The Dine a Chook Guide to Feeding Backyard Chickens and Hens
A balanced diet is essential for healthy, happy chickens. Not to mention plenty of nutritious, fresh eggs! But what is the best diet for laying hens?
At Dine a Chook, we are dedicated to reducing the stress and work of keeping backyard poultry. And one of the easiest ways to make chicken keeping easy is by feeding your chooks a good diet.
This handy guide to Feeding Backyard Chickens is based on our customers’ most Frequently Asked Questions. Avoid the common mistakes we see chicken keepers make and learn from our 10+ years of experience keeping backyard chickens.
Use the Table of Contents below to jump straight to the section you need, or read everything for a grounding in chicken nutrition that no new chicken keeper should be without!
Table of Contents
1. Understanding your chickens’ dietary needs
Understanding what a healthy diet looks like for your chickens will help you ensure your girls are getting everything they need to thrive. Even chicken feeding behaviour contributes to a healthy diet!
FAQ: What do wild chickens eat?
Chickens are descended from jungle fowl, which still live wild in the jungles of Asia.
Jungle fowl are omnivores. They eat insects, seeds, fruit and leaves, but will also kill small reptiles and mammals.
The protein and nutrient requirements of jungle fowl are lower than those of a modern laying hen because jungle fowl only lay about 14 eggs per year.
FAQ: Can my chickens live on foraging and scraps?
Chickens can live on scraps and foraging, but they will not thrive. Egg production will be reduced and may cease altogether.
Modern laying hens are finely tuned egg laying machines. With optimum nutrition, many breeds will produce close to an egg a day. In comparison, chickens in the past laid a few eggs a week and became Sunday dinner at 2 or 3 years old.
Heritage breeds might do slightly better on a sub-par diet than commercial layers like ISA Browns or Hyline Browns, but for the best health and egg production, chickens need a balanced layer feed.
FAQ: Do free-range chickens need less food?
Free-ranging is great for chickens. It makes for happier, healthier hens because they are able to express their natural behaviours. But free-ranging is a husbandry choice, not a diet.
Chickens that free-range will eat some forage and insects. But backyard chickens, and even free-range chooks on pasture, will not even come close to meeting their dietary needs through foraging. They just don't have enough space!
Free-range chickens need the same diet as a normal laying hen, perhaps with a little extra protein. Free-ranging is great, but think of it as a lifestyle not a diet!
FAQ: What are the dietary needs of chickens?
Thanks to extensive research funded by the egg and meat industries, we know exactly what chickens need to thrive. Although requirements do vary depending on breed, age and even weather conditions!
A laying hen needs:
- 16-18 % protein
- Key amino acids including lysine, methionine and cystine
- Plenty of calcium (at least 2.75 % and up to 3.4 %)
- No more than 10 % fibre
- Fatty acids such as omega-3s
- Sufficient vitamin D
- A wide range of essential vitamins and minerals
FAQ: How much protein do chickens need?
Protein is one of the most important factors for egg production. Studies based on commercial breeds such as ISA Browns suggest that 16-18 % protein in the diet is optimum for laying hens.
It is actually the amino acids in protein that matter. Animal or insect proteins are best for chickens because the amino acids are more balanced and easier to absorb.
Extra protein is beneficial for most backyard flocks. Free-range chickens and chickens that eat scraps need more protein than chickens that only eat feed.
Chickens getting too much protein will produce wet, smelly, ammonia-rich droppings.
FAQ: How do chickens eat? Understanding feeding behaviour
Understanding how chickens eat is important for happy, healthy hens.
If you have ever given your chickens scratch mix, you will know that chickens eat selectively. They pick and choose what they like, filling up on their favourite things and ignoring those they don’t like. Chickens do the same thing when they are given scraps and treats, filling up on these and neglecting their feed.
After over 10 years of experience, we can confidently say that chickens do not usually select a diet that is good for their health! Instead, they have evolved to go for high energy foods, just like humans, because these are rare in the natural environment and energy is important if you are a foraging bird.
Think about the foods your chickens prefer: simple carbohydrates like pasta, bread and corn; sugar in fruit; and fat in sunflower seeds. In moderation, these foods are ok for chickens. But they lack protein and, when eaten in large amounts at the expense of a more nutritious layer feed, it is little wonder they cause health issues!
What this means is that chickens need to be provided with a complete feed, not a grain mix where they can pick out the things they like. Scraps and treats should only be fed in moderation.
