Backyard chickens make great pets. They are surprisingly intelligent and sociable. They are easy to care for. They eat pesky insects and table scraps, and they are a great source of food themselves, whether you raise them for eggs or meat. However, these birds need more than just table scraps and insects to be healthy and productive. Learn what to feed backyard chickens at each age and stage.
Chick feed comes in two types: mash and crumbles. They are equally beneficial. Vaccinated chicks should be given non-medicated feed. For birds that have not been vaccinated, medicated feed can guard against illness.
If your chicks will be meat birds, they’ll need a high concentration of protein in their diet. Choose a feed that is 22-24 percent protein, called “meat bird starter” or “broiler starter.” Chicks destined for laying should be given a lower protein feed, no higher than 20 percent.
Chicks can be given starter feed until they lay their first egg. After that, they need extra calcium to create eggs with strong, healthy shells. Switch to calcium-enriched layer feed or supplement all-flock feed with ground oyster shell, limestone or eggshells. Non-layers, including meat birds and broody hens, should not be given layer feed or added calcium, as it can cause gout, kidney damage and other health problems.
Broilers, also known as meat birds, need extra protein right from the start to grow to a satisfying size for eating. Chicks should be given unlimited starter feed for three to four weeks, then switched to adult meat-bird pellets. Once they’ve graduated to adult food, allow them free access to unlimited feed for 12 hours a day, and then remove the feed for 12 hours. Meat birds need to consume a lot and will eat more feed each week as they grow.
Grit, Grains and Garbage
Chickens are omnivores and enjoy a wide variety of foods, including grains, fruits, vegetables, insects, and even snakes and lizards. They have a natural instinct for scratching, and grains can be scattered in the yard for a fun activity that yields a special treat. They also enjoy table scraps, chicken scratch and mealworms, though these snacks should make up no more than 10 percent of their daily calories.
While it’s ok to share your food with your chicks, some foods are toxic to them, including
- White potatoes
- Tomato leaves
- Apple seeds
- Fried foods
Fortunately, most kitchen scraps are perfectly safe for chickens. Stale, wilted and overripe foods are all acceptable; moldy food is not. Citrus fruits, garlic and asparagus won’t hurt your chickens, but they may taint the flavor of the eggs and should be limited.
Chickens also need grit to help them digest their food. If they are allowed to roam and scratch in an area with dirt, gravel or sand, this can satisfy that need. Otherwise, you may need to add grit to their feed or sprinkle some with their scratch.
Backyard chickens are easy to feed and easy to care for. If you’re ready to start a flock of your own, we can help you get started. Download our free guide to building your first chicken coop, then select a plan that suits your needs. You’ll be amazed at just how rewarding backyard chickens can be!