In order for them to live up to their full potential, your backyard chickens must eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet. Layers need the right kind and amount of feed to lay quality eggs. Broilers need the right kind and amount of feed to gain weight in a healthy way. This is slightly more complicated than merely picking up a bag of feed at your local farm supply store. Chickens can benefit greatly from foraging as well as from some table scraps. Other table scraps are toxic to chickens and if your birds are given these common items with their daily meal, it’ll ruin your day. How can you know just what to feed your flock?
Type and Amount of Feed Changes Over Time
Chick starter feed, with a protein level of 20 to 22%, is required for chicks from hatching until they are 6 weeks old. After that, pullet grower feed is the way to go. This has 14-16% protein and you feed this to your layers until they are about 20 weeks old. After 20 weeks and for the duration of your chicken’s life, feed them layer feed. Grains like corn or barley can be substituted for part of your layer feed.
How much should you feed your birds? Resist the urge to feed too much. While some backyard farmers prefer to leave out a constant supply of food, this is really not the healthiest choice for your birds. Feed several times a day and not in between. This will also reduce the risk of attracting pests like rats and mice. Young chicks will eat about 2 to 2.9 lbs of chick starter feed for their first six weeks. For the entire pullet phase, your growing chicks will eat a total of 12-13 lbs of feed. Layers then consume 1.8 to 2.4 lbs of feed each week for the remainder of their lives. Like people, there will naturally be periods when your birds want to eat a bit more or a bit less.
Broilers are different. From hatching to six weeks, a growing broiler can be expected to consumer 30-50 lbs of broiler starter feed. Then, from six weeks until slaughter, they’ll consume another 16-20 lbs of broiler finish feed. Talk to knowledgeable staff at your local farm supply store to find just the right feed for your flock and for advice on feeding should you have any questions.
Scraps—To Feed or Not to Feed
Table scraps alone are not a well balanced diet for your chickens, but they can be a wonderful treat if fed in moderation. Many sources suggest waiting until your birds are 3-4 months old before you begin feeding them table scraps because before that they desperately need the high protein levels found in chicken feed in order to grow and develop properly. Most vegetables, both cooked or raw, are perfectly safe to feed your chickens and offer some great nutritional value too. Bread, grains, oatmeal, cooked meats, and most fruits are safe too. Chickens love table scraps!
Don’t throw your flock every single kitchen scrap you have, though. Raw potato skins are toxic to chickens. Avocado skins and pits can be fatal too, as can chocolate. Garlic and onions won’t hurt your birds but can seriously affect the taste of your eggs. As a rule avoid giving your chickens processed foods, greasy foods, spoiled or rotten foods, or raw meat. Got it?
Foraging for Healthier Eggs and Meat
One great benefit that free-range chickens reap is the ability to forage for plants, insects, and worms. This means added nutrients. Birds allowed to forage are believed to produce healthier, better quality eggs and meat. Still, these birds require a healthy diet of chicken feed and can also benefit from scraps. Foraging will probably have more benefits for your backyard than for your chickens, but it is still highly beneficial.