FAQ: Can chickens free-choice feed?
Some studies have found that chickens can choose a healthy diet for themselves. This is called free-choice feeding: chickens are given a selection of separate ingredients and can choose what to eat.
Often, chickens do not eat enough protein in a free-choice situation. Studies also suggest that not all chickens can learn to free-choice feed. So while free-choice may work for some chicken keepers, it takes knowledge and training to do it right.
FAQ: How does the pecking order affect chickens eating?
Chickens have a strong pecking order which also affects feeding behaviour. More dominant birds always have first choice. In rare cases, they may even prevent lower ranked birds from accessing the Feeder.
Limiting access to feed in any way will result in dominant birds getting the same amount of feed, and lower-ranked birds eating less. This means dominant birds will be healthier and more productive than lower ranked ones.
On the other hand, if you give your chickens lots of unhealthy scraps, dominant birds are more likely to be obese and have other health issues.
If you have a bully, or quite a large flock, having multiple Feeders in different spaces ensures all birds have sufficient access to feed.
FAQ: Do all chickens need grit?
Grit is made up of shells and sometimes small stones. All chickens need grit.
Chickens don’t have teeth. Instead they use grit to grind down grains in a muscly organ called the gizzard.
In order to ensure chickens have enough grit for healthy digestion, even free-range birds should be provided with free access to grit.
Shell grit is important for laying hens, as it provides calcium for healthy eggshell development.
FAQ: How much water do chickens need?
Chickens need plenty of water. This is particularly important for birds given a layer pellet or other dry feed.
On average, chickens will drink about 500 ml of water per bird per day. But this will vary depending on the breed, weather, diet and other factors.
Always ensure your chickens have as much water as they want.
2. Choosing the best feed for laying hens
There are so many different types of chicken feed available, it can be difficult to know what to choose. After years of experience with backyard chickens, we can confidently tell you that a premium quality layer pellet is the best feed for laying hens.
But read on through the FAQs to learn more about the best feed for chickens and hens.
FAQ: What is the best feed for laying hens?
The best feed for laying hens is a complete feed with 16-18 % protein.
A premium feed will have better quality ingredients and is more likely to have a carefully balanced ratio of key amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
Some people prefer a vegetarian diet for their hens. Vegetarian diets should be supplemented with amino-acid rich treats like Dried Mealworms.
FAQ: What type of feed is best? Pellets, mash, scratch mix?
The best feed type for laying hens is a uniform feed. This is any feed where the chickens cannot pick out different ingredients. Uniform feeds stop chickens from feeding selectively, only eating what they like, and ensures that they have the most nutritious diet.
Our pick for chickens are either pellets or micro-pellets. But crumbles and mash are also fine.
Avoid grain mixes, even where they are labelled as a complete feed.
FAQ: What type of feed works best with a Dine a Chook Feeder?
The best feed to use with a Dine a Chook Feeder is a commercial layer pellet. Micro-pellets, mash and crumble are also good.
Scratch mix and other grain mixes decrease the effectiveness of the waste-reducing features of the Feeder and cause deficiencies.
Do not use a Dine a Chook Feeder for:
- Molasses-coated feed
- Fermented feed
- Sprouted feed (unless dry)
- Other sticky or wet feeds
FAQ: Why is scratch mix bad for chickens?
Scratch mix and other grain mixes naturally encourage selective feeding behaviour. Not only does this cause waste, which attracts rodents and pests, it causes health issues in your chickens.
Even a “complete” grain mix is not a healthy feed for chickens. The more nutritious vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as any added protein, are usually neglected in favour of comparatively empty calories such as corn and sunflower seeds. This decreases egg production and causes other health issues.
Scratch mix is bad for chickens if used as a feed. But it can be a healthy treat in small amounts. Learn more here.
FAQ: What is the best diet for chickens of different ages?
Chickens have different nutrient requirements as they progress from fast-growing chicks through to adult laying hens. Choosing an age-specific diet can help ensure that your chickens are getting everything they need to thrive!
|Chicken Age and Type||Feed Recommendations|
Up to 6 weeks
Medicated or unmedicated available
Medicated starters are recommended for chicks not vaccinated for coccidiosis
Learn more about feeding chicks here
6 weeks to point of lay (18-22 weeks)
Grower or pullet feed
Some chick starters can be fed up to point of lay, skipping this stage
Medicated starters should not be fed past 16-18 weeks
From point of lay (18 weeks +)
|Roosters and non-laying hens||If it is possible to feed separately, grower or pullet feed is idea. If not, layer feed is also ok.|
|Breeding birds||Breeder feed or layer feed with a vitamin and mineral supplement|
FAQ: How much protein does a chicken feed need?
