What to feed chickens, or what do chickens eat, is normally one of the first questions that we get asked by new poultry keepers. It’s also something that existing keepers asks when they want to mix things up a bit for their own flock. In this article, we’ll explore a few different options, and most of these are available from any local feed store. If you have any ideas yourself, please leave them in the comments section below.
What to feed chickens – Layers Pellets and mash
It is important that your chickens have a balanced diet. They will fill up on tasty scraps and corn first, if given the opportunity, so the trick is to make the nutritious food freely available and to restrict the bulky food. A balanced diet, as for humans, consists of proteins, carbohydrate, fats, minerals, vitamins and water.
The main food to give your chickens is layers pellets and or layers mash. They are compound feeds providing all the goodness the chicken needs. They are both about the same price by weight, so the choice whether to feed either or both is yours. The pellets should not be given in a bowl as the hens will simply scratch the food all over the floor. Pellets should be put in a pellet feeder. The mash, however, is best in a bowl. The bowls need to be non-tip, so should have a wide base and be heavy, such as ceramic, as the chickens will push it around as they eat. The important thing with both the pellets and the mash is to make sure they are under cover from the rain.
The average Black Rock Chicken will eat around 150 grams of pellets a day. I suggest you weigh some out so that you know what the total daily ration is for your flock in handfuls or scoopfuls. Keeping to the correct ration will help keep your chickens at full laying potential.
The mash can be given dry, or mixed with water to make a sort of porridge. A traditional alternative to this is to mix the mash with mashed potato. However, the mashed potato mix should not be given too often, as the potato will bulk the chicken up without giving much nutrition. Dry layers mash can be wasteful, as they don’t tend to pick up any that falls out of the bowl, but I prefer it as any uneaten dry mash can be used the next day. Mash mixed with something else has to be prepared freshly daily and any left over at the end of the day, assuming the chickens have not been as greedy as they can be, should be thrown away.
Mash and pellets, basically, do the same job, and therefore you can use one or the other, but I find that my chickens like both; they enjoy their food and seem to like variety in the same way that we do. If you only have a few hens, then try buying different bags alternately.
Feeding Chickens Corn and Wheat
Grain, such as wheat or mixed corn, can be given at lunchtime/early afternoon as a treat. Wheat is better than mixed corn for most of the year, as it is not so fattening. If a chicken puts on too much internal weight, it could affect egg production. The wheat can simply be thrown on the ground as the chickens like foraging for it. In the winter, laying hens will need to increase their food in order to keep warm. At this time they appreciate mixed corn as they like the soya and maize. These two last ingredients are more fattening than the wheat, which is why it is not advisable to use mixed corn routinely, but they give the chickens the extra fat they need to keep them warm and egg producing in the cold months.
Grit and Oyster Shell
The chickens need to pick up grit to enable their stomachs to grind the grain. They will find some in the soil they are on, and if they are not on soil, they will probably get enough from the grit in the pellets and mash. The chickens also need crushed oyster shell and the commercially available oyster shell is mixed with grit, thereby providing both at the same time. They need the crushed oyster shell to ensure they are getting enough calcium. A lack of calcium can lead to eggshell problems, such as eggs with a deformed shell or even no shell at all. It can also lead to shell eating, as the chickens eat the shells to try to make up for the calcium deficiency. Traditionally, shells were feed back to the chickens before crushed oyster shell became commercially available. You can still feed your chickens’ eggshells, but they must be baked at 170 degrees centigrade for 10 minutes to remove the mineral oil coat and make them brittle enough to crush. They must be crushed so that the chickens don’t recognise them and associate them with their own eggs. This in turn could encourage them to eat their own eggs, which is the last thing you want! The crushed oyster shell can be thrown on the ground in the same way as the wheat, to encourage the hens to forage, but this can be wasteful. Unlike wheat, where the chickens will not leave an uneaten grain if you give them the right amount, they only pick up the crushed oyster shell when they need it. Any unused surplus will get lost and therefore wasted. The same comment applies to grit if you want to offer it. Grit and oyster shell are best put in a grit feeder or heavy bowl and left in a corner somewhere.
Poultry Spice – What to feed chickens who are moulting
Poultry spice, a mineral based supplement, is recommended for improving all round condition. In particular, it is very good at helping chickens to get quickly over a moult and invaluable if you are rearing chickens. It is a powder, which can be sprinkled over the pellets, but is best mixed in with the mash.
Chickens need access to clean, fresh water
Fresh water, changed daily, must be available at all times throughout the day. During winter, you may need to check the water a couple of times to ensure that it has not frozen. A Black Rock will drink 200ml of water a day. In hot weather, this can double. Poultry drink can be added to the water every so often. It contains iron as a ready absorbent phosphate in a syrup base and helps maintain good condition and appetite.
Don’t forget greens and veggies
Greens help the yolk colour and add to a balanced diet with their mineral content. The chickens love lettuce and tomato as well as cabbage, apples and broccoli. They like most fruit and vegetables, except citrus fruits. Root vegetables should be cooked; anything else can be given raw.
Remember, it is illegal in the UK to feed kitchen scraps to your birds. So on the list of what to feed chickens, kitchen scraps won’t be seen.
Their food and water should be raised off the ground to prevent pollution from mud, wood shavings, etc. If you can, bring the water and feeders in at night. It is essential to bring the water in during winter as it is guaranteed to be frozen in the morning. Freezing the plastic drinker makes the plastic brittle and easily broken. It will need to be defrosted before taking the bottom off to refill it. This is bound to happen on a morning when you are running late. Another alternative for the water is to have two drinkers, thus you can take one out fresh each morning and bring the other one in ready for the next day. Bringing in the food will save the wild birds having a free meal and not encourage any passing rodents.
On the subject of rodents, food storage has to be carefully considered. Convenience means that it is kept outside, near the chickens, in which case it needs to be predator (rodent) and weatherproof. I use metal dustbins, kept in the shed. The alternative is to keep the food store in the chicken’s house. Wherever it is kept, it has to be out of direct sunlight as heating the food will break down the nutritional content
We hope that this article has been helpful, and let you know what to feed chickens. If you have any other ideas, please leave them in the comments section below.