raising happy, healthy chickens

Dos and Don’ts of Feeding Chickens

Since our backyard birds are omnivores, and love to eat just about anything, I’m going to cover the dos and don’ts of feeding chickens to keep them healthy. Furthermore, I’ll go over the different types of feed available. And I’ll list some things not to give your birds as well as some things that are OK in moderation.

Types of Feed

There are three main types of chicken feed, depending on their age. However, there are other types within those, which also depend on if you have show birds or meat birds, or a whole host of other options. But these are the main types base upon age.

  • Chick Starter for healthy chicks
Chick Starter

In one of my other posts, I had already mentioned chick starter. 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. And it has a protein level between 18% and 22%, because the chicks are growing. And they require more protein when they’re growing. 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.

  • Grower Feeds for healthy adolescent chickens
Chick Grower

Starting around 10 weeks of age, a grower feed can replace the chick starter. For backyard birds, you need a grower feed that will contain 16-18% protein that’s designed to sustain growth till the birds hit maturity. You can also find this in organic as well.

Layer Feeds for healthy 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 the shell development. Again, there are brands that provide organic layer feed.

Consistencies in Those Categories:

Within those three backyard flock feed categories, there are some other classifications 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, because it’s easier to digest. However, it can be given to chickens of any age.

  • Crumble
Crumble feed for chicks

Chick starter, grower feed, and layer feed can all be purchased in crumbles. As one can well imagine, it’s easier to eat. Though, as the birds mature, one downside is that when they scratch their feed, as they are accustomed to doing, it tends to get all over the place. And so, a lot of it 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

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

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

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. But additionally, avoid offering

  • treats first thing in the morning, if you offer any, before the birds have eaten their layer feed and foraged.
  • cracked corn or sunflower seeds as a substitution for feed; they are treats. With that being said let me add something. In the fall months when the chickens are molting, sunflower seeds are packed with protein, and protein is what they need during that time. So, for a short amount of time, it’s OK to give your flock sunflower seeds with their feed, but only for that short time. 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.
  • your chickens avocado pits and skins, because they are toxic.
  • under-cooked or dried beans to your backyard birds. Because they contain something that can prevent your birds from digesting anything they eat.
  • your backyard flock rhubarb. It might have a laxative effect on your birds. Also, 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.
  • rotten and very salty foods to your birds, which can give them diarrhea and can also be toxic.
  • Processed foods should not be given to the flock.
  • Very greasy foods should be avoided, because they could be hard for them digest.
  • Raw potato peels, particularly if they are green from sun exposure, contain solanine, which is toxic.
  • And avoid coffee due to the caffeine and chocolate, because those might be toxic.

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

  • As I mentioned above, figure no more than 2 tbsp per day to 1/2 cup of layer feed. And 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. But that is really only 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. 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. But if I find a cracked egg, which will happen on occasion with 30-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.

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I breed pure Black Ameraucana chickens and Easter Eggers that are Black Ameraucana mixed with either Cuckoo Maran or Barred Rock. And I donate eggs to people or organizations in need.

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