Generally 16-18% protein is a good amount for a layer feed. A higher level of protein might be good for some chicken breeds and chickens that free-range, even up to 20 %.
The amino acid profile of the feed is just as important as the amount of protein, so if your chickens are underperforming, consider giving them an amino acid boost. Dried Mealworms and Dried Black Soldier Fly Larvae are high in amino acids and chooks love them!
FAQ: Do my chickens need a vitamin and mineral supplement?
Chickens eating only a high-quality complete layer pellet don’t need a vitamin and mineral supplement.
But a vitamin and mineral supplement is recommended, no matter what feed you are using, if:
- Your chickens free-range
- You give your chickens scraps or treats, even healthy ones
- You are breeding your chickens
For the best results, use a low-dose supplement like Dine a Chook Mega Mineral.
High-dose supplements are best used to treat deficiencies or as a tonic. However, they can be used occasionally, e.g. once a month, if preferred.
FAQ: Can I make my own chicken feed?
We do not recommend making your own chicken feed unless you carefully balance the nutrient profiles of the different feed ingredients. Just throwing some ingredients together will not only impact egg production, it can cause health issues and even death in your flock.
Unfortunately, many of the “recipes” for homemade chicken feed available on the internet are not properly balanced and using them can also make your chickens sick.
If you want to make your own chicken feed, make a grain mix to use as a treat or consider free-choice feeding.
You should only make homemade chicken feed if you are willing and able to properly balance feed ingredients to meet your chickens' needs. There’s a reason why feed companies employ people with degrees in poultry nutrition!
FAQ: Do different chicken breeds need different types of feed?
Breed does affect the dietary needs of chickens. More productive breeds need more protein. Some breeds do ok on a diet containing small amounts of scraps, while in other breeds, health and productivity can suffer. Some breeds are also better suited to free-ranging or better foragers.
Most of the nutrition information used to formulate commercial feeds is based on the needs of hybrid laying hens, like ISA Browns, Hyline Browns and, in the US, commercial-strain Leghorns.
For heritage breed chickens that lay over a longer period, or less intensively, a more well-rounded or higher protein diet can be beneficial. The best approach is to supplement your complete layer feed with some extra protein or a low dose vitamin and mineral supplement for a few weeks and see whether this improves health and performance.
FAQ: I have free-range chickens. Do they need a free-range chicken feed?
You can buy a complete layer feed that is specifically balanced for chickens that free-range. But it is not really necessary, nor is it significantly different to a standard layer feed.
The main dietary difference with free-range birds is they usually need more protein because the protein content of their feed is diluted by foraging and they use more energy running around.
If you buy a free-range feed, look for something with slightly higher protein. Or buy a standard layer feed and give your birds a protein boost with Dried Mealworms every few days.
FAQ: Are molasses feeds good for chickens?
Molasses does contain some nutrients, and chickens like it. But molasses in chicken feed tends to create problems.
Even in small amounts, molasses increases water consumption and causes wetter droppings, making the coop smellier, messier and more attractive to insects. Flies, which spread disease, are also attracted to molasses-rich feeds.
Molasses-coated feeds also clog Dine a Chook Feeders.
FAQ: Should my chickens eat medicated feed?
Medicated chicken feed contains a coccidiostat to prevent coccidiosis infection. It is made for chicks, which are more susceptible to coccidiosis, to help them develop immunity.
Hens that produce eggs for human consumption should not be fed medicated feed after pullet age. If you accidentally fed a medicated feed to a laying hen, do not use the eggs for 14 days.
FAQ: Can my hens eat chick starter and grower feed?
Hens can eat Chick Starter and Grower Feeds. But laying hens should not be fed medicated feeds, even when they are not in lay.
Chick Starter and Grower contain higher levels of protein than layer feeds, so can be used to give your hens a boost. But they do contain different nutrient profiles to layer feeds, so they shouldn’t be used long term.
FAQ: Can roosters eat chicken feed?
