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Kristina Smith

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If you have backyard birds, you know there are a lot of options on what to feed them. And that’s just in layer feeds, right? But, which feeds will keep our birds healthy, that’s what we want to know. And is it ok to give our birds table scraps? If so, which ones? Is there anything we shouldn’t give our birds?

In this post I’m going to cover the different types of feed available for backyard chickens. Then I’ll go over some things not to give your birds, as well as some things that are OK in moderation. Chickens are omnivores, and they love to eat just about anything. There will hardly be a time when you’ll find something they won’t like. What we need to know is, what can we feed our birds to keep them healthy?

Chickens, like other small animals, don’t instinctively know what not to eat. If it tastes good, they’ll eat it. And if it’s continually available, they’ll continue to eat it. Until there’s no more or they’re overweight.

TYPES of FEED for YOUR CHICKENS: Chick Starter To Start Your Birds Out Well

Chick Starter for Dos and Don'ts of feeding Chickens

In one of my other posts, I already mentioned chick starter. You can read about it and its benefits here. You primarily only purchase this when you have baby chickens from 0-10 weeks old. It comes in medicated or non-medicated, organic or non-organic. Chicks need this protein level (between 10% and 20%), because they’re growing. It goes a long way to making the chicks healthy when given to them early. There are also higher protein starter feeds, however those are for meat birds like turkey, quail, and pheasant. Although, it can also be used for broilers to fatten them up.

You don’t want to give Chick Starter to adult birds, because it lacks the calcium the laying hens need. Conversely, you don’t want to give chicks Layer feed, because it contains calcium. It can damage the kidneys in developing chickens.

Grower Feeds To Keep Your Birds Strong

Chick Grower for Dos and Don'ts of feeding chickens

Starting around 10 weeks of age, you can replace the chick starter with a grower feed. For backyard birds, you want a grower feed that will contain 15-16% protein. This should sustain their growth till the birds hit maturity. You can also find this in organic as well.

Layer Feeds To Keep Your Birds Healthy

Layer feed for dos and don'ts of feeding chickens

Around 18 weeks of age, layer feed can be fed to your backyard flock. Or whenever the first egg is laid, whichever happens first. You want one that contains 16% protein and increased calcium for shell development. Again, there are brands that provide organic layer feed.

How are we supposed to keep our flock healthy if we have one mixed with chicks and adults? What if we have ducks as well? If you’ve had chickens long, you know it’s difficult to keep everyone at their own food dishes. The chicks eat last. And if you try to feed them their Chick Starter, the adults come running to get it too. So what should we do?

Unless you can separate all of your different birds, one of the best options is to feed them ALL non-medicated Chick Starter with Brewer’s Yeast. You can read why we should give Brewer’s yeast to our birds here. Then set aside a dish of oyster shell for the laying hens. Don’t mix it in with the feed. You only need to give them Chick Starter as long as you have chicks or growing birds.

Another question is how much should we feed our chickens? My husband asked the guy at our local feed store that question too many times to count. He thought I was over-feeding the birds. I just fed them based on how they were acting. If they acted like they were going to eat me, it was definitely time to feed them. If that was twice a day, so be it.

The guy at the feed store told him every time, “Just leave food in their dish.” Not that complicated. For some reason this was a real stickler for my husband. He didn’t like how the birds would scratch their feed. It looked wasteful to him. He didn’t understand that that’s just how they are. My husband would point out all the food they had on the ground. I would argue that they didn’t want that. They wanted new food.

So to answer the question How much, figure about 1/2 cup of feed per adult chicken. A lot of sites will say 1/4 lb of feed per day; I simplified it into cups to make it easier. Some birds may need more, some less. Sometimes I’ll feed my flock in the morning, and in the evening, they’re ravenous. So I feed them again.

CONSISTENCIES in THOSE CATEGORIES of FEED for BACKYARD BIRDS:

Within those three backyard flock feed categories, there are some other classifications. They’re based mainly on the texture and size of the feed.

Mash

Mash is an unprocessed form of chicken feed that is more often given to chicks. It’s easier to digest, however it can be given to chickens of any age. You can check this post out here to find out more about mash. Some people add water to the feed on cold mornings, till it makes a mash.

