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How to Feed Your Chickens

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How to feed your chickens might not be something that you pay too much attention to, but did you know that seventy percent of the cost of raising chickens goes toward feed?

Therefore it stands to reason that you need to pay attention to what you feed your birds.

No one chicken is the same as each breed all require slightly different mixes of nutrition, as do laying birds or meat birds.

Let’s start at the beginning, work our way through the ages and types of chicken, and look at how you should feed your chickens.

How to Feed Your Chickens

Our Favorite Pick for Chicken Feed

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
  • Non-GMO, soy-free and crucially its USDA certified organic
  • Milled right here in the US
  • Egg yolks turned a deeper golden orange color and are bursting with flavor

See Price on Amazon

Chicken Nutritional Requirements

As with humans and other mammals, chickens need a slightly different nutritional input as they grow.

We have set out the suggested feed requirements very briefly below.

Young chicks need more protein to grow rapidly during their first few weeks.

Please note that most, if not all, feed producers have a table on the back of the feed sack to give guidelines for appropriate feeds.

Nutritional Requirements Grid
Here is an example of a nutritional table from Nutrena

How to Feed Your Broiler Chicks

Broiler (a chicken breed for meat) chicks must put weight on fast, ready for slaughter at around fourteen weeks.

Their feed is high in protein to enable the chick to develop and put weight on rapidly.

They are fed a broiler starter for the first three weeks, which is 22% protein. 

They are changed to finisher feed at four weeks old, which contains 19% protein.

How to Feed Your Layer Chicks

The Best Chick Starter Feed

Kaytee Chick Starter Grower Crumble
  • This is our favorite chick starter feed. It contains Probiotics and key essential amino acids
  • The package is resalable to prevent feed from going stale
  • Your chicks should be fed this feed from when they hatch until they are six weeks old

See Price on Amazon

Layer chicks get chick starter feed up to six weeks of age- chick starter feed usually is around 20% protein.

They still need higher protein but are growing less rapidly than the broiler chicks.

They are then changed to grower feed at six weeks, which is 17-18% protein until about twenty weeks.

A high protein level is required at this age for the bird to develop into a good layer fully.

They can be changed to a layer ration of 16 -18% protein at twenty weeks or so.

Your pullets should be thinking about laying some eggs for you at this age!

My girls will then stay on layers ration permanently.

The correct feed must be given to your layers since the calcium requirements differ from chick to pullet!

You can feed older birds higher protein and offer extra calcium through ground oyster shells or crushed eggshells.

Still, you should not give younger birds a layer ration.

Layer ration contains a higher level of calcium than they need, and too much calcium at a young age can lead to kidney failure.

As you can see, from the perspective of protein and calcium requirements alone, it would be a daunting task to mix your own feed.

Chickens require thirty-eight different dietary nutrients to be in the best of health!

Different Types of Chicken Feed
Here is an example of two different types of chicken feed

Feed companies have animal health nutritionists to work out formulae for any number of animals at any given age.

Poultry is no exception. The feed they produce has been scientifically formulated, is complete nutrition, and is reasonably priced to give you the best ‘bang for your buck’.

How Often Should I Feed My Birds?

This is really a personal preference in most cases, and there are two schools of thought:

  1. Free choice
  2. Fixed feeding

The free choice is probably best if you have a busy schedule throughout the day. If you are available at set times of the day, you could go with fixed feeding.

Free Choice Feeding

Our Pick

The Best Chicken Feeder

Chicken Feeder
Grandpa’s Feeders Automatic Chicken Feeder
  • My favorite chicken feeder
  • 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

Check The Price

Benefits:

  • All birds get a chance to eat. Bully birds can’t ‘guard’ the feeders all day long.
  • They can eat little and frequently, this is more natural for them.
  • Less work for the keeper! Top up the feeders once a day.

Disadvantages:

  • Rodents can get access also.
  • If the feed is outside, it can get wet and moldy.

Fixed Feeding Time

Benefits:

  • Less wastage for rodents etc.
  • Birds will not overeat.

Disadvantages:

  • Squabbling over feeders, some birds getting bullied.
  • Somewhat inflexible, need to be consistent with times.

I feed my flock as a free choice. 

This way, I find it more flexible for me. I top off the feeders in the evening, so they have plenty to eat when they wake up.

I also have a better idea of when I need to buy more feed.

Backyard Chickens Eating
My flock as free choice feeding

If you are raising broilers, they will need to have access to food twenty-four hours a day in order to put weight on. They will, of course, need lights to eat by.

Types of Feed

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
  • Non-GMO, soy-free and crucially its USDA certified organic
  • Milled right here in the US
  • Egg yolks turned a deeper golden orange color and are bursting with flavor

See Price on Amazon

Organic Feed

Organic feed is more expensive and usually a bit more difficult to find.

If however, you want to be sure that your birds do not have access to GMO feed, or you are going to be certified as an organic farm, you need to use organic feed.

Organic feed does not contain antibiotics, animal byproducts, persistent pesticides, or chemical fertilizers. Hormones are prohibited by federal regulations.

Medicated Feed or Non-Medicated

The feed companies also offer medicated or non-medicated starters for chicks.

The medicated starter is treated with amprolium and sometimes antibiotics, to help as a preventative against coccidiosis.