Yes, roosters can eat chicken feed. A layer feed contains more calcium than a rooster needs, but most chicken keepers don’t find this to be a problem.
Shell grit also isn’t the best grit for roosters but, if your chickens free-range, your roosters will be able to pick their own grit from small pebbles in the soil.
Because it is so difficult to feed roosters separately, the easiest option is just to let them eat the layer feed.
FAQ: Can pullets eat layer feed?
Chicks should be given a chick starter feed, which has more protein, less calcium and different nutrients to meet the needs of a growing bird. Layer feed is made for laying hens.
That said, once pullets are big enough to go out in the main coop, they will be getting close to laying age and eating a layer feed should be fine.
FAQ: Can ducks eat chicken feed?
Chicken feed won’t harm ducks. But the nutrient requirements of ducks are different from chickens, so using a duck feed is a much better choice.
Ducklings should not be fed chick starter, but rather a duckling starter. Ducks generally, and ducklings especially, require higher levels of niacin than chickens, and usually less protein. Niacin deficiency in ducklings causes leg problems and even death.
FAQ: What other poultry eats chicken feed?
Most poultry will eat chicken feed. Ducks, geese, waterfowl, game birds, guineafowl, turkeys, quail and pigeons will eat chicken feed, though quail normally need a crumble or mash.
However, for optimum nutrition and health, a species-specific feed is a better choice, for example game bird feed for pheasants or waterfowl feed for ducks.
3. How to feed your chickens
Some chicken keepers are unsure about how often to feed their chickens or how much. Chickens can generally regulate their own diet, so the easiest way to feed chickens is to give them unlimited access to their feed. Learn more below.
FAQ: How much do chickens eat?
On average, a hen will eat 100-120 grams of feed per day. However, this varies depending on breed, size, age, diet and even weather!
FAQ: How often should I feed my chickens?
Chickens are natural foragers. They have evolved to eat regular small meals with breaks in-between.
Unlike humans, chickens have no teeth. Instead, the digestive process starts in the crop, where food is stored before it is ground down in the gizzard. This process allows chickens to digest hard grains and grasses. But it also means that chickens only eat a little at a time, and that they need time to digest.
Giving your chickens unlimited access to their feed in the daytime is the best way to feed them. This will allow them to manage their own digestive process in a healthy way. It also ensures that all birds, even lower ranked ones, have access to Feeders.
Feeding chickens once or twice a day causes them to overeat when the food is available. This isn’t as good for their digestion and can cause crop damage and other health issues.
FAQ: When should I feed my chickens?
Ideally, chickens should have access to their feed from when they get up in the morning to when they roost at night.
Chickens naturally want to eat first thing in the morning, because their crop is empty. They also fill up before roosting, so they have something to digest overnight. This helps them stay warm and contributes to egg production, as the reproductive cycle is often more intense at night and requires more nutrients.
Chickens will also eat multiple times during the day, as their crop empties.
Having unlimited access to feed doesn’t cause chickens to eat more, and it is particularly beneficial for lower-ranking birds that might otherwise miss out!
FAQ: What is the best way to feed chickens?
The best way to feed chickens is to give them free access to a complete layer feed from dawn to dusk.
Feed should always be placed in a Feeder and never left on the ground. Removing the Feeder overnight can help to control rodents if they are a problem in your coop.
FAQ: Will chickens over eat?
Chickens rarely overeat their feed when provided with free access to a complete layer pellet.
However, chickens do tend to overeat with scraps, treats and grain mix feeds where they can pick out their favourite bits.
Chickens are also more likely to gorge when they have limited access to feed because they have to eat more at one time to meet their needs.
FAQ: Do I need a Chicken Feeder?
If you have chickens, you will need a Chicken Feeder.
Feeding chickens directly on the ground is not good for chickens because:
- It is messy
- More feed is wasted
- Spilled feed attracts rodents and pest birds
- Feed quickly becomes contaminated with faeces and dirt
- Contaminated feed spreads diseases and parasites between birds
- Parasites like worms and coccidia live in the soil and can contaminate food
FAQ: What type of Feeder is best for chickens?
Simple Feeders like troughs or dishes spill easily. They also allow chickens to stand in the feed and scratch it out with their feet. These containers are little better than putting feed straight on the ground.
