When we first bought our chickens, I thought that chicken feed was one-size-fits-all. I thought I could go to the store and just purchase “chicken feed” and give it to my birds.
Then a few weeks before bringing my first batch of chickens home, I learned I needed to buy something special just for their age and stage. And then I learned that several weeks later, they would need to graduate to something else.
But what, when, how, and why?
Feeding your chickens… this is what I've learned.
It All Depends
When selecting feed for your chickens, it important to keep in mind that what you feed your birds directly depends on their purpose and how you are raising them.
For example: chicks raised by a mother hen need nothing special other than what you are already feeding your flock. The mother hen will see they get what they need and will break it down to size herself. Meat birds on the other hand, should be switched to a grower feed earlier than a laying flock and their intake will need to be closely monitored, as overfeeding can harm your birds.
Since hen-raised chicks and meat birds are each in a different category altogether, this post is primarily geared toward chicks being raised in a brooder.
Oh, The Choices!
It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway: what you feed your animals is what you will ultimately feed yourself.
Once you bring your chicks home, you will be introducing them to a starter feed formulated especially for chicks. It will be of a size that they can manage, as well as containing ingredients to help support their growth for the first few weeks of their life. The time to purchase chick feed is a few weeks before they hatch so that everything is in place and ready for them when they need it. Your local feed store or ranch supply should have a ready supply available that may or may not include some organic products.
Scratch and Peck provides an entire line of feeds that are organic, non-GMO, corn-free, and soy-free. If your feed store doesn’t carry this brand, it, or other similar products are available through amazon.com and may be available through a co-op such as Azure Standard. Preparing your own feed is a possibility as well, otherwise just do the very best that you can with the resources available to you.
To Medicate Or Not To Medicate
At the feed store, you will most likely find two varieties of starter: medicated and non-medicated.
Medicated feed is formulated to help prevent coccidosis, a common intestinal disease in chicks. If you order your birds from a hatchery and they have been vaccinated against coccidosis, you need to know that giving them medicated feed will nullify the vaccination.
So, before receiving your chicks, know which vaccinations they have had before selecting their feed. Some flock owners use medicated feed to give their chicks the best possible start.
Others, like me, prefer to go the non-medicated route. Thus far, I have raised four flocks from day old chicks and chicks I have hatched myself. I have not had any issues.
Medicated or not, it is likely that your chicks will be on chick starter for just a few weeks before being introduced to grower feed. When I transition my chicks from the chick starter to the grower feed, I usually combine the two for a few weeks to allow for a gradual change.
Once your flock begins to lay, you can put them on layer feed, which they will stay on for the rest of their lives. Note that this is not formulated to make them lay, it is just designed to support them as they begin to produce eggs.
When's Chow Time?
Whichever brand of feed you choose, you are likely to find a schedule on the back of the feedbag or listed on their website. Follow their specifications. The wrong feed given at the wrong time can result in major health issues.
Other Things You Should Know
Here are a few other things I needed to know when I go to the feed store.
Mash is course ground feed in pieces of various sizes. The chickens select what they want.
Pellets are mash compressed into uniform pieces. One advantage to using pellets is less mess. Pellets are difficult to drop and scatter and those that are dropped on the ground are usually consumed instead of trampled and left to attract rodents.
Crumbles are crushed pellets. This is often what you may see offered as chick starter.
Scratch is a treat for your chickens consisting of at least two kinds of grain, one of which is typically cracked corn. Because scratch is usually high in carbohydrates and low in vitamins, minerals, and protein, it should be treated as “dessert” and given sparingly. Do not give scratch in place of food.
Chickens love scratch though! Who wouldn't enjoy a high-carb, low-vitamin treat? Because it is so popular, it can be used as a training tool to get them to come when called, to corral them at night, or to encourage them to stir their bedding. My flock enjoys our evening ritual of scratch time. They know when it is 7:00 and will follow me to the barn for their bed time snack.
Why Grit and Calcium?
Grit is just what it sounds like: small pebbles that lodge in the gizzard to aid in digestion. My chickens free range outside, so I personally have never noticed the need to offer them grit. However, I know that many chicken keepers provide it as an additional supplement. When I am brooding chicks inside a brooder, however, I mix a small amount of chick grit with their feed and offer it from day one. Chick grit has the same contents as grit, but is of a smaller grind better suited to the chicks' small size. Choose the option you prefer based on your chickens and your own personal situation.
I offer calcium once my chickens have started laying. Calcium helps the laying hens produce eggs with strong shells. I mix about 5 pounds of calcium into 40 pounds of layer feed.
Sharing Your Table Scraps
Chickens may be a good way to dispose of table and garden scraps unless, like mine, they are picky eaters. Keep in mind that not everything is good for them. Avoid feeding them raw potato peels, avocados (the brown seed cover is toxic), anything spoiled, moldy, or rotten, and any caffeine or alcohol. Also avoid foods such as onions or garlic if you dislike those flavors in your eggs.
Chickens may enjoy your kombucha scobies and buttermilk, too.
Whatever you decide to feed your birds, make sure that it is kept clean and dry and always readily available to them.
How do you feed your chickens?
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