What to feed your backyard chickens: All you need to know
Updated: 24 September 2022
Healthy chooks* and quality googies*
(*Australian for hens and eggs!).
If this is important to you (and we know it is), what and how you feed your backyard chickens plays a massive role in your flock’s health and the quality - and number - of eggs you’ll receive.
Knowing what to give your flock isn’t tricky. Stick your beak into our ultimate guide for what to feed backyard chickens.
What do backyard chickens eat?
Just remember the four G’s: Grains, Greens, Grit & Grubs.
Grains or pellets should be the largest part of your chickens’ diet.
How much to feed chickens? That can vary depending on the breed and what they can forage if they free-range.
- Hybrid layers such as ISA Brown chickens = 110g to 125g per chicken, per day.
- Bantams = 75g to 110g per chicken, per day.
- Standard (regular sized) or large chickens = 130g to 180g per chicken, per day.
Chicken feed - What to buy for backyard chickens?
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 an excellent quality feed and perfect for fussy eaters!
Here in this picture, I'm feeding Laucke Show Bird Micro Pellets. It's not organic, but it's a high-quality feed I give during the breeding season. The birds really like it and the smaller pellets are ideal for bantams. I also supplement breeding birds with Solaminovit. You can read more about Feeding For Breeding in my article, Feeding For Breeding - Tips for healthy chicks.
If your preferred feed isn't at your local feed store, ask them to order it in for you. Most are more than happy to do so!
In summer, I like to feed Barastoc Top Layer Mash. A mash is just crushed grain that you add water to form a porridge (no cooking necessary!).
On hot days, I prefer wet feed to encourage water consumption, and I add a supplement, 35 Heat + Stress Poultry Powder. You can read more about summer chicken care in my article, 7 easy steps to help backyard chickens survive a heatwave.
Country Heritage feeds are stand-out quality organic feeds, but they are almost 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 your chickens' diet, but at least 70% of their diet should be grain.
Chicken feeders take the stress out of worrying about “how often should you feed backyard chickens?”
Laying backyard chickens should have access to a chicken feeder 24/7. This way, if a bird gets bullied at feed time, she can eat while the others are busy.
A wild bird-proof enclosure or 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, otherwise known as an automatic chicken feeder. Read my guide on choosing an automatic chicken feeder.Protein requirements
When choosing a chicken feed, look for an age-appropriate grain or pellet feed that is 16 to 17.5% protein.
Pellet chicken feeds contain all the minerals they need; however, they are a processed food. Pellets are fantastic for automatic feeders. In fact, for clients wanting to use an automatic feeder, I strongly recommend they feed a pellet form feed.
Grain mixes vary a lot in ingredients and quality and don’t suit open chicken feeders or most automatic feeders. Chickens can pick out their favourite grains and scatter what they don’t want all over the ground!
This creates a mess and attracts wild birds and rodents. The best way to feed a grain mix feed is to weigh out the amount they should consume per day and feed your flock daily.
Always read the ingredients of a feed 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.Grain storage
Always store your feed in a plastic or metal bin to keep it dry, mould free, and away from insects and rodents.
You can pick up plastic bins like the above from K-Mart for $19-$39, otherwise look for clean, second-hand plastic or steel drums; Gumtree is a great place to start.
Giving your chickens greens or access to grass to free-range outside the chicken coop for at least an hour every day is the best way of maintaining healthy chickens. It also increases egg nutrition and improves the yolk colour — naturally.
I can always tell when a chook doesn't get access to grass or green feed. They just don't thrive! Giving them access to grass or feeding them something fresh and green each day will dramatically improve the health of your flock.
Some of the best greens for chicks and chooks are:
- Silver beet
- Rainbow chard
- Mustard greens
- Cauliflower shoots
Have a look at these lovelies enjoying their leafy greens!
You can feed these greens at any stage, and you can even sprout them.
Are you trying to grow green feed for your hens to eat directly from the ground? Protect plant roots and cover with chicken wire or a wire hanging basket turned upside down. The greens will keep growing up through the wire, and your chickens will enjoy them without destroying the roots!
Chickens don’t have teeth, but they do have a gizzard. Chickens need access to soluble grit—shell grit or crushed oyster shell, year-round. Shell grit helps them digest food and is a fantastic calcium source which is critical for bone health and strong eggshells.
Free-range chickens are likely to peck at tiny rocks, pebbles, and sand. These are insoluble grit and aid digestion by grinding the food in the gizzard.
When to feed backyard chickens grit? Always have a small container of clean shell grit, preferably in a birdcage feeder, and allow your chickens to peck as they need. Offer this year-round. They will consume more at different times of the year. Chickens prefer clean and shiny shell grit. Replace or top it up as needed - around twice a week.
The best shell grit for your chickens is available on the Chicken Coach online shop.
Allowing your backyard chickens to free-range will enable them to supplement their diet with insects found in the garden. This is not only an excellent mineral and protein boost but wonderful social time.
Let them forage for insects for at least an hour a day if possible.
Please note that ducks will eat slugs and snails, but chickens tend to avoid them.
Giving your backyard chickens kitchen food scraps
What can't I feed to my chickens?
Do NOT give your chickens the following:
- Mouldy or 'off' food
- Rhubarb and potato leaves are toxic to chickens
- Poultry meat can spread disease
- Be careful with lots of cured meats, which are high in nitrates
- Citrus peel is harmless to chickens, but they will not eat it
- Onions were used in the past, but new literature says to be wary of the outer skin. My chooks avoid them altogether!
- Avocado skins and pips are toxic.
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 not to feed any produce or insects that have come into contact with garden baits or poisons.
When and why you should supplement your chickens' diet
- Rearing chicks - Resistance Assistance Poultry Probiotic and offer them free choice seaweed meal
- Respiratory symptoms (any age) - Resistance Assistance Poultry Probiotic and Solaminovit
- Coccidiosis recovery - Resistance Assistance Poultry Probiotic
- Antibiotic treatment recovery - Resistance Assistance Poultry Probiotic
- Loss of appetite - Resistance Assistance Poultry Probiotic
- Moulting - Solaminovit and Resistance Assistance Poultry Probiotic (it's also rich in amino acids)
- Breeding - Solaminovit, start supplementing the 6 weeks before you collect eggs for hatching
Frequently asked questions
Do chickens still need grain if they are free-range?
Yes. Unlike a typical bird, a chicken has a gizzard for grinding grains. Chickens that are free-range will consume less grain as they will forage throughout the day. But you should still offer them grain.
Where can I buy chicken feed in Melbourne?
Across Australia, most pet supply stores will stock chicken feed. You can often save by shopping at feed stores. To find these feed stores, Google
- "Horse feed near me" or
- "Farm supplies near me"
These will yield better search results than looking for poultry feed!
What's a feed store?
A feed store is an outlet that often stocks poultry and livestock feeds, feeders, farm equipment, and rural supplies.
Want your chickens to be the healthiest and happiest they can be? I offer backyard chicken workshops, online programs, phone coaching, and in-person support to families, schools, and free-range egg farmers. Visit my online shop for natural, tried-and-tested poultry supplies in Australia.
Grab my free guide, The First 8 Steps To Naturally Healthy & Happy Backyard Chickens now!
Elise McNamara, Chicken Consultant & Educator.