The best Feeder for chickens:
- Stops chickens from standing in the feed
- Prevents chickens from raking feed onto the ground with their beaks or feet
- Prevents contamination of the feed with faeces and dirt
- Reduces waste
- Deters rodents and pest birds
- Is water-tight
- Protects the feeding area so chickens can eat in the rain without getting the feed wet
- Is large enough to hold a full day of feed, unless you want to refill it multiple times a day
We might be biased, but we think the Dine a Chook Waste-Reducing Feeder, which does all these things, is the best Feeder for chickens!
FAQ: What is the best way to store chicken feed?
Chicken feed should always be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Protect from rodents and especially from damp. Storing the feed in its original bag is usually best, and is essential if you are using a metal feed container like a bin. Click here for feed storage dos and don'ts.
FAQ: How long does chicken feed last?
For the best nutrition, aim to use chicken feed within a few months of purchase. Bags of feed will last slightly longer if unopened and stored correctly.
Many nutrients in chicken feed degrade over time, so feed is most nutritious when it is fresh. For this reason, buying bulk chicken feed when you only have a small flock is usually more expensive, when you consider nutrient per dollar!
4. Scraps and treats
Limiting scraps and treats, in favour of good quality feed, is much better for your chickens' health and productivity. Read on for advice on how to feed your chickens scraps and treats in a healthy way.
FAQ: Are scraps good for chickens?
Scraps and leftovers aren’t actually good for chickens. But this doesn’t stop most chicken keepers from giving their birds scraps!
Low productivity and many other chicken health problems are often caused by poor diet. Too many scraps contribute to this because chickens fill up on scraps instead of getting the nutrients they need from their feed.
One of the biggest problems is that the most common kitchen scraps are either low in protein, like fruit and veggie scraps or full of empty calories, like bread and pasta.
FAQ: What is the best way to feed scraps to chickens?
Chickens’ main diet should always be their feed. But scraps are ok if you follow a few simple rules:
- Only feed your chickens scraps once per day
- Feed scraps in the late morning or early afternoon, so your chickens will have already filled up on feed
- Feed no more scraps than your chickens will eat in 20 minutes
- Avoid unhealthy scraps (see below)
- Clean up any uneaten scraps
Providing a little extra protein in the diet, for example Dried Mealworms or Black Soldier Fly Larvae, is also important if you feed scraps to your chickens regularly.
FAQ: What type of scraps are best for chickens?
The best scraps for chickens are:
- Leafy greens, including garden weeds
- Most fruit and vegetable scraps (cooked or raw)
- Whole grains
- Meat, fish and seafood
- Cooked beans
- Eggs (never whole)
FAQ: What scraps are bad for chickens?
While few scraps are really good for chickens, all scraps are bad in large amounts or when used as a replacement for feed.
That said, some types of scraps are worse for chickens than others:
- Never feed your chickens food that is mouldy, rancid or off
- Avoid highly-processed foods, including white bread and pasta
- Fatty, salty and sugary foods are bad for chickens
- Raw potato, coffee, chocolate, avocado and dried beans can be toxic to chickens
- Rhubarb leaves and other poisonous plants can also be harmful to chickens
Funnily enough, some evidence seems to suggest that cane toads, which are poisonous to many animals in Australia, can be eaten by chickens without ill-effect. So while you wouldn’t feed your chooks a cane toad, if they eat one it probably isn’t something to worry about!
FAQ: My chickens only want to eat scraps.
Chickens will often prefer scraps to their feed. This is normal. But just because your chickens only want scraps doesn’t mean that this is a healthy diet.
If your two-year-old only wanted to eat ice cream, would you let them? Like children, chickens will happily eat just “ice cream”, i.e. scraps. But for their own health, chickens are better off eating a complete layer feed.
If your chooks really won’t touch their feed, cut out scraps altogether, even healthy ones, and check to ensure the feed isn’t mouldy, rancid or contaminated by rodents.
FAQ: What treats are good for chickens?
Like scraps, treats should only be fed to chickens in small amounts. Chickens’ main feed should always be their feed!
Here’s a list of some healthy treats for chickens:
- Dried Mealworms and Dried Black Soldier Fly Larvae are high in essential amino acids
- Insects are high in protein
- Fruits are full of nutrients
- Cold or frozen watermelon is great for keeping cool and hydrated in summer
- A handful or two of whole grains, for example some scratch mix, can improve digestive function, especially when fed in the afternoon
- Forage greens
FAQ: When can you feed treats to chicks?