Crumble

Crumble feed for chicks for dos and don'ts of feeding chickens

Chick starter, grower feed, and layer feed can all be purchased in crumbles. It’s easier for the birds to eat, though as they mature, one downside is, that when they scratch their feed, as they’re accustomed to doing, it tends to get all over the place. And so a lot gets wasted. I have also heard of people having issues finding layer feed in crumbles. If you have a backyard flock or are interested in starting one, a big determination on what type of feed you continue to purchase for their laying needs will be their preferences. They will definitely let you know what they like or dislike.

Pellets

Layer pellets for dos and don'ts of feeding chickens

Only grower feed and layer feed can be purchased in layer pellets.

The Don’ts of Feeding Your Backyard Birds: What to Avoid Feeding Your Birds to Keep Them Healthy

We’ve covered the different types and textures of feed. Now we’re going to go over what should be considered snacks. And a lot of these shouldn’t be given at all; or if they’re allowed, only at specified times and amounts.

  • Don’t offer more than 2 tbsp of treats per day to a hen’s ~ 1/2 cup nutritional requirements that she’s supposed to get from her feed.
  • You shouldn’t give treats first thing in the morning, if you offer any, before the birds have eaten their layer feed and foraged.
  • You shouldn’t offer cracked corn or sunflower seeds as a substitution for feed; they are treats. I have read of chickens dying with sudden chicken death or obesity. With that being said, let me add something. In the fall months when the chickens are molting, sunflower seeds are packed with protein. Protein is what they need during that time, so for a short time, it’s OK to give your flock sunflower seeds with their feed. But only for that short time and no more than 2 tbsp. Cracked corn is not feed, and I nickname it ‘crack’, because the birds treat it like that. Oh, they love it, but it makes the eggs runny and loose when you crack the shells. Because, there’s hardly any protein in them.
  • You shouldn’t give your chickens avocado pits and skins, because they are toxic.
  • You shouldn’t give under-cooked or dried beans to your backyard birds. They contain something that can prevent your birds from digesting anything they eat.
  • You shouldn’t give your backyard flock rhubarb, because it might have a laxative effect on your birds. If the rhubarb is damaged by severe cold, it can have a high concentration of a particular acid, which can be deadly to backyard birds.
  • Also, avoid giving rotten and very salty foods to your birds. It can give them diarrhea and can also be toxic.
  • Processed food should not be given to the flock.
  • You should avoid giving very greasy foods to your birds, because it could be hard for them digest.
  • Raw potato peels, particularly if they are green from sun exposure, contain solanine, which is toxic.
  • Avoid giving coffee to your birds due to the caffeine and chocolate, because they might be toxic.

Snacks that are Safe for Your Backyard Birds: Give These Treats In Moderation To Keep Your Birds Healthy

  • As I mentioned above, figure no more than 2 tbsp per day to 1/2 cup of layer feed. Sunflower seeds make an excellent snack, in moderation.
  • Bread: Chickens love bread, at least mine do, and it doesn’t really matter the flavor.
  • Fruits: They can eat most fruits with the exception of rhubarb. Some of my flock’s fave’s are apples, strawberries, tomatoes, bananas, grapes, watermelon, pumpkin, cantaloupe, and blueberries, just to name a few.
  • Vegetables: Again, just like with fruits, most vegetables are fine to give your flock. When we’ve had our vegetable garden in past springs, our birds loved to sneak in to steal the bell peppers and kale. But they also love cabbage, corn, and sweet potatoes.
  • There are some that say you can’t give your birds citrus, however not everyone agrees on that. There are also some who claim you can’t give your birds onions or garlic. That is mainly because it might flavor the eggs. The first spring that we had layer hens we planted a garden, and our hens got into the onions! They smelled like chicken onion burgers, but it didn’t hurt them. However, now that they are older they don’t eat onions, fresh or cooked. So their taste buds changed.
  • Cooked meat: any leftovers you may have, remembering to keep it to snack-size.
  • Eggs: I know this might sound gross, but chickens love eggs! However, you don’t want to encourage cannibalism or to encourage them to eat their own eggs. If I find a cracked egg, which will happen on occasion with 20-something birds, I scramble it up and give it them, rather than throwing it out.

We covered a lot, going over the different types of feed for chickens, including safe and unsafe snacks. If you have anything to add, please feel free, or if you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

2 comments on “What Can I Feed My Chickens to Keep Them Healthy?

  1. Paul Smith says:

    Amazing insight.

    1. KS says:

      Thanks!

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