Gone are the good ol’ days of farm kids walking around the chicken coop with a slop bucket, haphazardly throwing kitchen scraps at the hungry hens. Today, we know a lot more about the science of feeding chickens and exactly what it takes to do it right and keep your hens healthy, disease-free and laying lots of eggs.
If you’re currently raising chickens or you’re thinking of starting your own backyard flock, don’t buy chicken food until you’ve read these five surprising rules for feeding healthy, happy hens.
1. Organic or non-organic? Is there such a thing as GMO-free chicken feed?
Corn and other grains are typically the very first ingredient on the label of chicken feed, meaning this ingredient makes up the bulk of the food.
“There are 142 different events (types) of genetically modified corn, the most of any plant species,” warns the Non-GMO Project. “Almost 90% of the corn grown in the United States goes into animal feed and biofuels.”
Additionally, most grains grown in North America are treated with a wide range of pesticides and herbicides.
If you and your family are concerned about the pesticide and GMO status of the food you personally eat, you may want to consider what you’re feeding your chickens. Feeding your chickens GMO products, then eating their eggs, may not align with your own values and health concerns.
Over the past couple of years, more and more feed stores and manufacturers have come out with non-GMO, natural and certified organic chicken food. This allows you to feed your hens a natural, pure diet to keep their meat and eggs free of contaminants. Some of our favourites include:
- Kalmbach Feeds Organic Layer Feed: It’s USDA organic and contains a proprietary blend of prebiotics, probiotics and enzymes to support digestive and immune health. When you feed your hens this omega-3 rich chicken feed, it may increase the amount of healthy fats and vitamin D in the eggs your chickens lay.
- Prairie’s Choice Non-GMO Backyard Layer Formula: This all-natural egg layer formula is 100% non-GMO and grown and packaged in the USA. However, it is not organic.
2. There’s a different food to use depending on the age of your chickens
Similar to dog food or cat food, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for chicken feed. The nutrients and minerals that your backyard flock need change depending on their life stage.
|TYPE OF FEED||PROTEIN LEVEL (%)||AGE OF BIRDS||FEED INTAKE/1 BIRD/AGE PERIOD|
|Chick Starter||20-22%||Zero to 6 weeks||2-3 lbs|
|Pullet Grower||14-16%||6 to 20 weeks||12-13 lbs|
|Egg Layer||15-18%||20 weeks onward||1.8-2.4 lbs/week|
|All Purpose||16%||All Ages||Unknown|
We do not recommend using an all-purpose chicken feed unless it’s the only food you have available to you in your region. If giving your flock an all-purpose feed, you would use it during the entire growing period no matter the chickens’ age or life stage.
3. Your chickens need to eat scratch grains
Scratching and pecking at the ground is a natural part about being a rooster or hen. Chickens love to use their claws to dig at the ground and find little bugs or grains to eat. This behavior is actually very therapeutic for your flock and keeps them happy.
Tossing scratch grains, as its name implies, helps to encourage chickens to scratch at their floor.
The best scratch grains to feed hens are grains that are high in energy but low in protein, as you don’t want the scratch grains to throw off the protein percentages in your chicken feed. A good example is Coyote Creek Certified Organic Feed. It’s made with organic corn, organic milo and organic wheat.
4. Hens love to swallow rocks (literally)
Did you know that chickens do not have any teeth? To help them digest their food and their grains, chickens need grit. If your hens free range, they may pick up little pebbles and rocks, but it’s a good idea to give all backyard flocks a hopper of chicken grit.
When buying grit, use the right size. You can usually find grit in chick-size or adult-size. You can even find some grit products that contain probiotics, which may further aid digestion.
In the past, it was suggested that people use oyster shells as grit. However, it’s been found that oyster grit is too soft and doesn’t do enough to help the birds digest their food.
5. All-you-can-eat or limited servings?
If you’re using a commercially prepared food like the ones above that we recommend, you don’t have to worry about portion size. In fact, you can let your chickens eat all day without worry of them overeating or becoming obese.
The most important thing is that you keep the chicken food fresh and dry. If they get wet, the pellets can become moldy and make your hens sick.
We recommend using chicken food hoppers. These hoppers are typically waterproof and have a big roof that keeps the feeding openings shielded from the elements. Hoppers may either be placed on the ground or hung from the ceiling of the chicken coop, depending on the type of hopper you purchase. Today there are even automated chicken feeders for urban hobbyists who don’t want to be troubled with this task.