When can chickens eat feed? What to feed chickens by age

Article Summary

  • A chicken should be given the appropriate feed according to their age, with starter feed for the first 8 weeks, transition to grower feed until 16 weeks, and then switch to layer feed or all-flock feed for adult chickens.
  • To ensure optimal growth and egg production, it’s recommended to feed chickens regularly in the morning and evening and provide continuous access to food.
  • Feeding chickens at consistent times is beneficial for digestion and optimal feed conversion.

Chickens require different types of feed at various stages of development to ensure proper growth and health. Knowing when to introduce new feeds is an important part of raising happy, productive chickens. We’ll discuss common questions about what and when to feed chickens from hatchlings to adults.

When Should I Introduce Food to My Chickens?

Chicks hatch with a yolk sac that provides nourishment for the first 2-3 days of life. By day 3, chicks should have access to clean water and a starter feed specifically formulated for baby chicks up to 8 weeks old. The high protein content of starter feeds fuels rapid growth. Delaying access to food beyond 2-3 days can cause organ damage or even death.

What time should chickens eat?

Chickens should be fed at regular times each day, typically in the morning and evening. There are various diets and feeding approaches, but providing proper nutrition and allowing chickens consistent access to food maximizes egg production. Chickens that free-range during the day can be fed morning and evening. Chickens confined to a coop all day may need additional daytime feedings.

What to Feed Chickens by Age?

Chickens require different feeds at various stages of growth to ensure proper nutrition. Here is an overview of what to feed chickens by age:

  • 0-8 weeks: Chick starter feed with at least 20% protein content. This promotes muscle and feather development.
  • 8-16 weeks: Transition to a grower feed with 16-18% protein. Lower protein levels discourage leg problems.
  • 16 weeks to egg laying: Layer feed with 16% protein and 3-4% calcium. This supports egg production.
  • Adults: Layer feed or an all-flock feed with 16% protein works for mixed flocks.

What to Feed 0 – 8 Weeks Old Chickens

Baby chicks need a starter feed with at least 20% protein from Day 1 after hatching until 8 weeks. This nourishes their rapid growth phase. Look for feeds with omega fatty acids for brain and vision development. Small crumbles are easier for peepers to eat. Supply feed continuously.

What to Feed 8 – 16 Weeks Old Chickens

The 8-16 week phase is an important time for skeletal development. Transition chicks slowly to a grower feed with 16-18% protein content. Lower protein levels reduce leg abnormalities. Some calcium and phosphorus are required but avoid excess. Feed particles can be slightly larger as chicks grow.

What to Feed 18-Week-Old Chickens

By 18 weeks, pullets destined for egg production should transition to a quality layer feed containing 16% protein, with higher calcium levels around 3.5-4%. This supports the nutritional demands of reproduction. Cockerels can stay on the grower ration until reaching market weight.

When to Switch from Chick Starter to Grower

Make the switch from starter to grower feed around 8 weeks of age. Grower feed has slightly lower protein content which slows rapid growth and prevents leg abnormalities. Transition gradually over 7-10 days by slowly increasing the ratio of grower to starter feed.

How Long to Feed Chickens Grower Feed

Feed grower ration from 8 weeks to 16-18 weeks of age. Pullets and cockerels will have different needs at this point. Pullets destined for egg laying should transition to a layer feed no later than 18 weeks to support reproductive development. Cockerels can remain on grower ration until market weight.

What Age Can Chickens Eat Scratch?

Scratch grains are a supplemental treat only, not a complete diet. Chicks 3-4 weeks old can start to peck at scratch in very small amounts. Too much scratch fills them up without providing complete nutrition.


Only offer chicks scratch that they can consume in 5-10 minutes, 1-2 times per day.

Can Chickens Eat at Night?

Chickens have poor night vision, so won’t eat in full darkness. However, they can forage at dawn and dusk. Supplying feed near roosting areas allows early and late evening snacking. Just be sure to remove any leftovers before sleeping to prevent rodents. Chickens need darkness for proper sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

When can you start giving chickens food?

Chickens can start eating food immediately after hatching. Baby chicks benefit from immediate access to a chick starter feed high in protein. The feed encourages growth and satisfies nutritional requirements in those critical early weeks.

At what age do chickens start eating pellets?

Chickens can start eating pellet feed as soon as they hatch. Pellet feeds, like chick starters, are ideal for baby chicks under 6 weeks old. The pellets can be introduced along with supplemental feeds like oats. After 6 weeks, grower feed pellets are recommended.

Should chickens have food at all times?

Chickens benefit from having food available at all times. This allows them to eat smaller meals frequently throughout the day. Continuous access to food reduces competition and aggressive behaviors in the flock. It also encourages steady feeding needed for the best growth and laying rates.

Does it matter what time you feed your chickens?

Yes, it is best to feed chickens at the same time each day. Chickens thrive on consistency and predictability. Feeding at consistent times allows their digestion to align with expected feedings. This results in optimal feed conversion for growth and egg production.

Do chickens need access to food 24/7?

Chickens should have continuous access to food 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Preventing timed feedings and allowing free access to feed can discourage chickens from binge eating. It also aligns with their natural feeding behaviors. Continuous food availability reduces stress and supports healthy digestion.