The Ultimate Guide to Chicken Feed and Feeding
What and how you feed your chickens has a huge impact on their health, as well as the number and quality of the eggs you get from them.
The four Gs :Grains, Greens, Grit & Grubs
The four important Gs of feeding chickens—
Grains: should be the largest part of your chickens’ diet.
Greens: access to grass or green vegetables every day is critical to maintaining strong, healthy chickens.
Grit: Chickens should always have access to shell grit.
Grubs: allowing them to free range (especially if your chickens don’t have a run) and forage for insects for at least an hour a day (if possible) is ideal.
How much grain does a chicken eat?
This amount will vary depending on the breed and what they can forage if they free range. But here's a guide:
Hybrid Layer such as an Isa Brown = 110g to 125g per chicken, per day.
Bantams = 75g to 110g per chicken, per day.
Standard (normal sized) or large chickens = 130 to 180g per chicken, per day.
Even free range chickens need grain, and the largest part of their diet should be grain or pellets.
A feed my chooks are enjoying at the moment is Barastoc Champion Layer. It's a shorter cut pellet - ideal for bantams and large birds. With 16.5% protein, it's a great quality feed. Excellent for fussy eaters, too!
Here in this picture I'm feeding Laucke Show Bird Micro Pellets. It's not organic, but it's a high quality feed that I feed during breeding season. The birds really like it and the smaller pellets are ideal for bantams. You can ask your local grain store to order it in for you. In summer I like to feed Barastoc Top Layer Mash. A mash is just crushed grain that you add water to make a porridge (no need to cook it or anything!). On those hot days I prefer wet feed encourage water consumption and I add a supplement.
Country Heritage feeds are stand-out feeds, but they are up to double the price of entry level feeds. However if you're making a conscious effort to remove chemicals and preservatives from your diet, you should consider the extra $15 a bag.
Kitchen food scraps and treats can supplement their diet, but at least 70% of their diet should be grain.
Backyard laying chickens should have 24/7 access to the feeder. This way, if there’s a bird that gets bullied at feed time, she can eat while the others are busy.
A wild bird proof enclosure or a bird proof feeder is critical in maintaining chicken health. Plus it saves you money by not feeding all the birds in the neighbourhood!
If your chickens’ enclosure isn’t bird and rodent proof, or they free range, invest in a quality pedal feeder. See my favourite automatic feeder here.
Always store your feed in a plastic bin to keep it dry, mould free and away from insects and rodents.
You can pick up plastic bins like the above from KMart for $19, otherwise look for clean, second hand plastic or steel drums; Gumtree is a good place to start.
When choosing a make of chicken feed, look for an age-appropriate feed that is 16 to 17.5% protein.
Pellets are considered a ‘complete food’ and while they do contain all of the minerals required in a hen’s diet, they are a processed food.
Grain mixes vary a lot in ingredients and quality, and don’t suit open feeders where chickens can pick out their favourite grains and scatter what they don’t want all over the ground!
Always read the ingredients to make a fair comparison. The salesperson at your local feed store may be able to help you, but it pays to do your own research, too.
There are good quality pellets, and good quality grain mixes; it depends not only on the brand but the individual product. Choosing a chicken feed is a personal choice, and will depend on your priorities.
If you want to change your chickens’ feed from grain to pellets or vice versa, ensure you do it gradually over 2-4 weeks. Changing feeds can be stressful for a chicken.
Giving your chickens greens or access to grass to free range for at least an hour a day is the best way of maintaining healthy chickens. It also increases the nutrition of their eggs, and improves the yolk colour — naturally.
Some of the best greens for chicks and chooks are: lettuce, chicory, silverbeet, rainbow chard, spinach, cress, rocket, mustard greens, kale, broccoli, cauliflower shoots, buckwheat, clover and more. These can be fed at any stage, and can even be sprouted.
If you’re trying to grow green feed for chickens to eat directly from the ground, you can protect the roots of the plants by covering them with wire hanging baskets turned upside down.
You can also lay an old tyre on the ground, sprinkle seed in the centre, cover it with chicken wire and secure it with a second tyre of the same size. The greens will keep on growing up through the wire and your chickens will enjoy them without being able to destroy the roots of the plants.
Chickens don’t have teeth, but they do have a gizzard. Chickens need access to soluble grit—shell grit or crushed oyster shell. It helps them digest food and is a great source of calcium; critical for bone health and strong egg shells.
If your chickens free range, they are likely to peck at tiny rocks, pebbles and sand. These are insoluble grit and aid digestion by grinding the food in the gizzard.
Always have a small container of clean shell grit, preferably in a bird- cage feeder, and allow the chickens to self-serve as they need.
The best shell grit for your chickens is available on the Chicken Coach online shop.
Allowing your chickens to free range will allow them to supplement their diet with insects found in the garden. This is not only a great mineral and protein boost, but wonderful social time. Please note that ducks will eat slugs and snails, but chickens tend to avoid them.
KITCHEN FOOD SCRAPS—WHAT CAN'T I FEED TO MY CHICKENS?
- Mouldy or 'off' food
- Rhubarb and potato leaves—toxic to chickens
- Poultry meat—can spread disease. Chickens are omnivores, and will eat meat. Never feed meat to your chickens that you wouldn’t eat yourself—remember that what they eat goes into your eggs!
- Be careful with cured meats, which are high in nitrates
- Citrus peel is harmless to chickens, but they won’t eat it.
- Onions - many old school recipes used onion, but new literature says to be wary of the outer skin. My chooks completely avoid them!
- Avocado skins and pips - I've never seen a chook attempt to eat these, but that are regarded as toxic.
Be careful not to feed any produce or insects that have come into contact with garden baits or poisons.
Have you got any other tips or tricks when it comes to feeding your poultry? Drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below!