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I think we all know that feeding your chickens the correct food is probably the most important task you have as pet chicken keeper.
Just like humans and other animals, if you feed them the wrong thing they can develop health problems, lay less eggs and it can even be fatal.
Luckily the chicken keeping industry has made life real easy for us pet chicken keepers, so we can quickly and simply choose the perfect food for chickens that they will love and thrive on.
The Different Types of Chickens Feed
The best place to start with feeding chickens is to explain the different types of formulated feed available.
Formulated feed is where the feed manufacturing companies create an all in one food that meets the nutritional requirements of the chicken in the life stage it’s at.
So just like when you feed your dog dog-biscuits, those biscuits are a formulated feed that has everything your dog needs to be healthy.
Some people make their own chicken feed but this should not be attempted by a beginner and often not even by experienced poultry keepers, as the risk of nutritional deficiencies is too high.
Years ago chickens were just fed scraps from the kitchen and left to forage for the rest of their food. This was fine then because the hens laid less eggs, but now we have selectively bred chickens to be so much more productive and to require a much more nutritional diet. (So don’t listen to someone who says can just feed chickens some corn and kitchen scraps, yes you could years ago but not anymore! Chickens have drastically changed!)
Layers pellets are the most common chicken feed available, and if you only keep a few laying hens this will be the main food they eat.
You can also get layers crumble and layer mash. The feed composition is the same as the layers pellets it’s just the size of the food that’s different (layers pellets look like, well, pellets, layers crumble looks like crushed pellets and layers mash is like ground up pellets, like gritty flour).
So if your question is what to feed chickens to lay eggs then layers pellets (or mash or crumble) is your answer.
It contains everything your hens will need to stay productive which is very important, as producing an egg everyday is very hard on a bird’s system, so they need the correct nutrients to help them out.
If you run a rooster (or cockerel depending on where you are from) with your hens they are fine to eat the layers pellets as well.
Here is an example of layers pellets.
The grit is just like tiny rocks often made of flint. The chickens need to ingest these tiny rocks so when the food is in their stomach (which is not actually a stomach and is really called a gizzard) these tiny rocks help grind up their food. Something that we would do with our teeth, but as chickens don’t have teeth they need the grit in order to digest their food!
The oyster shell is mainly there to provide calcium. Although the layers pellets should contain calcium, because egg production uses so much calcium (to make the egg shells) even with it included in the feed there is still the chance for calcium deficiency. Something you definitely want to be avoid because otherwise calcium will be taken from their bones, which if left for too long will eventually cause broken bones and a shortened lifespan.
Some people bake egg shells from their chickens eggs after eating them and then feed these, crushed, back to the chickens instead of oyster shells which also works well. But your chickens will still need the grit aspect!
Corn or Chicken Scratch
Do chickens eat corn is the one the most asked questions about feeding chickens. And yes chickens do eat corn, but it should not be the main part of their diet, particularly if your chickens do not free range and are kept in a run.
This is because the corn has little to no nutritional value and instead just provides calories (very similar to sugar for humans). It’s great as a treat and to help keep them warn in winter but will cause your hens to get fat if you feed too much of it.
An ideal amount is a small handful each day for five hens. It’s best to throw it on the ground so they have to scratch around to find it hence it sometimes being called chicken scratch.
Scratching for food is a very natural chicken behavior that should be encouraged, plus the searching for the corn helps alleviate boredom. Just ensure they do actually eat all the corn as any left on the ground could go moldy or will encourage rodents.
Here is an example of chicken scratch (mixed corn/grains):
Below is a great video showing you examples of these different types of chicken feed and two others that we will cover later:
Treats For Your Chickens
Mealworms are a very popular treat for your chickens (as technically chickens are omnivores so eat both meat and vegetables if that makes sense, in fact chickens will try and eat pretty much anything if you let them).
These can be a very nutritious treat but in strict moderation. Think like a spoonful per day max.
Mealworms are very high in protein and excess protein in chickens can cause kidney failure, not good!
