Feeding Chickens : Complete Guide for Feeding Layer Chickens and Broilers

Feeding Chickens : Complete Guide for Feeding Layer Chickens and Broilers

When raising chickens, the first thing you should learn is what you should feed them and what you should not. Second, you should how to feed them properly to make sure they are healthy. And whether you are raising laying hens or broilers, you must also know the difference in feeding them. Actually, there are lots of other things that you should learn. But don’t worry; you don’t need to go elsewhere. Here is the most complete guide that will answer all your questions about feeding chickens.

To give you some ideas, below are the things that will be discussed. Just make sure you read everything carefully, from start to finish.

What do Chickens Eat in the Earlier Days?

Probably the better question is, “What do chickens eat when commercial feeds were not yet available?” During the early 1900s, chicken meat was considered luxury food and was being served only on special occasions. At that time, there were only a few chicken farmers and they had a small flock. Average hens then can produce only up to 150 eggs a year. And because there were no coops yet, all chickens were free-range and they eat only what’s available for them in the soil. They usually would forage for mugs, bites, and worms. Chickens also benefit from pecking manure from cows and horses. But most of the time, farmers threw them some leftover foods such as grains and hard-boiled eggs Although chickens were able to enjoy lots of nutritious foods, their intake was not well-balanced. As expected, the mortality rate was very high because most of them could not survive winter and summer. During the 1920s, Vitamin D was discovered and was added to foods. Therefore, chickens started to do well in extreme weather conditions.

What Should Chickens Eat to Become Healthy?

In 1923, Wilmer Steele of Delaware raised about 500 chicks which she intended to sell meat and she became successful, thus pioneering the broiler industry in the US. At that time, more vitamins were developed and the mortality rate of chickens gradually dropped. And although chickens were placed in cages, egg production also improved a lot. During World War II, Americans were encouraged to raise chickens because of the poor supply of food. Scientists then learned about the basic food requirements for healthy chickens and eggs. This includes calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals, fiber, and amino acids. Chickens became healthier and their meat slowly becomes cheaper.

What are the Different Types of Chicken Feeds?

When World War II ended in 1945, the broiler industry started to soar high. The process of feeding chickens also began to improve and the chicken egg industry skyrocketed as well. In 1949, the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) started to grade eggs in terms of quality and sizes. In the 1950s, different kinds of feeds were slowly being developed.

Starter Feed

It takes 21 days to incubate fertilized eggs before they are hatched. Once they are hatched, baby chicks are placed in a brooder, which is supported with enough heat to keep them dry and warm. During their first 48 hours of life, they can still survive without eating or drinking. Thanks to the sufficient amount of protein from their egg yolk. Baby chicks would stay in brooders for about 5-6 weeks until they are h2 enough to roam around outside. But during this period, you should start giving starter feed to them. If you are raising them as broilers, they will need about 22 percent of protein. But if you raising them for egg production, they will need between 18 and 20 percent of protein.

Grower Feed

Once your baby chicks turn 6 weeks old, you should now be giving them grower feed. This kind of feed has about 15-16% protein and below 1.25% calcium. The amounts are slightly lower than starter feed offers because they are already enough for them. Nevertheless, it contains almost the same nutrients to help them grow into maturity. At this stage, female chicks are now called pullets and the male ones are called cockerels. You may also now introduce them to some varieties of fruits such as bananas and berries; green leafy vegetables, and grains. If you plan to feed them with chicken scratch or treats, do it in moderation. Such foods have no nutrients and can lead to obesity.

Layer Feed

Layer feed is a must if your hens are already starting to lay eggs or if they are about 16-24 weeks of age. This feed contains about 16% protein but with high levels of calcium. Typically, a hen needs 4-5 grams of calcium every day so she can produce h2er eggs. Note also that hens need calcium to keep their bones h2 as they grow older. Nevertheless, different breeds may have different age brackets when it comes to laying their first eggs. So don’t worry if your hens are somehow late bloomers. And of course, you can feed them with high-calcium foods and some fresh milk. However, too much milk can cause diarrhea. This is why the best alternative for milk is the oyster shell.

How do Oyster Shells Help Hens?

Ideally, laying hens with 4 grams of calcium daily intake will give about 3 grams of calcium to their eggs, and 2 grams of which will go to the eggshells. Therefore, only about 10 percent will go to the bones of the hens. This is why lots of hens are suffering from calcium deficiency. This is also why they need extra calcium from oyster shells. Oyster shells are known to have about 95 percent calcium and so far are the best source of calcium for laying hens. However, healthy hens don’t need them. So never mix them with feed and make sure you only give them to hens that have signs of calcium deficiency. These include lameness, rubbery legs, and reduction in egg production.

