Your backyard chickens need to eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet so they can experience optimal growth, weight gain, egg production and immunity from various poultry diseases.
In the old days, people had to formulate their own poultry feed by mixing various grains, such as corn and wheat. Today, it’s thankfully much easier; most feed stores offer pre-formulated chicken feed rations that give your backyard birds the the exact balance of protein, minerals, vitamins and other nutrients.
Educate yourself on the specific nutritional needs of your chickens so you can pick out the best stuff while shopping for feed. In this online guide, you’ll learn exactly what your hungry hens are craving!
Feeding Schedules and Types of Feed
Just like you needed different food when you were a baby, a chicken has different nutrient needs at the different stages of her life. Nutritional needs also vary depending on the purpose of the chicken (i.e., layer hens need different chicken feed from meat birds).
If you’re raising layer hens: From when your chicks hatch until six weeks of age, feed your chicks a starter feed that has a protein level of 20-22 percent. Once the chicks hit six weeks of age, feed them pullet grower (14 to 16 percent protein) until age 20 weeks. After that, switch your hens to layer feed with a protein level of 15 to 18 percent. (MONEY-SAVING SECRET: Layer feed is often expensive. Save yourself some money by substituting 1/2 lb. of grain, such as barley or corn, for 1/2 lb. of poultry ration every day.)
If you’re raising meat birds: Provide broiler starter with a protein level of 20 to 24 percent from the point of hatching to six weeks of age. After that, switch your meat chickens to broiler finisher (16 to 20 percent protein) until the birds are sent to be slaughtered.
Feeding Amounts (Fat Hens Aren’t Happy Hens!)
The amount of food your chicken eats will go up or down depending on your chicken’s age and your method of feeding him. Some backyard chicken hobbyists leave the chicken feed out all day in a sort of buffet-style setup so that their hens can eat whenever they whimsy strikes. Other hobbyists dole out the feed in measured proportions two or three times daily.
Avoid the temptation to feed your hens too much. It can be costly, to both your budget and your chickens’ health! The University of California-Davis recommends the following for feeding layer hens:
- Chick starter: 2 to 2.9 lbs. per chick for the first six weeks
- Pullet grower: 12 to 13 lbs. per pullet for approximately 14 weeks
- Layer feed: 1.8 to 2.4 lbs. per week per layer hen
For feeding meat chickens, the university notes that 10 chickens will eat 30 to 50 lbs. of broiler starter until six weeks of age, and 16 to 20 lbs. of broiler finish until slaughter.
The Importance of Fresh Water
Chickens aren’t camels! Just like the human body, the body of the chicken consists of mostly water. Thus, though water is not often considered a “food” or “nutrient,” it’s one of the most important things to consider when feeding your backyard chickens. Always ensure your chickens have access to fresh, clean and cool water at all times of the day, and clean your watering equipment regularly as dirty waterers can harbor diseases and attract pests. You can use simple trough-style waterers, floor-based waterers and/or hanging waterers, depending on how your chicken coop is set up
Certified Kitchen: Keep Things Sanitary
You don’t have to prep your chickens’ food in a certified kitchen, but the area in which you’re feeding your chickens must be kept clean. This reduces the risks of disease and rodent outbreaks among your flock. It’s far cheaper to take proactive cleaning measures than it is to try to eradicate a disease outbreak or the pests that are often attracted to dirty feed conditions (Chickens aren’t the only ones who find their feed tasty; rats and mice do, too!).
Clean your chickens’ watering troughs every day and replace the water with fresh water. Also, clean out the feed troughs and remove old feed, dirt and other contaminants every other day. If possible, remove the feeders from the coop, wash them and allow them to dry thoroughly before placing them back in your coop.
Additional offline book resources:
1. Feeding Poultry: The Classic Guide to Poultry Nutrition for Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks, Geese, Gamebirds, and Pigeons
2. Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
3. University of California: Feeding Chickens