Note: If your chicks have been vaccinated against coccidiosis, you should not give them a medicated starter.

Medicated Feed
If the feed is ‘medicated’ it will state this in on the packaging.

On a personal note, I do not use medicated feed.

My chicks are kept separate in clean quarters, so the risk of coccidiosis is small.

They are introduced to the ‘outside world’ slowly to develop their immunity to coccidiosis.

Fermented Feed

Many chicken keepers feed their flock fermented feed. 

What is that, I hear you ask?

Any feed or grain you can feed your hens can be fermented.

In its simplest form, add water, a little apple cider vinegar, and around ¼ teaspoon of yeast to the feed and store it in a suitable container (not metal).

Over about 3-4 days, your feed will smell vaguely like sourdough. 

At this stage, it is ready for your chickens to eat.

Proponents of fermented feed say that it is more cost-effective and a bag of feed stretches much further.

Why is this so? 

The fermentation process of grains releases many of the ‘locked-in’ nutrients. 

Seeds have a tough outer coating to survive in a hostile environment until the time is right to germinate.

Fermenting tricks the seeds into giving up their locked-in goodness!

We have yet to try fermented food here, but it’s definitely something that we want to try next spring.

Other Nutrition Requirements

You will need to give your birds some things and regular feed.

  • Calcium: In the form of crushed oyster shell, available from the feed store. Calcium assists the hen in laying a hard-shelled egg; softshells indicate a lack of calcium. You can also feed eggshells back to the girls. I ‘cook’ my eggshells in a low-heat oven for about thirty minutes or so. This helps to destroy any salmonella that may be lurking in the shell. Crush them up and add them to the oyster shell feeder.
  • Grit: You can buy grit from the feed store. They also make chick-sized grit. Grit is used by the hen to grind down their food.
  • Greens: If your hens are pastured, they will be supplied with all the greens they need for a complete diet. If you cannot pasture them, cabbage leaves, kale, broccoli, etc., all supply the necessary green nutrition.
  • Kitchen scraps: Squash seeds, tomatoes, melon rind, etc. Make sure you read our previous blog post, stop killing your chickens, where we cover many things chickens should not eat.

Shop For Chicken Snacks on Amazon

How to Feed Your Chickens & Choosing the Right Feeder

All of this is a moot point if you don’t have the right feeders for your chickens because a wrong feeder will cause wasted feed and spread disease amongst your flock.

As you know, chickens love to roost on everything…even on top of feeders, if possible.

And if you’ve seen the area under their roosts, you know that the droppings will pile up.

So your feeder must prevent chickens from roosting above the feed, dust bathing in it, or tossing it all over the coop.

Specific poultry feeders are your best bet because they discourage waste and keep feed clean.

Look for feeders that have moving parts to prevent roosting or direct access to feed and feeders that have small access areas that prevent chickens from scratching at their feed and throwing it everywhere it doesn’t belong.

How To Feed Your Chickens Our Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are several choices for your birds. Whether you need chick starter feed, layer chicken feed, or broiler chicken feed we got you covered!

As long as they are healthy and active, there really isn’t a ‘right or wrong in your choice of feed.

And remember what works for me may not work as well for you.

I will be trying out fermented feed over the coming cold northeast winter months. 

I will also keep notes as I go, so I hope to share those results with you come springtime!

In the comments section below, let us know your top tips for feeding your chickens!

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12 thoughts on “How to Feed Your Chickens

  1. Just wanted to thank you for having this site. We just got 16 Red Sexlings and I have learned a lot from you. My husband has had chickens before and I am teaching him new things. Thanks so much.

  2. Claire, i look forward to every day’s e-mail to us chicken raisers. I grew up with chickens, but had none of my own until a friend gifted me with 8 3-month old variety, as well as their roost house. My learning curve is on-going thanks to your posts.

  3. My chickens prefer grain to their pellets and I find them the pellets , scattered everywhere,. I would like to feed mash what to use so that they gain all the nutrients they need. They have just begun laying 1st season

    1. I would try to see what the chicken WILL eat. Sometimes they will eat food presented in different forms. Try apples, scrambled eggs, or something with high water content. If they are showing signs of sickness try Poultry Nutri-drench for an additional nutritional boost. Molting will make them not feel their best in general.
      Here’s some info on molting: https://www.thehappychickencoop.com/chicken-molting/
      Claire

  4. I’ve had chickens from chicks now for 12 years, and still learning things. Lucky things have been good.
    I am just now dealing with a adult chicken 3yrs. old just lost her partner to a friends dog. She is mopping around., won’t sleep in the same spot? not sure what to do, hopefully it will pass.

  5. I feed my chickens fermented food daily and I just add water to the grain. There are natural ferments in the air and it will ferment in three days without adding any ACV or yeast. The water must be filtered or bottled, without chemicals. I use quart mason jars. You can rubber band a coffee filter over the top so that air can get in, but not pests. I always have three jars in rotation. You can buy kits that include the jar and a screened top.

  6. Thanks for explaining how organic feed gives your animals the nutrients they need without byproducts or antibiotics! My uncle plans to raise a couple of animals for his farm plan. Maybe we should look around for a feed dealer that could help us with this.

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