Importance of nutrition for backyard flock
So you’ve just got your first flock of chickens. Now what do you feed them?
Feeding chickens means getting them all the protein, energy and nutrients they need to grow and become productive laying hens.
By the end of this chicken feed guide you’ll know
- What food to feed your chickens
- How much food a laying chicken needs each day
- The most important laying hen nutrients to include in their diet
- What food chickens need at different life stages
Common foods to feed your chicken
So what do you need to feed your chickens? Most flocks have a varied diet with a mixture of food scraps, pellets and mineral supplementation.
There are four common foods you should add to your chicken feeding plan.
Chicken pellets are usually the main source of chicken food. They help meet all the chickens’ protein and mineral requirements and make it easy for you to give out.
High quality poultry pellets contain essential vitamins and minerals for egg development, as well as protein like blood and bone meal for healthy growth and development throughout the different stages of their life.
Chickens are thirsty animals! Make sure they always have a good supply of fresh water to go with their main pellet diet.
You can get water dispensers specifically designed or chickens that hold a lot more and continuously provide water. This could be more appropriate than a bowl of water, depending on the size of your flock.
No poultry feeding guide is complete without grit! Including some shell and grit into their diet will help them to digest their food better.
However, if they are free to roam and get a lot of variance from the food scraps you give them, an oyster shell grit can be a healthy addition to the chicken feed.
Green feed and scraps
Chickens are omnivores and will eat just about anything. Free range chickens will eat plants, scraps, worms, grains, whatever they can get into.
You can give them food scraps like vegetable peels, fruit and leafy greens like spinach and cabbage in addition to their pellets. Even some meat scraps are good, as long as it is not too fatty or processed.
The key is to make sure they still have access to the nutrients they need from pellets and then anything else is an added treat.
How much should you be feeding your chickens?
Feeding guides for free range chickens are a little different than chickens in pens.
How do you know how much food they need if they always have access to gardens and paddocks?
If chickens are roaming, they will usually fend for themselves, scratching and eating anything they come across.
However, for healthy laying chickens, you will still need to use pellets as their primary feed. Meat and bone meal poultry pellets have a good mixture of protein and minerals, especially calcium for stronger egg shells.
For an average sized adult chicken, you will need to feed them approximately 120 to 140 grams per hen.
All flocks have a natural pecking order, so it is important that the less dominant chooks get what they need as well. You can help this by getting a wide, round feeder with enough room for all, as well as keeping an eye on health issues like feather plucking and weak shells that indicate malnutrition.
Nutrients your chickens need to grow and produce eggs
Poultry nutrition ensures your chickens have everything their body needs to grow, lay and reproduce.
Whether they are laying hens or breeding chickens, there are a few key nutrients they should have in their diet for optimum production.
There are varied scientific conclusions on exactly how much protein chickens need in their diet. However, there is no argument that it is one of the most important nutrient factors for laying chickens.
Sharpes Hi-Lay Pellets contain meat and bone meal as an excellent source of protein for your flock. It is the perfect mix to support chicken growth and egg laying.
Vitamins & Minerals
Chickens get a lot of the vitamins and minerals they need from their usual poultry pellets.
Some important trace minerals they need for optimum egg laying are:
- Vitamin D
These all contribute to bone strength, as well as egg production.
Water is one of the most important parts of a chicken feeding guide. It is essential for chicken health and food intake.
If chickens don’t have enough water, they won’t eat enough food, and will therefore produce less.
The energy content of chicken feed is just as important as the protein content.
Ideally you want to pick chicken feed that has ingredients that balance energy dense grains and protein sources.
For example, wheat is energy dense, but low in protein and essential amino acids, so is insufficient by itself.
It is also important to consider the energy content of the food scraps you are giving your chickens. Although they will enjoy it, green food scraps do not always give chickens the vital nutrients they need for good egg production and growth.
Carbohydrates are one of the main sources of energy for chickens (like a lot of living creatures).
Poultry pellets give chickens a lot of their carbohydrate requirements through starch and non-starch grains. A good blend of different types of carbohydrates like we have in our poultry pellets gives your chickens good variation in their diet.
Differences in chicken feed for each life stage
Nutrient requirements remain essentially the same throughout a chicken’s life. However, the mineral ratio and energy requirements change from chick to laying chicken.
Here’s a guide for laying chickens in their different life stages:
- Chick Feeding Guide (0-8 weeks) – Chick feed is usually high in protein (20% or more) and lower in calcium as they are not producing eggs yet. Chicks need approximately 65 grams per day or 450 grams per week of chick feed
- Pullet/Grower Feeding Guide (8-20 weeks) – “Teenage” chickens need slightly less protein and slightly more fat and fiber than chicks for rapid growth in this period. You’ll need around 680 grams of feed per week for each grower chicken
- Layer Chicken Feeding Guide (20+ weeks) – Developed chickens need a lot of calcium and protein to support egg laying. Good quality chicken pellets will have around 16-18% protein (often from blood and bone meal) and plenty of vitamins and minerals
Looking for the best chicken feed for your flock? Sharpes have got you covered from chick to layer!
Our Hi-Lay Pellets and Hi-Lay Mash are a balanced and complete feed for maximum growth, health and egg production. We use meat and bone meal as an excellent source of protein, as well as a high quality combination of grains and minerals every chicken needs for optimal laying performance. It is perfect for all chicken strains, including free range chooks. and can be started as soon as they start laying.