As with all animals, the specific food that a chicken needs changes as it grows. A baby chick has different nutritional needs to a retired laying hen. If you’re just getting into the wonderful world of chicken rearing and want to know exactly what to feed your chickens at each stage of their life, read one.
How Much Feed Do My Chickens Need?
Before we talk about specific feed for different ages, let’s take a look at how much food your chickens will need. Ideally, you’ll want your chickens to have access to a constant supply of food during the day. This allows your chickens to eat when they need food to power their egg-laying. On average, a healthy adult laying chicken will eat around 120 grams of layers pellets a day. If your chickens are free-ranging, it’s a good idea to have two chicken feeders, one inside and one outside of their coop run. This allows the less dominant chickens easier access to food without the more dominant chickens getting in the way.
Chickens don’t have teeth, so they use stones and small grit to help grind up and digest their food. The stones and grit are mixed with the food, which they swallow whole, in their Gizzard. In order to aid in their digestion, it is important that your chickens get an ample amount of grit and small stones.
Adding oyster shells to chicken grit adds calcium to their diet which helps them produce strong eggshells. You can add the grit directly to their food or have a separate grit feeder they can forage from.
It’s a good idea to occasionally treat your chicken to break up their normal food with some variety. As natural foragers, most chickens will happily eat just about anything. Good chicken treats include corn, pasta, green vegetables, a range of cereals, dried fruit, and even banana.
Treats should be given to chickens on reasonably rare occasions and in small amounts. Too many treats can make your chickens overweight. Being overweight affects both your chicken’s health and their egg-laying potential. They may also fill up on treats and not eat their pellets, missing out on the balance nutrition their pellet food provides.
What Type Of Feed Do My Chickens Need At Different Ages?
The milestones your chickens go through as they age can be split into six sections, each with slightly different feed requirements:
Weeks 1-4: Baby chicks
Up to four weeks old, chicks need food that emphasizes amino acids, vitamins, minerals, prebiotics and probiotics. Proper chick feed offers the nutritional balance that baby chicks need to support their bone growth, general development, and immune system health.
Baby chicks are very susceptible to deformations in the chicks’ growing bones and damage to the kidneys caused by excess calcium. Chick feed is low in calcium while providing the 18-22% protein by weight the chicks need to grow.
Beginning at week five, you’ll notice your chicken will start to visibly change, growing new primary feathers. At this stage, your teenage birds can continue to keep eating chick feed with at least 18-22% protein and no more than 1.25% calcium.
At around weeks 16-17, you can start checking your chicken’s nesting boxes for their first egg. Once a chicken starts laying, they need extra calcium in their diet to ensure good sturdy eggshells.
However, a rapid change in their diet can upset a chicken’s digestive system. At this point in their development, you can start adding small amounts of “layer feed” into their diet to smooth the transition.
Week 18: Egg layers
Most chickens are laying by week 18 and will need additional calcium to support the development of their eggshells. Laying feed contains around 16% protein and 3.25% calcium as well as a slightly different mix of vitamins and minerals to support laying hens.
Month 18:The moulting
Jumping ahead to month 18, you’ll probably start to notice that your chickens stop laying and there will be a lot of feathers littering the ground in your coop.
While your chickens are moulting and not laying, they need more protein and less calcium. Switching to a high protein diet helps your chicken develop good feather coverage as feathers are 80-85% protein.
Eventually, your chickens will stop laying eggs and become the veterans of your flock. Once a chicken stops laying eggs, it should be transitioned back to a high protein diet to keep it healthy in its old age.
Getting the Right Feed at the Right Time
By following our guide to what feed to give your chickens at the different periods of their life, you’ll be able to ensure your flock is happy, healthy, and has their best egg laying potential.