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What Can I Feed My Chickens?

1 2002 Organic Starter Mash

I am careful about what I feed my chickens and here’s why. I want my chickens to live a long life AND I want it to be a smooth sailing kind of life. Chickens have an immune system as all animals do. We all know that eating healthy gives us the best chance at fighting off illness and infection when it occurs. I know that if my family eats less processed food and sugar, we’ll be healthier through winter. Does this mean I never give them gummies? No, I don’t have that much parental or self discipline. But, I do try to be aware and guide them to better choices. Luckily, I only have to do that with my kids (and husband). The chickens don’t know any better!

My philosophy is to keep their “treats” to a small percentage of their daily intake. I want the majority of what they eat to be things they forage for or their balanced chicken feed. Treats consist of anything other than their feed. That means vegetables and fruit as well! A good quality feed will be balanced for the correct nutrients that chickens need. Feeding them a ton of veggies and scraps takes away from the amount of feed they eat, therefore diluting the nutrients. Just like people, chickens can be nutrient deficient and it can cause a whole host of issues including decreased egg production, thin shells, small eggs, stunted growth, weight loss, poor feather growth, malformation, low immune system function, feather picking/eating, loss of body function and others. Do I measure the things I feed them other than feed? No, I don’t. I just try to be conscience of what I am tossing their way and how much. Some days I give them no extras, others I give them a big pile from the garden. Don’t think too much about it, but the common suggestion is to keep the extras (veggies, fruits, scratch, and treats) to 10% or less of their diet. The rest should be their chicken feed.

Chicken feed companies can vary but in most cases, there are a few common categories of feed.

Chick Starter (medicated or unmedicated)

IMG 0027I give my chicks a starter feed for 8 weeks. They can have unmedicated or medicated. Medicated will help keep them protected from coccidiosis. If I used a medicated starter feed, I tend to wean them off of it by four weeks, allowing their bodies to build an immunity naturally. As long as you keep the brooder clean and fresh, unmedicated is fine from the start. If you see signs of coccidiosis (runny or bloody droppings, listlessness, sleepy chicks, not eating and drinking) you can use a medication such as Corid to help them out. Keep in mind, chicks who are vaccinated for coccidiosis should not be fed medicated feed. This does not apply to other vaccines.

Chick Grower

scratch peck feeds pulletThis is for chicks from 8-20 weeks. It has slightly less protein than the starter feed. They can remain on this feed until you start to see eggs. If you have young chickens in the flock who are not egg laying yet, you can feed everyone this feed. Roosters and young chickens don’t need the excess calcium found in layer feed. Because I have a rooster and I am always adding young chicks into the flock, I usually feed my flock grower feed all year. The feed I use from Scratch and Peck only has 1% higher protein than their layer feed and the other nutrients are very similar. I do offer crushed oyster shell as a calcium source on the side for the hens to take if needed. You can also give them things like crushed egg shells and limestone.

Layer Feed

certifications usda organic scaledThis is a feed with added calcium and meant for hens who are laying eggs. If you have all hens who are of egg laying age, this is a great option!

Molting

molting chippyWhen chickens are molting, they usually aren’t laying eggs and they need extra protein so I would suggest switching from layer feed to a grower or starter feed until they start laying again. You can read more about molting here!

Do Not Feed

Here is a list of things to stay away from…

  • Spoiled, moldy, or stale food. Food that is moldy is toxic, feed that is old doesn’t give them the correct nutrients.
  • Rhubarb
  • Potato skins/leaves/tubers or green potatoes
  • Tomato and pepper leaves/stems/roots (ripe fruit is ok)
  • Avocado pits and skins
  • Onions
  • Uncooked beans
  • Salty foods
  • Sugary foods
  • Vegetables with pesticides/herbicides
  • Chocolate, coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco

Feed With Caution

Here are some things that I usually avoid but if you feed them sparingly it shouldn’t be an issue

  • Fatty/greasy foods
  • Table Scraps
  • Bread/pasta products
  • Processed foods

Toxic Plants

While chickens are good at avoiding toxic plants around your yard, it is good to be aware of what they shouldn’t have. Things like azalea, bulbs, boxwood, caster bean, foxglove, hydrangea, and wisteria are toxic to chickens. Some of these I actually have around my coop. My chickens have never looked twice at them let alone peck at them or eat them. I don’t worry too much about plants in my yard or fields that are toxic to chickens while they are free ranging but I avoid chopping them up for them to forage in their run or eat.

Foods My Chickens Love

Here are some of my flocks favorite foods!

  • Chick-cuterie boards! Check out my video!
  • Their feed! (we use Scratch & Peck)
  • Black soldier fly grubs!
  • Zucchini
  • Pumpkin
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Peppers
  • Grapes
  • Apples (avoid the seeds…that being said my chickens have an apple tree in their fence and it has never been an issue)
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Corn on the cob
  • Scrambled eggs- yes eggs! Great for protein. Leave shells in for added calcium.
  • Berries
  • Cucumber
  • Melons
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Garlic
  • Peas
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Fermented chicken feed! A great way to add probiotics and save money on feed. (Check out my highlight on instagram to learn how or check out Scratch and Peck’s instructions here!)

nikki bio photo scaledNikki Husted is the author of Chicken Keeping Pure and Simple and runs the social media channels @purelychickens on instagram, tiktok, youtube and facebook.  After deciding to stay home with her kids and quit her teaching career, she found that teaching people about chickens was just as fulfilling.  Her main goal is to share her love for animals and make chicken keeping easy for others.  

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