yet effective.
They can be free standing, hanging or wall mounted.
As they are fairly cheap you should buy several to prevent one bully hen blocking access to a feeder.
There are several other things to think about when you are buying chicken feed. Here in the US many folks these days want their flock to have organic feed (no GMOs). In the UK, Europe and Australasia you don’t have that particular problem to worry about.
Some people want their feed to be organic, soy or corn free. It does exist but can be difficult to find and they will cost you more than regular feed.
A word of caution about advertising – you will come across labels that say the feed is ‘vegetarian’. That simply means there are no animal products used in the feed. Chickens are omnivores and will eat almost anything!
This has been a gallop through chicken feeds for you. We hope that you found our definite guide to chicken feed interesting and helpful.
If you make your own feed rations, or have any comments to add, we would love to hear from you in the comments section below…