Chicks should not be given any scraps or treats until they are at least a month old. We wait until their feathers have fully developed, they no longer need a heat source and we start letting them go outdoors.
Chicks need particularly good nutrition, with plenty of energy and protein, because they grow so rapidly. Poor nutrition as a chick can reduce egg laying throughout a chicken’s life. So always give chicks a quality chick starter and nothing else for as long as possible.
Once you do start to feed chicks anything other than a chick starter, they will also need a source of grit. Choose a stone-based grit, as the high levels of calcium in shell grit, which are perfect for laying hens, may be too high for small chicks.
FAQ: Should I feed my chickens eggshells?
Crushed eggshells do provide chickens with a source of calcium. However, they are not enough and a shell grit should always be provided to laying hens regardless.
If you are feeding eggshells to your chickens, always feed them separately and never mix them with food. Only use shells from your own flock, as eggshells can carry and spread disease.
FAQ: Are forage greens good for chickens?
Forage greens are a great nutrient boost for chickens. But like everything, they are best in moderation. Your chickens’ main feed should always be their feed.
Avoid tough greens and long pieces of grass, as these can cause an impacted crop and contribute to sour crop. Grass clippings are fine, but the pieces should only be a few centimetres long.
Uneaten greens have a tendency to become mouldy, so old forage should be removed from the coop.
Hanging a bunch of greens up in the coop provides both nutrients and a fun toy that will amuse your chickens for hours.
5. Saving money on chicken feed
Most of the "hacks" for cutting down on feed bills will actually cost you money in the long run, in unhealthy and unproductive hens. We answer the most common customer FAQs about saving money on feed.
FAQ: How much does a chicken cost to feed per day?
On average, a hen will eat 100-120 grams of feed per day. However, this varies depending on breed, size, age, diet and even weather!
The average feed cost in Australia in 2022 is about $1.80 per kilogram. So a hen consumes 18-22 cents of feed per day, or $65-80 per year.
FAQ: Do chickens save you money?
Ultimately, whether chickens save you money will depend on how you manage your flock.
But a moderately productive hen might lay $150 dollars-worth of eggs per year, at current supermarket prices. So if you are spending $60-80 on feed per year, you are coming out ahead.
FAQ: How can you save money on chicken feed?
Many of the tips for saving money on chicken feed don’t actually work. But here are some tried and tested ways to reduce your feed bill:
- Reduce feed waste
- Stop rodents and wild birds from getting into the feed
- Use a feed that stops selective eating, such as a pellet, mash or crumb
- Worm your chooks
- Store feed correctly
FAQ: How do you stop chickens wasting feed?
One of the biggest ways to save money on chicken feed is to stop wasting it. There are lots of causes of wasted feed, including poor storage, vermin and damp. Spilled feed is also wasted feed, because it quickly becomes contaminated with faeces. Chickens are usually responsible for spilling feed, but fortunately it is easy to stop!
There are two steps to stop chickens from wasting feed:
1. Choose a uniform feed
Any feed that looks all the same, such as a pellet, stops chickens from selective eating. If chickens don’t have a reason to pick through feed, they make less mess. And if the feed looks all the same, chickens can’t waste ingredients they don’t like.
2. Get a No Waste Chicken Feeder
Chickens spill feed by scratching with their feet, thrashing their heads from side-to-side and raking feed towards them with their beaks. A Feeder that stops chickens from standing in the feed or throwing feed out with their beaks is the trick to keeping feed in the Feeder and stopping waste. It is all about good Feeder design.
FAQ: Does limiting feed save money?
Unfortunately, limiting the amount of feed you give your chickens each day doesn’t save money. It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true!
You can limit feed by only giving your chickens a measured amount. Or by only feeding them at certain times of day. This might reduce feed costs by a tiny amount, but it won’t actually save you money. Instead, it will decrease egg production and cause health issues, which costs you money!
Unless chickens are fed individually, limiting feed in any way simply results in dominant hens eating the same amount and less dominant hens missing out. The less dominant hens then produce fewer eggs and suffer from more health issues, while the dominant hens can develop crop issues from gorging.
FAQ: Do free-range hens eat less feed?
All chickens, including free-range chickens, should have unlimited access to their feed. But free-range hens do get some of their nutrition from foraging and may eat a tiny bit less than hens that don’t free-range – 10 % less on average, which equates to savings of about 1-2 cents per day. But to have any significant effect on feed costs, free-range hens need high-quality forage, ample insects and new range every few days!