Medicated Feed or Unmedicated Feed: Which One is Better?

While you are buying feeds, the seller might ask which you prefer, medicated or unmedicated. At first glance, you might think that the medicated is better because it contains an additive called Amprolium. This organic compound is specifically designed to improve the chicken’s immune system against the deadly disease called Coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is common to domestic birds worldwide including chickens. Among its symptoms include diarrhea, ruffled feathers, and reduced head. As a preventive measure, a vaccine was developed. So if you bought chicks that have already been vaccinated with Amprolium, feeding them with medicated one is no longer necessary.

What Really is Chicken Grit?

For the record, grit is not a type of chicken feed although they are being sold at feed stores along with real feeds. Instead, it is a bunch of very small pieces of stones that chickens should eat if they are already eating hard foods such as treats. Take note, chickens don’t chew the food because they have no teeth to grind them inside their mouth. Instead, the food is being crushed inside their gizzard, which is a muscular part of their stomach. Grit helps a lot in crushing food and is therefore necessary. However, baby chicks should never be fed yet with grit because starter feed is soft and can easily be digested. But more importantly, grit has no nutrients to offer so they don’t need them.

What are the Different Forms of Chicken Feeds?

Chicken feeds also come in different forms so that breeders can choose the best one for their chickens. They have almost the same ingredients but they differ in sizes and compositions. These formations have some advantages and disadvantages over the others but are equally nutritious. Therefore, you can try all of them and compare them.

Laying Mash

Laying mash is a complete feed that has the right levels of proteins, vitamins, and minerals your chickens need. And because it is made from crushed grain, young chickens can easily eat it and digest it. Its texture seems to be more appealing to baby chicks as compared to pellets. No wonder, most starter feeds are in the laying mash form. Nevertheless, some layer feeds are also mashed but with higher levels of calcium. Laying mash is also much cheaper than pellets because the processing stages are fewer. However, wet laying mash tends to be messier and has more waste than pellets because it got stuck in feeders. It’s also not ideal for chickens with muffs and beards.


Pellets are probably the most common form among them all because chickens eat them in whole grains. They also produce less waste and chickens can still pick them up from the ground. And because of their larger size, pellets are ideal for adult chickens, especially hens. Its best advantage is that chickens can eat all the ingredients. However, bantams and baby chicks find pellets harder to eat and digest. This cylindrical form of feed also tends to clog in feeders. Although pellets came from laying mash, they offer fewer varieties. They are also expensive than laying mash simply because production requires a lot of processes. Nevertheless, they are cheaper than crumbles.


Crumbles are the most expensive of the three forms because they pass all the processes of mash and pellets before they are being crumbled. As the name suggests, this form of feed tends to be dusty and some of its ingredients break apart. And because chickens don’t eat dust, crumbles are messy and make lots of waste. Just like laying mash, crumbles also don’t flow smoothly on feeders and are likely to clog up when wet. But because they are broken pellets, most chickens prefer them over pellets. Baby chicks also find them easier to it and digest rather than pellets. In fact, crumbles are ideal when you are transitioning from grower feed to layer feed.

What is Chicken Scratch?

Unlike the three forms of chicken feed mentioned above, chicken scratch is not a complete feed. Instead, they are a mixture of delicious crushed grains and seeds such as sorghum, wheat, and corn. Their sizes mainly depend on how they were crushed but are usually finely ground. Nevertheless, they are much cheaper than pellets and mash. Chicken scratch is called such because once it is being spread to the soil; chickens scratch a lot hoping to separate it from the other bits. In short, it is like chocolates and ice cream for humans. Who does not like them? However, scratch has no nutrients whatsoever and should only be given about 10% of the chicken’s daily food intake.

How Should You Raise and Feed Meat Chickens?

The feeding tips mentioned above are mostly for laying hens but some of them are also applicable to meat chickens or broilers. To understand the difference, you should first know the difference between laying hens and broilers. Obviously, only females are used for egg production. But for meat production, you can use both females and males. Many chicken breeds are for dual purposes – meat and eggs. Older hens that no longer lay eggs are usually subjected to slaughter. However, breeds of female meat chickens are usually bigger than the breeds of laying hens. They also lay eggs but not as much as the hens for egg production. In short, broilers are bred to make them grow faster. On average, broiler chickens can grow to full size and weight once they are between 6 and 8 weeks of age. At this age, .they can already be sent for slaughter. Laying hens can also be meat chickens but they are not recommended for commercial chicken meat. The two most common breeds for meat production are Cornish Cross and Jersey Giant. As mentioned earlier, baby chicks that are bred for meat production will need about 22 percent of protein. This is significantly higher than the needs of chickens bred for egg production. For grower feed, meat birds will need about 18–20% protein. They will also need calcium to make their bones h2er, but not as much as laying hens need. There are also some major differences between raising meat birds and laying hens. First of all, meat birds are more active in foraging so you don’t need to build roosting bars. Broilers can be also kept in coops but they will be healthier if they are at the outside run or free-range. Just make sure they are free from parasites such as lice and mites.

