No matter their age, chickens love food. Providing them with the necessary feed and nutrients will ensure their happiness and their overall health. Yet, feeding your chickens is easier said than done. There are so many types of feed, treats, supplements, and techniques that it can confuse even the most experienced chicken owner.
To make things simple, we’ve put together this easy-to-read guide to feeding your backyard chickens:
The Types of Chicken Feed
In an ideal world, you could go to the store, pick up your chicken feed, and give it to your chickens without a problem. If only it were that simple. There is more than one type of chicken feed, and the type of feed you give them will depend on their age, health, and more.
Starter feed is what you give to baby chicks in their first 6 weeks of life. It is high in protein to help your chicks grow in healthy and happy pullets. You should not give starter feed to chicks older than 6 weeks; else, the extra protein can cause liver damage.
After the first 6 weeks, you should switch to grower feed. This is what will keep your chickens healthy during their teenage years (or when they’re 6 to 20 weeks old). It has a higher amount of protein than regular adult feed but a lower amount than starter feed.
A Note on Medicated vs. Unmedicated Feed
Most starter and grower feeds are medicated. In other words, they protect against diseases such as coccidiosis for unvaccinated chickens. You should be giving your chicks medicated chicken feed up until they’re vaccinated. Afterward, you can switch to unmedicated.
Once your chickens have grown out of their awkward teenage phase, they can move on to adult chicken feed, also known as layer feed. This type of feed has a healthy balance of protein, calcium, and any other vitamins or nutrients that your chickens need.
However, to make things more confusing, there are different types of layer feed. Here are the main ones:
- Mash: This is unprocessed chicken feed. It contains finely ground grains that are easy for chickens to digest.
- Whole Grain: Composed of cracked grains and unprocessed ingredients, whole grain feed looks a bit like the ingredients of a granola bar. The ingredients are large enough for chickens to peck and grab at.
- Pellet: This is the most common form of chicken feed. Pellets are easy to store and clean up in case your chickens have knocked their feeder
- Crumble: Crumble feed is broken up pellet feed. As such, it’s a bit easier to eat and is a good compromise between mash and pellets.
How to Transition to a New Chicken Feed
As your chickens grow, they will switch between various types of feed. This change should happen gradually, not all at once. Start the transition over a one-week time period, mixing the different feeds evenly for four to five days. After that, start replacing more of the old feed with the new feed.
Chicken supplements add nutrients to your chickens’ diet that they’re otherwise not getting from their feed. There are two main types of supplements:
- Chicken Grit: If you’re feeding your chicken treats and whole grains, then they’ll need grit to help digest them. After all, chickens don’t have teeth, so larger and more fibrous foods can trouble them. Chicken grit contains dirt, sand, or small stones that can ground up chicken feed in their digestive tract.
- Oyster Shells: You can give oyster shells to chickens who are laying soft eggs or no eggs at all. They provide extra calcium that can support egg production. If you want to give your chickens oyster shells, put some in a separate dish nearby their feeder.
If you want to give your chickens a little treat, there are plenty of foods for you to choose from. Fill a tray or plate with various fruits, veggies, grains, even meats, and your chickens will go crazy. Just make sure that all of the foods are safe for your chickens to eat. You can find a definitive list of chicken-safe foods here.