What Should I Feed My Chickens?

Posted by Susan Lenz on

What should I feed my chickens?

Feeding your chickens the correct types/stages of food is important to provide them with a balanced diet, and is easiest given in commercially sold forms (pellet, mixed grain or both). It is always a good idea to ask the seller what kind/brand of food the birds have been eating, so you can continue to feed them the same type. Introduce new foods to old food gradually, over a few days as some chickens can get sick with sudden diet changes.

We stock a large range of different feeds that suit different breeds and different lifestyles (ie are your girls free ranging? or are they contained in a coop most of the time? - your feed and protein level of the feed depends on which of the lifestyles your hens have. High protein feeds are made for birds that are contained in a coop most of the time with no outside protein source), are of breeding flocks,  or for commercial layers such as Hylines.

There is some variation between brands for when they recommend different food stages, but as a general guide they are:

  • Chick Starter’ for day old chicks until they are approx. 8 weeks old. This is a small sized food, which is easier for chicks to digest. It is also often medicated to protect against disease (namely, coccidiosis). Often contains 17-20% protein, dependant on brand.
  • ‘Pullet Grower’ is fed from 8 weeks to point of lay(approx. 22 weeks), dependant on brand.
  • ‘Layer pellets/mash/grain mix’ is formulated for chickens at “point of lay” or are laying eggs.

"Should I feed my chickens pellets or a mixed grain?"

Some people have told me that they won’t lay properly if I give them a mixed grain…

The decision of what to feed your chickens is a combination of what you want them to eat and what they will eat. Generally pellets are easier to give to chickens as it is a completely balanced food which has everything they need in one form. Layer pellets come in both vegetarian ration and meat based protein ration.

Chicken keepers who give their chickens primarily mixed grain find that they will pick out and eat what they like and leave the rest of it (much like a child will eat lollies instead of eating a full plate of meat and veg). If they are doing this, they won’t necessarily be getting a balanced diet. What most chicken keepers do to get around this is to give them whatever amount they choose and just wait until the girls have eaten it all before refilling the food container. Another option is a mash (wet or dry) or a crushed grain mix which means they can’t pick out the individual grains and will get a much more balanced diet.  Many of our customers choose to offer a good quality pellet or crumble as their base diet and a quality grain as a scratch or foraging mix as a treat each day to give variety and enrichment.

And if you are wondering what do we do? We prefer to give pellets and only give a few handfuls of grain as a treat (albeit most days) because they love it and it gives them something to do as they have to forage through the mulch to find it. Through winter i also offer a mash at the end of the day to keep them warm overnight.

What ‘human food’ is okay to give them?

Chickens enjoy a varied diet as much as we do. They will quite happily eat all sorts of leftovers, such as vegetables, fruit (including peelings/rinds from watermelon and cantelope), sandwiches, cereal, pasta/noodles and bread. Bascially all the leftovers from the kids dinners and uneaten school lunches go to them and they (the chickens, not the kids) love it!!! All uneaten leftovers should be given in the morning and needs to be removed by bed time to prevent the chickens from eating soiled or “off” food (which can make them sick), and so you don’t attract rats by having food for them sitting around.

Chickens are omnivorous, which means that they eat meat and veggies (like us). Don’t be afraid to give them meat occasionally, they love it. Chickens do not like, and should not be given, citrus fruit, potato peelings or avocado (the latter is poisonous to chickens). Chickens love lettuce, but this should be given in small amounts and not very often as it isn’t high in nutrients and can give chickens diarrhea. Hard vegetables are best grated, cooked until soft or vitamised in a food processor.

What is a ‘mash’ and why would I give it to my chickens?

Mashes are a much loved form of food that can be given to chickens. We stock Barastoc Top Layer Mash and this is a finely grounded layer food that can be feed wet or dry. However to make it into a mash, simply mix with hot water and feed out. If you wish to you can then mix in ingredients such as chopped up fruit/vegetables, bread, pasta, rice, yoghurt, leftover childrens’ breakfast cereal/sandwiches, egg, egg shells, shell grit, vitamins, minced garlid, leftover dinners… basically anything you don’t want to eat but don’t want to waste… Chicken keepers Australia wide make warm mashes for cold weather and cold mashes for warmer weather…

What is ‘shellgrit’, and why should I give it to my chickens?

Shellgrit is a form of calcium for chooks that is readily available from most places you buy chicken food. Chickens need calcium for strong bones, but also strong egg shells. Shell grit is also useful to help grind up seeds and food in the gizzard (as chickens don’t have teeth) – free range chickens will eat dirt and small stones to help grind up the food but this may not contain sufficient calcium levels . Most commercially bought food has added shell grit, but it is easier to have it available for your girls (in a separate container so you can know how much they have eaten) to avoid any potential problems related to low calcium levels.  We also stock Oyster Shell which is super for adding extra calcium for nice strong eggs.

Both Shellgrit and oyster shell should be kept in separate containers that your birds can freely access adlib.  They will self regulate what they require.

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