How Much and How Often Should You Feed Your Chickens?

The amount of feed that chickens eat will depend on many factors. This includes their age, size, and activities. But on average, an adult chicken may eat around 120 grams of feed every day. The key here is to make sure that there is always enough feed in their feeders especially during the daytime, and that all your chickens are eating uniformly. Free-range chickens may eat less because they are likely to find some bugs, insects, and worms in the soil. Nevertheless, you don’t have to worry about overfeeding them. Chickens know when they are already full and will not eat unless they are still hungry. As days pass by, you can already estimate how much feed they consume every day. Ideally, chickens should be fed twice a day – one in the morning and another in the late afternoon. If there are leftovers (especially from the day before), let your chickens finish them first and avoid mixing the new batch. Check also for possible molds especially during summer or hotter days. Molds are usually inactive during cold months. Also make sure that your chickens are really the ones that ate the feed, and not pests such as mice and rodents. This is also why you should not leave lots of feed at night. You should also have a permanent location for your feeder. If you have lots of chickens, you may want to have two or more feeders so that all of them can eat properly. But more importantly, don’t forget to give a good supply of fresh and clean water. Tap water is fine, while well water could be dangerous if the well has some pollutants. If you can drink the water, your chickens can drink it, too. Also, chickens need more water during hotter days to keep them cool. However, don’t give them ice, ice water, and saltwater.

What is the Best Type of Chicken Feeder?

If you want to know the best feeder, let your chickens help you decide. The factors you should consider include the space of the coop, the quality of the feeder, the cost of the feeder, as well as the number of your chickens. Below are the three different types of chicken feeders to choose from, along with their advantages and disadvantages.

Hanging Feeders

As the name implies, this type of feeder is hanged and is ideal if you have limited space in your coop. Just make sure it is hanged properly and all your chickens can reach it. However, it may not be applicable if you have mixed bantam chickens with the bigger ones. On the other hand, it is very unlikely to be contaminated with poop.

Gravity Feeders

Gravity feeders are probably the cheapest type. They are usually made of PVC that serves as the handler of feeds. The feeds inside the feeder will drop automatically while your chickens are eating. They can either be wall-mounted or free-stand. However, this is not ideal for wet feeds because they are likely to clog inside instead of dropping.

Trough Feeders

Trough feeders apply to chickens of all sizes because they are usually placed on the ground. They are also usually made of PVC pipes with holes enough for your chickens to get feed. They are also applicable to both wet and dry feeds. However, feeds are very likely to spill, be contaminated with poop, and can easily attract pests.

Homemade Chicken Feeders

There are other types of feeders but are less popular. If you have a tight budget, you can easily make one at home. All you need is an old plastic container or bucket that is big enough for your space. Drill about 1-inch holes on their sides with around 2 inches spacing between each hole. If the holes are too big, the feed may spill from the feeder.

Choosing the Best Chicken Waterers

The design for chicken waterers is almost the same as the feeders except that you can attach one-way valves called chicken nipples. They allow water to flow without letting contaminants enter, and spillage can also be prevented. The only possible problem is when they are leaky. This can lead to wet ground and chickens do not want to get wet. At first, your chickens may not realize how it works, especially the baby chicks. Therefore, you may need some tricks in introducing it to them. The best way to teach them is to bring the chicken to the waterer and use its beak to activate the nipples. Then, remove all other sources of water so they will get used to using those nipples.

Foods That Chickens Can Eat and Should Not Eat

Although commercial chicken feeds are considered complete feed, you should also feed your chickens with natural foods such as fruits and vegetables. However, some of them may contain components that can harm your chickens. Below is the list of some of the foods that your chickens can eat and those that you should avoid or never feed them.

