How to Properly Feed Chickens

Updated on May 23, 2020
Ava Crawford profile image

Ava is a mom of one goofy, special needs chicken that lives with a rabbit as an indoor-outdoor pet. She is also a vet assistant.


Feeding your chickens can be overwhelming to those new to the practice, or even experienced poultry keepers. The first step when choosing a formula for your chickens is to determine their age, your budget, and any extra specifications you want your chickens to have.

How Age Impacts Chicken Feed Choices

  • Newly hatched chicks, ages 0-10 weeks should be fed a starter feed. The high protein on these feeds, 10-20% allows for birds to grow and develop.
  • Chicks ages 10-18 weeks should be fed a grower feed. The medium-high protein content, around 15-16% allows for birds to gain weight and grow to full size.
  • When your pullet reaches laying age or 18 weeks, she should be switched to layer feed. This has a protein content of 15-18% and added calcium, vitamins, and minerals designed to sustain the process of daily laying.

Good nutrition is crucial to maintaining a healthy flock. All chickens should be fed a crumble or pelleted diet formulated to meet their nutritional needs. They should get plenty of fresh feed daily and should be allowed to eat as much as they want.

— For the Birds, DVM

Important Terms to Be Aware of

  • Organic: Chicken feed must be grown without using pesticides, antibiotics, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers and without using genetically modified cereals or plants.
  • Vegetarian: Feed that is free of animal by-products.
  • Whole Grain: The grains contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions.
  • Corn-Free: Contains no corn or corn byproducts.
  • Medicated Feed: Feed which includes amprolium, a coccidiosis preventer.

Determining Your Budget

A good place to start is the budget. On average, a hen eats 1/4 a pound of feed daily. Multiply this by the number of hens you have, and then by the number of days you expect to keep your hens.

A hen at its peak laying age (1 year), will lay 250 eggs a year. By year two, this decreases to 80% of their peak, year three 70%, year four 60%, year five 50%, year six 45%, and year 7 35%.

You can use this information to calculate how much your chickens will be making you per year compared to their feed cost. Keep in mind organic eggs sell for more, and quality feed can increase the number of eggs laid, as well as practices such as lighting the coop during winter.

An Example Of Feed Options

Layer Feed
Price Range for 50 LB
Protein Content
Scratch and Peck

Scratch, Grit, and Shells

There are 3 essentials that are not considered main feed for your chickens but are needed for laying hens. These are scratch, grit, and shells.

  • Scratch is a cheaper filler food to add in small amounts to your feed. It is not nutritionally necessary and can cause harm if fed too much, but it stretches your feed and helps motivate finicky eaters.
  • Grit is little ground-up rocks or pebbles that are needed for birds to consume. The grit stays in the crop and acts as a grinder for the large pieces of food consumed. This can prevent things like sour crop and choking.
  • Oyster Shells/Poultry Shells are a necessary additive to layer hens feed. They can be mixed in the feed or served separately. They replace the calcium the hens lose while laying eggs and are important to egg development and hen health.


Types of Chicken Treats

Many people want to spoil their birds! There are many options for chicken treats, here are some.

  • Dried insects
  • Dried River Shrimp
  • Roses, dandelions, and other flowers
  • Vegetable scraps
  • Fruit scraps
  • Herbs
  • Black oil sunflower seeds
  • Fresh grass

These are treats, and should not be fed in excess.

Chicken Supplements and Additives

There are many supplements and additives to use in your poultry feed or water. Here are a few to be aware of.

  • Probiotics are a good way to maintain healthy digestion and help sick birds recover.
  • Brewer's yeast and enzymes also help regulate the digestive tract.
  • Oregano is a natural antibiotic and guards against infection.
  • Apple cider vinegar contains important probiotics.
  • Bee pollen can dramatically increase the health of your flock, containing all essential amino acids.
  • Electrolytes are good for sick chickens to maintain water intake.


The Final Word

With the increase in popularity of backyard chickens, there comes a large variety in options to feed your birds. The secret is- you cannot go wrong if you research and choose what is best for you. Whether you care most about cost or want to spoil your fluffy birds, there is a feed that is right for you.

Ask your local poultry groups and mentors about their favorites, and make an educated decision. I wish you well on your journey!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2020 Ava Crawford


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