Chicken Feed: How to Feed Chickens

Your chickens will need properly formulated chicken feed that is the correct type for their age, for growth, sustenance and to produce eggs if they are hens of egg laying age. There are many old wives tales and alternative views on feeding, some say it’s marketing that has created all of these feeds and hens will survive well on wheat and others will say their grandad never had layers pellets and just fed his hens kitchen scraps! Formulated poultry feeds didn’t exist until recently, primarily created thanks to commercial research on hens diets as we tried to squeeze more and more eggs out of hens.

Chickens were often fed home made grain mixes before the seventies.

In days gone by though when ‘grandad fed scraps’, pure breeds were kept for eggs and they were fed grain mixes or dried mash chicken feed that had meat or fish meal added to increase the protein content. Hens would free range over a large area and could also supplement their diet with what they could forage. Bugs, insects and worms are all valuable sources of protein, not forgetting a good selection of greens providing vitamins and minerals.

“Grandad’s chickens didn’t get chicken feed and survived on kitchen scraps but they could free range to top up their diet on protein, vitamins, minerals and calcium from the fields or orchards they grazed. They didn’t produce anything like the number of eggs modern hybrid hens or some pure breeds produce.”

So in short, if you don’t feed a proper formulated layers feed to your hens, they won’t be able to keep up the demands that egg-laying puts on their bodies.

Layers Feeds and Protein

Layers PelletsChickens require protein to produce feathers¬† and eggs as well as to grow. The amount of protein in their diet is important and you will see on the ingredients on the back of bags of commercial feeds the percentage of protein that they contain. It is higher in ‘Growers Pellets’ for example to enable chickens to grow and produce feathers.¬† You will find that chickens stop laying eggs when they moult (lose their feathers and regrow new) as they are diverting protein from egg production to feather production. During the moult, you can scatter a handful of cat kibble in the run which helps them to top up with protein. Do not use dog food as most of the protein is derived from cereals.

Topping up a feed container

Commercial feeds contain the right balance of nutrients & can be fed ad-lib in hoppers if kept dry. This one has a rain hat.

Commercial chicken feeds have been well researched and contain the correct balance of minerals and nutriets required by chickens as well as sufficient protein and calcium which is essential for egg shell production. Layers pellets for example are around 16% protein. Wheat is about 10% protein and lacks essential vitamins that are required by chickens.

Formulated feeds come as pellets or mash and should be fed ad-lib so hens can take what they want as they need it. This type of feed must be kept dry or it will soon spoil. The feeder and rain hat shown above is the only sort I have found that really does keep the feed dry. Most have a hole in the top of the hat for a handle or for hanging and this lets water in. A feeder and rain hat similar to this one can be bought from Omlet.

Eggs are made up of around 80% protein so if there’s a shortage of protein in their diet, egg laying will be the first thing they your girls cut back on!

There is more information on the site which has a very good page of feeding chickens and chicken feed.

Mixed corn

mixed corn for chickensMixed corn is usually 80 to 90% wheat and 10 to 20% maize. It is useful as a scratch feed, it keeps hens active, scratching around looking for it but should only be considered a treat. A handful per hen thrown late afternoon helps them to have a full crop overnight.

The maize (yellow in colour) is very fattening but can be useful during very cold weather to help your hens keep warm – I increase my girls’ ration of corn when it is cold over the winter, after they have finished moulting (they need lots of protein during the moult) since they are not laying eggs and need a little extra fat to burn in order to keep warm.

If you feed too much corn, your hens will get fat and fat hens don’t lay eggs!

Household scraps

Feeding household scraps is no longer allowed according toi DEFRA and can be a bit hit and miss anyway. You don’t really know what a hen is getting and the diet is very unbalanced. It is for this reason that scraps used to be mixed into a mash by using layers mash and water (which can be warm in winter). The mixture should be a sort of crumbly mix, not too wet but not too dry. Feeding scraps should be limited to at most 25% of a hens diet so as not to tip the balance too far one way or another.


chickens and fresh greensAmple green stuff should be provided for your hens. Grass cuttings, weeds and off-cuts from cabbages, cauliflowers and other greens can be provided at minimal cost. Lettuce should be fed in moderation because it has very little nutritional value (very little Protein and Energy / Calories) and avocado pear is poisonous to hens but most other greens that come from the kitchen will be appreciated by your girls. Try hanging greens in their run, just a little higher than they can reach. As they eat them, they will need to jump to get the last bits so will be getting exercise at the same time as their greens! Win-win!