Chickens adore pecking at fresh food like grass and vegetables. Some people like to hang up a cabbage or lettuce in their chicken coops for the chickens to peck at and to ease boredom.
Fresh food is very good for chickens and should be part of their diet, but you should never feed grass cuttings to chickens. Any grass they eat should be pecked from a trimmed lawn as grass clippings go moldy very quickly, and if the grass is too long it can cause impacted crop, which is normally fatal.
Kitchen Scraps and Leftovers
Technically you shouldn’t be feeding your chickens scraps from the kitchen but I think most chicken keepers do (and chickens adore cooked pasta and things like that).
Just be aware that kitchen scraps and leftovers are strictly a treat and therefore should not be fed before the chickens have mainly filled up on their formulated feed. This will ensure they don’t gorge on the leftovers and that they receive all the nutrients they need.
Other Formulated Feed
Chick Crumb or Starter Crumble
So what do baby chickens eat? Chick crumb or starter crumble, and if you watched the video above you would have seen it on there.
Just like layer pellets are designed to provide everything a laying hen needs, the chick crumb is formulated to provide everything a chick needs in it’s first six weeks of life.
It is extremely important that chicks are fed specialized chick food otherwise they will not develop properly! So do not think you can feed them crushed up layer pellets, this is a big no. Chicks should also not be fed treats at this stage either.
Once your chicks are over six weeks old they should gradually be moved onto growers pellets until they are around 18 weeks old and at that point they can have layers pellets.
I’ve noticed that in the USA often the chick crumb and growers pellets are combined so you have the same feed from hatch to 18 weeks old, in the UK we have separate chick and grower feed.
How Much Should You Feed Chickens?
Layers pellets and mixed grit should be fed ad lib, as should chick crumb and growers pellets if your chickens are the correct age.
Ad lib just means they can eat as much of it as they want.
The best types of feeders to feed chickens ad lib are like this and ensure the feeders are always kept out the rain!!!
What is ideal is if you can hang the feeder which will stop the chickens scratching the feed out and onto the floor, which is turn will help to stop rodents.
They should only get a handful of corn each day max, and a spoonful of mealworms, although both these foods are not necessary.
And of course your chickens should have access to as much fresh water as they desire.
What Not To Feed Chickens
There are some things that you should never feed chickens.
Do not feed:
- Moldy food
- Chocolate or sweeties
- Very salty foods
- Dried beans (like pulse and lentils)
- Raw vegetables from the nightshade family (like potatoes)
- Apple seeds
- Citrus fruit
There are also a number of plants that are poisonous or toxic to chickens so you will want to consult this list from Omlet and make sure your chickens cannot access any of them.
Where To Buy Chicken Feed
Your best bet is a local country store or tractor supply where you can buy layers pellets in 20kg bags.
How to Store Your Chicken Feed
You need to ensure your chicken feed is kept dry and free from rodents, so do not store your chicken feed in it’s paper bag in a barn or shed. This is just asking for trouble.
Instead buy an inexpensive outdoor trash can with a clipping lid (so animals don’t knock it off), ideally metal, to store your chicken feed in. This one below would be perfect and would hold a 20kg sack of chicken feed:
Chicken Feeding FAQs
Do chickens eat meat?
This is one question I get asked so much and yes chickens certainly will eat meat.
In fact if one of them dies and there is an open wound (they are particularly attracted to the color red) they will proceed to eat it. Like I said earlier chickens will eat anything if you let them.
Just to be clear I only know this because a friend’s chicken got hit by a car and instantly died (the chickens had escaped, they weren’t normally allowed to wander onto roads!!!) but the other chickens all immediately ran over and started, well, eating.
An unpleasant story but nonetheless answers the question of do chickens eat meat.
Obviously (and this should go without saying) if one of your chickens dies, remove it immediately and dispose of the body.
What do chickens eat in the wild?
They will forage for nuts, seeds, bugs, insects, vegetation and fruit. They will also scavenge other animals left overs much like vultures.
There isn’t much a chicken won’t eat!
I hope that clears up everything you may have wanted to know about feeding your chickens! If you have any questions at all please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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