A SIMPLE GUIDE TO FEEDING CHICKENS
Feeding chickens is pretty simple. As omnivores, they generally eat everything. However, depending on the age of your chickens, there are a few things you need to be aware of to insure they get the nutrition they need to be a happy and healthy flock.
0 to 18 WEEK OLD CHICKS
Chickens start laying eggs around 18 to 2o weeks old and up to this time, they have different nutrition needs than laying chickens. Generally, chicks need more protein than older chickens. What should you feed them?
For chicks vaccinated for coccidiosis: feed a starter/grower, non-medicated feed
For chicks not vaccinated for coccidiosis: feed them starter/grower, medicated feed
CHICKENS 18 WEEKS AND OLDER
Once chickens start laying, they need less protein and more calcium for strong egg shells and thus must be fed layer feed.
CHICKEN SCRATCH OR CRACKED CORN
Chicken scratch or cracked corn should never be given to chickens as their primary food source. It should be viewed as a treat and not consist of more than 10% of their diet. Chicken scratch generally consisted of a variety of seeds, grains and/or cracked corn.
Scratch grains and/or cracked corn is helpful for warming up the chickens and thus is something especially good to give them during the cold winter days; most importantly right before they go to bed.
CHICKEN GRIT & OYSTER SHELL
Chickens of all ages generally need grit to help with the digestion of their food since they do not have teeth. However, what type of grit to feed them depends upon their age and situation.
There are 2 types of chicken grit:
1. soluble (oyster shell or mineral grit) = contain calcium and minerals that dissolve
2. insoluble (granite or flint grit) = basically small stones
0 to 18 WEEKS OLD CHICKS
Chickens less than 18 weeks old or up to the point they start laying need only insoluble grit since they do not need the extra calcium. You can start feeding chicks grit as soon as they are given foods other than chick starter/grower such as greens and vegetables. Just put it in a small bowl for them to pick at freely as they need.
CHICKENS 18 WEEKS AND OLDER
Once chickens start laying eggs, feed them soluble grit which includes supplemental calcium to help your hens have strong egg shells. Do not put it in their feed, but offer it in a separate bowl when they can eat it freely of their own choice. Your chickens will know when they need it. You can also supplement your hen's diet with clean, crushed egg shells which will provide them with the additional calcium they may need.
Do chickens need grit if they free-range? Chickens may get all the grit they need by eating little stones while out free ranging, but to be safe and also to provide them with the added calcium, I would recommend you offer them soluble grit as a free choice option.
LEFTOVERS AND TABLE SCRAPS
I like to think of my chickens as moving, little composters. They are omnivores and love vegetable scraps, bread, crackers, dairy products and other table scraps. You should have seen them go crazy on my daughter's uneaten turkey sandwich.
However, while most food items are safe to feed to chickens, there are some foods you should never feed them including:
Rancid or spoiled food
High fat or salt foods
Uncooked rice or beans
Eggplant, pepper and tomato leaves