Foods That You Can Feed Your Chickens

  •  Alfalfa
  • Almonds
  • Amaranth (cooked)
  • Apple (except for seeds)
  • Artichoke Banana (including the peels)
  • Bean Sprouts
  • Blueberries
  • Bread (but no nutritional value)
  • Cantaloupe (including seeds)
  • Cooked Beans
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cheese (but moderate only)
  • Corn
  • Cooked chicken eggs
  • Cranberry
  • Cucumber
  • Eggshells (crushed)
  • Fish
  • Fish meal
  • Grapes
  • Nuts
  • Okra
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Popcorn (not salty, no butter)
  • Raisins
  • Rice
  • Shrimp (including shells)
  • Squash
  • Strawberries
  • String beans
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sweet Potato
  • Tomato (ripe)
  • Walnuts
  • Watermelon
  • Wheat
  • Yogurt

Foods and Plants That You Should Avoid or Never Feed Your Chickens

  • Alcoholic drinks
  • Apple seeds
  • Avocado
  • Butter
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus
  • Coffee/coffee grounds
  • Ferns
  • French fries
  • Foxglove
  • Ice cream
  • Moldy foods
  • Mushroom
  • Nightshades
  • Oak leaves
  • Onions
  • Potato (including leaves and peels)
  • Processed foods
  • Saltwater
  • Salty foods
  • Soda
  • Sweets and candies
  • Table salt
  • Tomato leaves
  • Uncooked beans
  • Xylitol (Very dangerous)

What are the Vitamins and Minerals Chickens Need?

Now that you know what to feed to your chicken, it doesn’t mean you should give all of them to your chickens at the same time. Instead, you should first know what they can offer so your chicken can enjoy a well-balanced diet. To give you an idea, here are the vitamins and minerals that your chickens need.

Vitamins for Chickens

  • Choline
  • Folic Acid – For proper brain function
  • Niacin
  • Pantothenic Acid
  • Vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
  • Vitamin B7 (Biotin)

Minerals for Chickens

  • Calcium
  • Cobalt
  • Copper
  • Iodine
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Zinc

How Much Sodium (Salt) do Chickens Need?

In general, chickens need salt (sodium) so they can grow faster. Along with chlorine, sodium helps maintain your chicken’s cell membrane, digesting food, and transporting the food nutrients from the small intestines to their bloodstream. In short, chlorine and salt help chickens optimize their potential both in meat and egg production. Salt deficiency can lead to slow growth, softer bones, reduction in egg production, coma, seizures, brain damage, and in worse cases, death. On the other hand, too much salt is very dangerous to chickens. It can cause eggshell defects and even shell-less eggs. This is also why you should never give them saltwater and salty foods. On average, chickens need between 0.12% and 0.2% sodium in their diet. If it is measured as “salt” or sodium chloride (NaCl), it should be between 0.4% and 0.6%. This amount should have already been added to commercialized chicken feed. But sometimes, some feed manufacturers may have some errors during feed formulation.

How to Make Homemade Chicken Feed

Commercialized chicken feeds are expensive nowadays. In some cases, you can save money if you will make them at home. By using the information above, you can now choose the ingredients for your homemade chicken feed. When buying them, make sure they are fresh and organic, which means they were not treated with chemicals. The most common ingredients are corn and wheat, which can be about 30% each of your homemade chicken feed. It’s better if you buy whole grains so that no nutrients will be lost. You can also add some fodders and sprouting seeds, and additives such as probiotics and amino acids. But most importantly, never add any amount of table salt. Don’t mix them with a shovel because you might not be able to mix them properly. Instead, use a small drum mixer or a mechanical mixer. Once you’re done, place them in a clean and dry container. If you will not yet feed them to your chickens, store them in a cool place. Otherwise, there will soon be molds that contain harmful chemicals.

How to Save Money on Chicken Feed

Commercial chicken feed can be expensive nowadays. And although it’s necessary to buy them, there will be times that you have a tight budget and you may not afford to buy lots of them. But don’t worry; aside from the foods mentioned above, there are simple ways to save money on feeds without sacrificing the health of your chickens.

  • Buy in bulk. As the saying goes, it’s cheaper by the dozen.
  • Look for promos and sale. A lot of feed stores are offering them.
  • Estimate your chicken’s average feed intake. Don’t spoil your chickens.
  • Make your DIY chicken feeders and waterers.
  • Free-range your chickens more often.
  • Grow plants in your garden.
  • Give your chickens some table scraps. Read the list of foods you should not give them.
  • Raise mealworms instead of buying them.
  • Make your own chicken feed. However, it may not always be cheaper.


But while the above tips on feeding chicken are very helpful, they are only a fraction of your responsibilities as their owner. You should also understand their needs in shelter and comfort, how you can keep them safe from predators and aggressive chickens, and how you can protect them in different kinds of weather.


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Breeding Chickens is a free guide to raising and breeding chickens. We cover every topic related to chicken like incubation, taking care of baby chickens, feeding guide, chicken diseases and how to prevent them, designing a chicken house, chicken breeding, and a lot more. We publish an article regularly so please don't forget to subscribe to our mailing list.

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