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 poultykeeper.com 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.

Greens

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.

420 Comments

  1. if I have 10 chickens, should i throw the feed at them or scatter it evenly? please I am really worried that they are not getting enough, one died the other day!

    • Feed pellets ad-lib in a hopper. Scatter corn (as a treat) or don’t feed it at all… The pellets and some greens are what they need to be fit and healthy.

  2. Hi, I’m looking at getting some chicken for the ‘wild’ area of our garden, however, there are 2 apple trees which will drop into where they will be mainly housed. Would this be a problem or would they enjoy eating them? Thanks!

    • Sounds perfect. The best environment for chickens is under dappled shade, so an orchard is ideal. Chickens can certainly eat apple. I’m not so sure they will be able to eat them as they fall but a heel crushing one or two would be appreciated so they can then get to them.

  3. When I fed my hens ad lib last year, jackdaws, crows and rooks gobbled up the food so fast it became uneconomic to feed that way. Also rats took up residence and they were a nightmare to eradicate. So I feed my eight birds and one cockerel twice a day but do not know if I am feeding enough – if a couple or so birds are on the nest laying they miss out on that feed time. Help.

    • You can get a vermin / bird proof feeder (try Grandpas Feeders) or feed them ad lib in the chicken house where birds are unlikely to go.
      If you feed them twice per day, put feed down and let them eat all they can in 20-30 mins removing what is left. Feed first thing in the morning and just before they roost. There shouldn’t be hens laying at these times.

  4. Hi I’m feeding 12 chickens which will be layers in a few months. I’m just wondering how many pellets to give them as they alway seem to be hungry. I’m giving them approximately 2 cups. Is this enough? I hope you can help.

    • They should be fed ad-lib so they can take as much as they need. Chickens eat between 120 and 170g of feed per day once fully grown.

    • If you look at the ingredients labels, they do look the same so I would imagine they are powdered and then pelleted, rather than made into a courser mash. Nutritionally, your chickens are getting the same thing although they can get fussy with mash and flick through it, only taking the bits they like!

  5. Great website. Just wondering if rowan berries will be ok for chickens or whether they will just ignore them. We haven’t got our girls yet and are setting up a chicken run around some rowan trees and wondered if that is safe?

  6. Hi, I’m planning to site my 10ft chicken run on a plot that is currently riddled with ivy. Although I intend to remove all the leaves and some of the root mat, it won’t be possible to remove the whole of the root system and, inevitably, there will be further leaf growth.
    Can you tell me if my chickens are likely to eat the fresh leaves and, if so, will this harm them? Many thanks.

    • Mine don’t eat ivy, but they have lots of other things to eat. It’s hard to say but I would remove as much of it as you can and then see how interested in it they are.

  7. Can you keep chickens in a coop and let them out onto gravel. I have a smallish immaculate garden and wouldnt like to get it ruined by the chickens but I also have quite a large gravelled area to the side of my garden which could be fenced off and the chickens could have the run of that area. I am only thinking of two or three max. thanks

    • Other than a little more excercise and a little scratching with the odd bug, they won’t be getting the benefits of having grass to eat which is so beneficial to their diet.

    • I have never tried this but they are usually quite smart when it comes to poisons and I doubt they will eat something that will hurt them.

  8. How large of a run would be good for 6 chickens? Also do you think it would be a problem to place the run under a walnut tree?

    • As large as possible I would say! I don’t see a problem with putting the run under a tree but chickens do need sunlight so keep this in mind.

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