That said, free-ranging is great for chickens. Your birds will be healthier, happier and produce eggs with rich yellow yolks if they are allowed to free-range. Free-range hens also need extra protein, such as insect treats, for optimum performance.
FAQ: Does feeding chickens scraps reduce your feed bill?
Your chickens will be happy to fill up on scraps and eat less feed as a result. So yes, this will reduce your feed bill. But a diet of mostly scraps has other costs, in terms of decreased egg production and increased health problems.
No matter how you look at it, unproductive, unhealthy hens cost you more money than the few dollars you might save by feeding your chooks more scraps.
FAQ: Is making your own chicken feed cheaper?
Collecting bargain-priced feed ingredients and mixing them together might be cheaper than buying feed. But in terms of nutritional value, homemade chicken feed is almost never cheaper than commercial feed unless you can get ingredients at bulk, commercial prices.
Plus, unless you balance feed ingredients to meet the nutritional needs of laying hens, a homemade chicken feed can be downright dangerous. Imbalances can rapidly cause health issues and even death! And they decrease egg production.
6. Trouble-shooting – Diet-related illnesses, deficiencies and other chicken feed problems
Many of the health problems and other issues in backyard chickens are caused by poor diet. Learn how to recognise and avoid many of the common problems with feeding chooks.
FAQ: Are my chickens too fat?
Although it is uncommon, chickens can become overweight. Chicken obesity causes poor egg production and a range of health issues.
Chickens given free-access to a layer pellet and limited scraps are very unlikely to overeat or become overweight. Chicken obesity typically results from too many unhealthy scraps.
Sometimes customers do all of the right things and cannot understand why their bird is overweight. We cannot tell you how many times free-range hens have been found visiting the neighbours, often several different neighbours, and filling up on scraps or treats there!
Overweight chickens should be fed individually so feed intake is controlled. Consult a veterinarian to develop an appropriate limited and forgo all scraps and treats.
FAQ: My chickens are only eating a few feed ingredients and leaving the rest. Is this normal?
Selective eating is normal in chickens. But chickens will only do this if they are given a feed with visible ingredients.
Eating selectively means that your chickens aren’t eating a balanced diet. It causes lots of waste, as well as deficiencies and health issues.
This is why pellet feeds (or crumbles or mash) are better for chickens – they stop selective eating, so your chickens are healthier and more productive.
FAQ: One of my chickens is hogging the Feeder and won’t let other birds eat. What do I do?
Everything chickens do is influenced by the pecking order. When it comes to feed, dominant birds eat first and lower-ranked birds have to wait. If you provide all-day access to feed, this isn’t usually a problem.
But if you have a large flock and just one Feeder, then dominant birds might be using the Feeder a lot and other birds aren’t getting enough time to eat. Adding a second Feeder will fix this issue.
Sometimes a bully will guard the Feeder from other birds. This is relatively common when new birds are introduced to the flock, but usually settles down in a day or so.
If bullying is the problem, the best solution is to add another Feeder in a spot that cannot be seen from the first. This stops the bully from guarding both Feeders and allows your birds to eat their fill.
FAQ: How do I stop rodents stealing chicken feed?
Rats and mice in the chicken coop are a major problem. They steal feed and spread disease. Rodents are attracted to the chicken coop by easy access to feed, so the best way to get rid of them is to remove feed at night, when they are most active.
Stop rodents from stealing chicken food by:
- Cleaning up any spilled feed and uneaten scraps at the end of the day
- Removing the Feeder overnight or using a Closure Cap
- Keeping feed in a rodent-proof container
- Rodent-proofing the coop
Remember, no Feeder is actually rat-proof, no matter what the manufacturers say. So while a Feeder can reduce spillage and discourage pests, baiting and trapping are the only ways to stop rodents if you already have a rodent problem.
FAQ: How do I stop wild birds from stealing the chicken food?
Wild birds carry diseases and are a pest to have in the chicken coop. No chicken keeper wants to pay to feed the local pigeons!
Keep wild birds out of the coop with a single, chicken-sized door for access during the day. Never feed chickens on the ground or outside of the coop, and clean up leftover scraps promptly.
If you have a pest bird problem, you can use bird netting to roof your chicken run.
FAQ: How do I know if my chickens have a deficiency?
