Chicken Feeding and Diet: A Complete Guide to Backyard Chickens

Article Summary

  • Ensure your backyard chickens’ health and productivity by providing them with a diverse and balanced diet.
  • Be cautious of feeding chickens harmful foods like moldy items, chocolate, and avocado skins, which can lead to illness or death.
  • Optimize your chickens’ egg production by providing key nutrients such as protein, calcium, and phosphorus while considering their age and dietary needs.

Chicken keeping is on the rise as more people want to know where their food comes from. Providing your backyard chickens with proper nutrition is key to keeping them healthy and productive. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about chicken feeding and diet.

Free Range Chickens Enjoy a Diverse Diet

Free-range chickens kept with access to pasture are able to supplement their diet with plants, seeds, insects, and worms. This diversity provides balanced nutrition.

Free-range chickens should still have access to a quality feed to ensure they get adequate protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Providing oyster shell calcium supplements is also recommended.

Providing Proper Nutrition for Confined Chickens

If your chickens are confined and can’t free range, you’ll need to provide them with a high-quality complete feed to make sure they get all the nutrients they need. Chicken feed provides essential nutrients like protein, vitamins, and minerals that chickens need to stay healthy and productive.

A balanced commercial feed contains grains, seeds, and supplements formulated specifically for chickens. Feed should be available at all times, and most chickens eat about 1/4 pound of feed per day.

Providing adequate, quality chicken feed is important for egg production, growth, and overall chicken health and well-being.

Chickens and Chicks Eating Corn Together
Chickens and Chicks Eating Corn Together

When possible, choose an organic chicken feed that is free of GMOs, antibiotics, and artificial ingredients. Organic feed sources include organic corn, wheat, soybean meal, and fish meal.

How Much Protein Do Chickens Need?

Protein is an essential nutrient for these birds as it plays a crucial role in their growth, development, and overall health. The amount of protein in their feed that chickens need varies depending on their age, breed, and purpose.

For young chicks, a starter feed with a protein content of around 20-24% is recommended. This high protein content in their feed is necessary to support their rapid growth and development during the early stages of life. As the chicks grow older, their protein requirements decrease slightly.

For adult laying hens, a layer feed with a protein content of around 16-18% is sufficient. This lower protein content in their feed is suitable for hens that are primarily used for egg production.

However, it is important to note that during the molting period, when hens shed their old feathers and grow new ones, their protein requirements increase. During this time, a higher protein feed or supplements may be necessary to support healthy feather regrowth.

chicks in a barn
Ameraucana Pullet Chicks in a Barn

On the other hand, broiler chickens that are raised for meat production have higher protein requirements. A broiler feed with a protein content of around 20-23% is recommended to support their fast growth and muscle development.

It is important to provide chickens with a balanced diet that includes not only the right amount of protein but also other essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Consulting with a poultry nutritionist or veterinarian can help determine the specific protein needs of your chickens based on their age, breed, and purpose.

Additionally, factors such as environmental conditions, activity levels, and overall health should also be taken into consideration when determining the ideal protein intake for chickens.

Chicken Scratch

Chicken scratch is a mix of grains and seeds that provides chickens with important nutrients. It typically contains corn, oats, barley, millet, and sunflower seeds. Feeding chicken scratch allows hens to get a balanced diet and can encourage natural foraging behaviors.

Chicken scratch should be fed free-choice, allowing chickens to eat as much as they want, usually around 1-2 ounces per hen per day. It’s an affordable way to provide backyard chickens with supplemental nutrition.

Treats for Chickens

Chicken treats should be given in moderation. A common chicken treat is chicken scratch. Chicken scratch is a mix of grains and seeds that provides chickens with important nutrients. It typically contains corn, oats, barley, millet, and sunflower seeds.

Feeding chicken scratch allows hens to get a balanced diet and can encourage natural foraging behaviors. Chicken scratch should be fed free-choice, allowing chickens to eat as much as they want, usually around 1-2 ounces per hen per day. It’s an affordable way to provide backyard chickens with supplemental nutrition.


Some healthy treat options include mealworms, chopped fruits, and vegetables like watermelon, apples, lettuce, spinach, and sweet potato.

Cooked eggs, scrambled or hard-boiled, are also enjoyed by chickens. Yogurt and cottage cheese offer probiotics.

