A variety of chicken feed is important for your backyard chickens to stay healthy. I try to keep my chickens mainly on forage for as long as possible because I feel like it is the best possible diet they can get. I supplement with kitchen scraps, kelp, and a bit of layer pellet right now.
On this page, we will discuss types of premade feed, other foods that are good and bad to feed, how much to feed , types of supplements, water etc. so you can feel comfortable feeding your chickens.. because they really do become like pets and you want them to be happy and healthy along with the eggs you will be stealing from them!
There are three forms of commercial feed:
- Mash is ground up feed with small pieces that chickens can still pick at.
- Pellets are basically little pieces of food formed from mash. Every pellet is the same, so chickens get full nutrition unlike mash where they sometimes just pick out what they like. If pellets are spilled or thrown on the ground, chickens can easily pick them up and there is little to no waste. The downfall to this one is that when chickens get full right away, they can get bored. Bored chickens tend to peck at one another.
- Crumbles are crushed up feed that are ideal for young chickens who cant handle the larger pellets. It’s also good for keeping chickens busy, but any spills usually go to waste.
So choosing the type premade chicken feed is really up to you. Usually premade food contains soy and corn.
You may be able to find a non gmo chicken feed here. Or, you can make your own chicken feed. Here is a great corn free-soy free recipe:
Chicken Feed Recipe for Laying Hens:
- 4 parts soft white wheat, oats or rice
- 4 parts hard red wheat berries
- 2 parts de-shelled sunflower seeds
- 1 part millet
- 1 part oat groats
- 1 part whole peas
- 1/2 part meat or fish meal
- 1/2 part flax seeds
- 1/2 part kelp
Soaking and sprouting the grains in your homemade chicken feed, gets rid of phytic acid which inhibits enzymes and unlocks and multiplies important nutrients like vitamins A,B and C. This makes grains more nutritious and the chickens seem to like it better. It will take more work, but is worth it!
How much do chickens eat? According to Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens:
- Each mature bantam eats about 1/2 pound (0.25 kg) of feed per week
- Each mature light-breed chicken eats about 2 pounds (1 kg) of feed per week
- Each mature midweight dual-purpose chicken eats about 3 pounds (1.5 kg) of feed per week
- Each mature heavy-breed chicken eats about 4 pounds (2 kg) of feed per week
- Each meat bird eats about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of total feed to reach mature butchering age.
A large variety of foods should be available to your chickens. They should not rely on chicken feed alone. Some people even replace regular grain based chicken feed with stinging nettles, organic fruit and vegetable leftovers, chickweed or other wild edibles like dandelions, and supplement with dried seaweed, nuts, some worms and a small amount of grain which is healthy and can cost less than buying premade food.
But, the easiest method is to use the commercial chicken feed as well as tossing kitchen scraps that would normaly be composted or wasted. The following is a great way to do this while getting beautiful, hastle free compost:
So the trick to feeding your backyard chickens kitchen scraps, is to put a boxed in compost in their run. You want it slightly raised and contained so they don’t spread compost EVERYWHERE.
Compost attracts flies, larvae, and worms which the chickens take care of for you, while getting a good meal! Even though composts need those worms, the chickens don’t seem to eat all of them, so there is a nice balance.
The chickens do all of the work of maintaining your compost. They keep the flies and the smells down, they scratch it up, and turn the soil. All of this, while keeping them full and busy. (Busy chickens are less likely to peck at each other)
Just add your kitchen scraps, and wait for your beautiful compost to magically appear. Then put it on your organic garden to help grow MORE VEGGIES! Permaculture!
Note: There are a few foods to avoid putting into your compost as they can be harmful to your backyard chickens. These include:
- Avocado pits and peels
- Raw potato peels
- Rotten or moldy food
Again, make sure your backyard chickens are getting variety in their diet. Don’t feed a particular food over and over again.
How much do chickens drink? Not only will your girls need access to healthy chicken feed, they will need lots of fresh, clean water. Chickens are more than 50% water! The average backyard chicken will drink about 1-2 cups of water a day. But:
- Old chickens drink more
- Layers drink twice as much
- On hot days they drink up to 4x as much
The water must stay clean so they don’t get sick. You should clean your waterer once per week. If they aren’t getting enough water, they wont be as healthy and they wont lay as well because eggs are 65% water!
What Do I Put my Chickens Water in? “Waterers” or “drinkers” should have these features:
- Protects the water from getting dirty
- Doesn’t leak or spill easily
- Is easy to clean
- Holds enough water that you don’t have to fill it more than once per day
Bell Waterers are a great example of the perfect solution. If you hang it from the roof of your chicken coop, they wont get poop or food etc in the water and there will be minimum spillage.
Chicken Poultry Nipples are what I use on the bottom of a big bucket with a lid. Works perfect and is so cheap.
Depending on what your backyard chickens are eating, you may need to use supplements.
- Grit is basically sand or tiny rocks that the chicken swallows into their gizzard. This helps “chew” the food up. If your chickens are fed only commercial chicken feed, they wont need this, but if they are eating plant matter, they will need grit. It should be offered separately from food and be available all the time.
- Phosphorus and Calcium are important for laying hens to keep their eggshells strong. Calcium can be found in crushed oyster shells, ground aragonite, or chipped limestone. Phosphorus and calcium work hand in hand. If you have chickens that eat tons of bugs you may be fine, but you should have these available all the time but kept separate from the chicken feed. You can use phosphorus-16 or defluorinated rock phosphate. If you are having problems with soft shells or shell-less eggs, click here.
- Salt isn’t needed if you are feeding the commercial feeds. They only need a small amount. The best source of salt is in kelp and can be sprinkled into food or offered separately. Always make sure your chickens have enough water or the salt may poison them.