Chicken deficiencies are difficult to recognise. Many only eventuate if birds are fed a poor diet for months on end, and symptoms are often only recognisable in extreme cases. The symptoms of deficiency show up much more quickly and are more severe in chicks and growing birds, and breeders
If you are feeding your birds a quality commercial feed in a pellet, mash or crumble form, it is unlikely that they would develop a deficiency unless the feed is old, you are feeding them too many scraps, or they have a parasite problem.
That said, adding a low-dose vitamin and mineral supplement to the diet on a regular basis is a good practice.
FAQ: Can chickens catch diseases through food?
While feed itself is very unlikely to carry diseases that can make your chickens sick, it can spread disease if it becomes contaminated.
Faeces is the most common disease-carrying contaminant of feed. The best preventative is investing in a Feeder that makes it impossible for your birds to stand in the feed (faeces is carried on the feet). Your birds should not be able to poo directly on the Feeder or rake feed onto the floor either. And never feed your birds on the ground!
In rare cases, other bodily fluids, such as nasal discharge, can also infect feed. Following quarantine procedures for new and sick birds, and preventing wild birds from accessing the Feeder, are your best protections.
Rodents can also carry disease, so discard feed that is contaminated with rodent droppings or urine. Rodent-proof your coop and store feed securely.
Wild insects can occasionally carry diseases, and botulism toxins and mould can contaminate feed. But these types of occurrences are very rare.
FAQ: Do chicken parasites spread through chicken feed?
As with disease, chicken feed doesn’t carry parasites. However, if it becomes contaminated, it can spread parasites in your flock, including worms and coccidia.
Usually, parasites are spread through faeces. So protecting feed and Feeders from chicken poo, as well as wild birds and rodents, is the best way to prevent parasites spreading through your flock. Practicing worm prevention and good coop hygiene will also help.
On rare occasions, insects can carry parasites and infect chickens that eat them. This is another reason why worm prevention is important.
FAQ: My chickens aren’t eating?
Loss of appetite is a common symptom of many chicken illnesses, from worms to avian influenza.
However, poor appetite can also have other causes, including:
- Stale, rancid or mouldy feed
- A change of diet, for example a new feed or a change to feed ingredients
- Hot weather
- Too many treats or scraps
- The feed is contaminated with faeces or urine
- Dehydration and heat stress
- Hot feed, i.e. the Feeder is in the sun
If just one or two birds are eating poorly, broodiness and bullying are other potential causes.
FAQ: Can chickens eat mouldy feed?
Never give chickens mouldy food of any kind. Eating mouldy feed can make chickens sick or even kill them. As frustrating as it is to have to throw out mouldy food, you should never feed it to chickens or other animals.
FAQ: How can you tell if chicken feed is rancid?
Rancidity occurs when fats and proteins in food degrade. Rancid feed will smell stale or off. Often it is an oily, mouldy or soapy smell.
Rancid feed is usually caused by high temperatures. Unfortunately, the Aussie summer is hot enough to cause rancidity quickly, and feed should be used within a few weeks of purchase in summer.
FAQ: Can chickens eat feed that has gotten wet?
Always throw away chicken feed that has gotten wet. Even if it looks and smells ok, wet feed can make your chickens sick or even kill them. Wet feed can be mouldy and often carries the fatal botulism toxin. Wet feed is wasted feed, so choose a water-proof Feeder.
FAQ: What do I do if my chicken has eaten a cane toad?
Eating a cane toad will not kill a chicken. Unlike most animals, chickens seem to be immune to the cane toad toxin. So while we wouldn’t recommend feeding cane toads to your chickens, if your chicken eats a cane toad, you don’t need to worry, it will probably be fine!
FAQ: Do chicks need a special diet?
Yes, chicks should have a special diet. Visit our Complete Guide to Feeding Chicks to learn everything you need to know!
FAQ: What is medicated feed and can my chickens eat it?
Medicated feed is a special feed for chicks. It contains a coccidiostat medication, to protect chicks while they develop their immunity to the parasite that causes coccidiosis.
Medicated feed shouldn’t be fed to egg-producing chickens. If you do feed your hens medicated feed, there is a 14 day withholding period after they’ve eaten the feed during which you should discard the eggs.
Every flock is unique and “best practice” looks slightly different in every chicken coop. If you would like information specifically tailored to your flock, or have a question we haven’t answered, please get in touch.
Happy chicken keeping!
Rachael at Dine a Chook Australia