“What should I feed my chickens?” Chicks, laying hens, roosters and molting chickens all have different protein, calcium, vitamin and mineral requirements. As a chicken progresses through different life stages, the amount and type of food required to remain healthy changes along with it.
This article will show you what type of feed (and treats) a chicken needs for each stage of its life.
1. What to Feed Baby Chicks
Young baby chicks require increased protein. This is because they are working really hard at growing in new feathers and feathers contain a lot of protein. They also require less calcium than laying hens do. They will not need an increase in calcium in their feed until they begin laying eggs.
3 Different Methods for Providing Chick Feed
- WEEKS 1-6:
- Feed young baby chicks “chick starter feed” that provides 20-22% protein.
- Switch to a “grower” chick feed that contains 18-20% protein.
- Continue this until they begin laying.
- WEEKS 1-16(or laying):
- Feed young baby chicks “chick starter” that contains 18-20% protein.
- WEEKS 1-3:
- Meat chickens need to be provided with an even higher protein content feed, 20-22%, for the first 3 weeks.
- Then switch to chick feed that contains around 18% protein content until ready for processing.
No matter what method of feeding your young chicks that you choose, all methods should contain no more than 1% calcium. It isn’t until they begin laying that their little bodies will require increased calcium to make eggshells.
Chicks need to stay on chick starter/grower feed until they are 16 weeks of age or begin laying, whichever comes first.
This feed comes in both crumble and mash form. Both are fine. (If the feed is any larger than this, the chicks will have difficulty eating it.) Some prefer to serve crumbles over the mash because there can be more feed waste with the mash.
Medicated Chick Starter Feed vs. Non-Medicated Starter Feed
If your chicks have not been vaccinated for coccidiosis, it is highly recommended to feed them the medicated chick starter feed for 2-4 weeks. The medicated chick starter contains Amprolium to slow the growth of oocysts.
After giving unvaccinated chicks the medicated chick starter for 2-4 weeks, switch over to the regular chick starter crumbles or mash and keep giving this to them until they are 16 weeks old or begin laying eggs.
Young chicks, ages 1-6 weeks, need to have access to fresh feed and water 24/7. By 6 weeks of age, they should be fully feathered and big enough to sleep in their “big girl coop,” and should do fine throughout the night without food and water.
A baby chick begins by eating about 1 ounce of feed per day. This is the equivalent to about 1/2 lb of feed a week. By the time it reaches 16 weeks, it will be eating about 1/4 lb of feed a day. This is the equivalent to about 1/2 cup of layers feed daily or 1 1/2 lbs of feed a week.
@ 1 WEEK
@ 16 WEEKS
|1||1 OZ||1/4 LB (4 OUNCES)|
|6||6 OZ||1.5 LB|
|12||12 OZ||3 LB|
|16||1 LB||4 LB|
|24||1.5 LB||6 LB|
Feeding Treats to Baby Chicks
It isn’t recommended to feed 1 week old chicks treats. Let the get used to their regular chick starter feed first. By the time they are 2 weeks old, they should have a good idea what their main feed is and you can begin introducing different treats to them.
If you introduce treats to your baby chicks and they are still in an indoor brooder (without dirt), then you also need to offer them chick grit on the side. This will help them to properly digest the treats.
What Treats Can I Feed Baby Chicks?
Treats shouldn’t constitute more than 10% of a chicks daily diet and should always be offered after their regular nutritionally balanced chick feed. Remember to offer grit on the side so your chicks can digest their treats!
BEST TREATS FOR BABY CHICKS
|DRIED OATMEAL||SOFT CARROTS|
For a more detailed of how to properly feed baby chicks, please read my article below.
2. What to Feed Juvenile Pullets and Cockerels
Juvenile pullets and cockerels are still growing in new feathers and need the increase protein content in their feed. Juvenile pullets that haven’t started laying yet do not need the additional calcium that is provided in feed for laying hens.
Providing increased calcium at this age can be deadly to juvenile pullets or cockerels, causing a blockage in the kidneys.
Feeding Pullets Weeks 6-16
Some people will switch from a “starter” feed to a “grower” feed when their chicks are 6 weeks old. Others will keep them on chick starter until they start laying, around 16-20 weeks of age.
Both are acceptable. They both have lower calcium. The only difference is a starter has a higher protein content, 20-22% and the grower has around 18% protein.
I have always started my chicks on medicated chick starter for the first 2-3 weeks and then switched to chick starter feed. I keep them on this until they begin laying, around 16 weeks of age. My chicks have always been happy and healthy!
3. What to Feed Laying Hens
Laying hens require increased calcium and not as much protein as growing chicks. This is why it is important to switch your laying hens to a layers feed and offer oyster shell on the side. Treats can be given in moderation.
Layers Feed for Hens
Layers feed contains about 16% protein and about 3% calcium. Chicken feed for laying hens comes in 3 forms:
All are acceptable to use. Many prefer the pellets because there is less feed waste.
Oyster Shell for Laying Hens
Laying hens require increased calcium. Eggshells are made up of almost 40% calcium. If you want your laying hens to lay an optimum amount of eggs, offer oyster shell on the side.
A hen knows how much calcium its body needs and will only eat as much oyster shell as needed.
Treats for Laying Hens
Just like with chicks and pullets, treats need to be given in moderation to hens. No more than 10% of their daily diet should be treats. This equals to about 1 TBS of treats per day.
4. What to Feed Molting Chickens
Molting hens need increased protein to help with the growth of new feathers.
“During a molt, a chicken will lose its feathers and work very hard to grow in a new healthy and full plumage. This not only can deplete its energy, but protein stores as well. Feathers are 85% protein and by providing protein treats for molting chickens you will help the process to go much smoother.”Why and When do Chickens Molt?
Treats for Molting Chickens
Always offer a chickens regular feed first, then you can offer your molting chickens any of these treats on a daily basis. All of them have increased protein content, which will help provide the essential protein needed to grow in a healthy new plumage:
|PROTEIN TREAT||% PROTEIN|
|BLACK OILED SUNFLOWER SEEDS||15%|
- Instant Pot Yogurt for Chickens
- Fodder Cakes
- Mealworm Mania for Chickens
- Protein Blocks
- B.O.S.S. Oats
5. Can I Feed Roosters the Same Feed?
You can feed your roosters the same feed as your hens, but it isn’t recommended. A little bit here and there is not going to hurt them, but in the long run, the increased calcium and inadequate protein can be detrimental to them.
Effects of Increased Calcium in Chicken Feed for Roosters
- Decreased growth
- Softer bones
- Kidney damage
- Blocked ureters which can lead to death
Effects of Inadequate Protein in Chicken Feed for Roosters
- Lack of energy
- Feather problems
- Muscle weakness
Instead, either separate your roosters when you feed them or offer the feed in a taller feeder that the hens cannot reach.
It is recommended to give your roosters a feed that will meet its protein and calcium needs. Purina Flock Raiser is a highly recommended feed for roosters.
Conclusion: 5 Important Life Stages-What Should I Feed My Chickens?
Depending upon the age, sex and if your chicken is molting, its food requirements of calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals will be different. It is important to change what you are feeding your chickens at the appropriate times.
Feeding Requirements are Different For:
- Baby Chicks
- Juvenile Pullets
- Laying Hens
- Molting Chickens