Foods Chickens Should Avoid

There are some foods that can be harmful to chickens. Avoid feeding chickens moldy food, rotting food scraps, dried beans, chocolate, avocado skins and pits, coffee grounds, raw potato peels, citrus fruits, and anything salty or sugary. These items can cause illness or even death in chickens.

Where To Set Up Chicken Feeders for Easy Access

Chickens should have a feeding area and easy access to their feed so they can eat frequently throughout the day.

Feeders should be set up both inside the coop and outside in the run area. Using an automatic chicken feeder ensures chickens have a constant supply of feed available without the need for frequent manual refilling.


Elevated feeders prevent waste. Allow minimum 3 inches per chicken of feeder space.

Chickens Are Hungry All Day Long

Chickens are natural foragers and will graze throughout the day if allowed access to pasture. Their feed should be available at all times inside the coop and run area.

This allows them to snack often. Remove any uneaten feed at night to prevent rodents.

Feed Consumption Depends on Age and Egg Production

The amount a chicken eats will depend on its age, size, and whether it is laying eggs. Chicks require more frequent small meals.

Adults will consume around 1/4 pound of feed per day. Laying hens have higher nutritional needs and can eat up to 1/2 pound of feed daily.

Chickens Are Omnivores

Chickens are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal matter. Chickens do not have teeth. Instead, they rely on a specialized digestive system to break down their food.

Their feed consists mainly of grains, seeds, vegetable proteins, and supplements. They forage for plants, worms, and insects. Offering table scraps can add variety if you know which foods are safe for chickens.

Alternatives to Store-Bought Feed

While commercial feed is the easiest way to ensure complete nutrition, there are alternative chicken foods you can give to your chickens.

Homemade mixes can consist of whole grains like corn, oats, or barley mixed with vegetable scraps, seeds, or nuts. Laying hens also need oyster shell calcium supplements.

Feed Requirements Change As Chickens Age

Chickens have different diet requirements depending on age. Baby chicks need a special high-protein starter feed. At 6-8 weeks, they can transition to grower feed.

At 16-18 weeks, pullets are mature enough for regular layer feed. This feed has added calcium and nutrients for egg production. Roosters and older hens can stay on layer feed.

Optimize Diet for Maximum Egg Production

key nutrients needed for prime egg production are protein, calcium, and phosphorus…

The key nutrients needed for prime egg production are protein, calcium, and phosphorus. A commercial layer feed has these nutrients balanced optimally.

Supplement with oyster shell calcium. The quantity of feed consumed can be increased for heavy egg-laying breeds.

Budget for Feed Costs

Feed is one of the primary recurring costs of raising chickens. On average, plan for each chicken to consume about 1/4 to 1/2 pounds of feed daily. Buying in bulk brings down the price per pound.

Expect to budget roughly $15-25 monthly per chicken for quality organic feed. Using a chicken feed calculator can help you track your flock expenses.

Proper nutrition is essential for backyard chickens to thrive. Following these tips will help ensure your flock gets all the nutrients they need. Let your chickens range free and provide a diverse balanced diet for optimal health and happiness.

How To Feed Chickens: A Step-by-Step Guide

Feeding chickens properly is essential for their health and well-being. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to feed chickens:

Step 1: Provide a Balanced Diet – Chickens require a balanced diet to stay healthy and lay eggs regularly. Their diet should consist of a combination of grains, protein, vitamins, and minerals. You can purchase commercial chicken feed that is specifically formulated for their nutritional needs. Alternatively, you can create your own feed mix using ingredients such as corn, wheat, soybean meal, and calcium supplements.

Step 2:Offer Fresh Water – Water is crucial for chickens’ overall health and digestion. Make sure to provide clean and fresh water at all times. Use a waterer that is suitable for chickens, ensuring that it is always filled with enough water to meet their hydration needs. During hot weather, it’s important to check the water frequently and refill as needed to prevent dehydration.

Step 3: Provide Grit – Chickens don’t have teeth, so they need grit to help them digest their food properly. Grit consists of small stones or coarse sand that chickens consume and store in their gizzards. This helps break down the food they eat and aids in digestion. You can provide commercial grit or offer natural sources like crushed oyster shells or granite.

Offer treats in moderation, and the occasional snack can include fruits, vegetables, or even mealwormsโ€ฆ

Step 4: Offer Treats in Moderation – While chickens primarily rely on their regular feed for nutrition, it’s also enjoyable to give them treats occasionally. Treats can include fruits, vegetables, or even mealworms. However, it’s important to offer treats in moderation as too many can disrupt their balanced diet and lead to health issues. Limit treats to no more than 10% of their overall diet.