If you have an area in which you can grow cabbages in your garden, it may be worthwhile thinking about growing a row for the winter. Cabbages will sit there in the cold, perfectly preserved until picked. You will need to keep them covered with fleece when there are cabbage white butterflies around but don’t worry if they are a little eaten, the chooks won’t mind!

Mealworm treats

Many chicken keepers like to buy mealworms or chicken treats containing these. Chickens love these and are easily tamed by using such tasty treats, however you should keep in mind that animal by-product regulations mean that mealworms are not really allowed to be fed to poultry.


  1. Hi, is it ok to feed them cooked leftovers, eg peas and broccoli? Can I feed them raw mangetout and sugar snap peas? Thanks

    • Chick crumbs should be few to about 5 weeks, then you can start them on growers pellets to point of lay. These are higher in protein for good growth and lower in calcium (for producing egg shells) than layers pellets that we generally feed to hens.

  2. We have 4 new chickens, have never kept chickens before. Do we put feed in the coop at night, we have put water of course, but we are worried about the food being picked up with their droppings and placed in our compost heap I.e. Food for rats! Think your web site is excellent. Sue Welford

    • No food and water needs to be inside the coop at night. They are roosting and sleeping…

      The only time I sometimes put this inside is to stop water containers freezing or to stop wild birds eating the food.

  3. I/we have obtained six hens (love them already) and I am enjoying being left to look after them. They get pellets, and then left over veg cuttings or salad. We started to get eggs straight away, which was really encouraging- probably about 2-3 a day.

  4. It’s good to know I can feed my birds with grass cuttings. I have ample greens and have been wasting them. I spend so much on commercial feed with little profit made. These alternative feeds will help a lot. Thanks.

  5. My hens are loving the attention. Our egg production is now averaging 4 a day which I think is awesome from six hens new to us, (and we being new to hen keeping). When I walk down to their run they know that they are going to get most of the garden to run around in. I have even devised a cunning (for the moment) plan in which to get the birds back in their run.

  6. Hello. I’ve had my chickens for 3 weeks now and I’m concerned about the amount they are eating. I’m feeding them layers pellets with a small top up of corn late afternoon. Any spare cabbage etc also goes to them, but this does not amount to much. They seem healthy and have just started laying, and they have a couple of hours a day to scavenge on the grass. My concern is that they don’t seem to touch the layers pellets, and I was initially told this should make up 80% of their diet. As far as I can make out, they’re not touching them. They seem to be surviving on a little corn and grass (in the main). Should I be concerned? Should I try them on mash?

    • They won’t normally starve themselves so they are probably getting enough from their time free ranging and from the corn. I would cut out the corn for a while in an attempt to make them more hungry and likely to eat the pellets.

  7. Great website – thanks!

    I wonder if you have any advice for me. I have recently taken on 3 ex-battery hens and they are doing really well. They were clueless at first, but have now learned to go to bed at night, where to lay their eggs, etc. The only thing is that they only eat their mash, and anything else I have tried them on – green leaves, spinach plants, a hanging grain pecking thingy, scraps – they totally ignore, as they just don’t recognise it as the food they have been fed their whole lives.

    Any hints or tips about how to get them interested in anything else? I have a feeling that as soon as they try one new thing, they will try everything.

    • I think it will,take time and they may never completely like these other treats. One thing is for sure, they are far more likely to try them when hungry so perhaps first thing in the morning, before you put out their mash?

  8. Hello, in May I got 4 chicks for the 1st time, they are now 15-16 weeks and one has started laying I have had 3 eggs from her so far 1st days egg was brill the 2 since have been soft shelled, now every thing I have read about it is that either my hen has had a bit of stress or needs more calcium but this is where I need so help being 16 weeks old my hens are still on growers mash which on the pack says to feed up to 18weeks then switch to layers, but can I switch now to give my hen more calcium to get hard egg shells or wait because I have also ready that you cannot give growers before 18 weeks because of the calcium content and too much calcium before 18weeks can give your hens long terms health problems!

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