Step 5: Maintain a Feeding Schedule – Establishing a feeding schedule helps chickens maintain a consistent routine and prevents overeating. Offer feed in the morning and evening, allowing them ample time to finish their meal before the next feeding. Avoid leaving feed out overnight, as it can lead to overeating and contamination of the leftover food.

Proper Feeding Schedule for Chickens

Proper feeding is essential for the health and well-being of chickens. A well-balanced diet is crucial to ensure that chickens receive all the necessary nutrients they need to thrive. When it comes to chicken feeding and diet, it’s important to have a proper feeding schedule in place.

Chickens should be fed at regular intervals throughout the day. A typical feeding schedule for chickens includes morning, afternoon, and evening feedings. This helps to regulate their intake and prevent overeating.

Is It Possible to Make Your Own Chicken Feed?

Many chicken owners wonder if it is possible to make their own chicken feed. The answer is yes; it is definitely possible to create your own chicken feed at home. In fact, making your own chicken feed can have several advantages.

Firstly, making your own chicken feed allows you to have complete control over the ingredients. This is especially important if you are concerned about the quality and safety of commercial chicken feeds. By using organic and locally sourced ingredients, you can ensure that your chickens are getting the best nutrition possible.

Secondly, making your own chicken feed can be cost-effective. While the initial investment in ingredients and equipment may seem high, in the long run, it can save you money. Commercial chicken feeds can be expensive, especially if you have a large flock. By making your own feed, you can tailor it to your chickens’ specific needs and avoid paying for unnecessary additives.

Rhode Island Red Hens

When it comes to creating your own chicken feed, there are a few key ingredients that you will need. These include grains such as corn, wheat, and oats, as well as protein sources like soybean meal or fish meal. You will also need to include calcium sources like crushed eggshells or oyster shells to ensure that your chickens get enough calcium for strong eggshells.

It is important to note that creating your own chicken feed requires some knowledge and research. You will need to understand the nutritional needs of chickens at different stages of life and adjust the feed accordingly. It is also important to ensure that the feed is balanced and provides all the necessary vitamins and minerals.

To make your own chicken feed, you will need a grinder or mill to process the grains into a suitable form for chickens to eat. You may also need to mix in additional ingredients, such as vitamins or probiotics. It is recommended to consult with a poultry nutritionist or veterinarian to ensure that your homemade chicken feed meets all the necessary requirements.


If you are a backyard chicken owner, then you know that proper chicken feeding and diet are crucial for their health and productivity. Without a balanced diet tailored to their age, breed, and living conditions, your chickens may not thrive as they should. This comprehensive guide delves into the diverse dietary needs of chickens, emphasizing the importance of a well-rounded diet.

From the benefits of free-range grazing to the specific protein requirements during various life stages, this guide covers everything you need to know to keep your chickens healthy and happy. Whether you’re considering store-bought feeds or thinking about creating your own, it’s important to ensure a diverse and nutritious diet for your chickens.

Providing optimal nutrition for your flock is the cornerstone of responsible chicken care, and with this knowledge, backyard poultry enthusiasts are well-equipped to do just that.

Frequently Asked Questions

What food do chickens need daily?

Chickens need a balanced diet that includes grains, protein sources like worms or bugs, grit for digestion, and fresh water. Their main daily food should be a grain-based commercial feed or scratch grains like corn, wheat, and oats. They also need calcium from sources like crushed eggshells.

What foods can chickens not eat?

Chickens should avoid spoiled or moldy food, excess greens, citrus, dry beans, avocados, chocolate, caffeine, and salt. Don’t feed chickens onion, garlic, or anything else in the allium family. Avoid feeding them these items to ensure their health and well-being.

Can you overfeed chickens?

Yes, it’s possible to overfeed chickens. This can lead to wasted food, obesity, and health issues. Follow package directions for feed amounts and watch your chickens’ weight. Obese chickens are prone to joint issues and egg-laying problems.

How much food should a chicken eat per day?

On average, chickens eat about 1/4 pound of feed per day. This equates to about 1 cup of feed for standard-sized chickens. The exact amount depends on factors like breed, age, weather conditions, and whether they forage for additional food.

How many times a day should you feed chickens?

Chickens should be fed twice daily, once in the morning and again in the evening. It’s best to keep their feeder full between meals so they can snack as wanted. Always provide fresh, clean water at all times.