Feeding Your Backyard Chickens: Tips, Tricks, and Techniques for a Happy, Healthy Flock

Proper nutrition is essential for chickens to live long, happy lives, and it also significantly impacts their egg production and quality. For beginners, feeding backyard chickens properly can be one of the biggest challenges.

There are various aspects to consider, from types of chicken feed to feeding techniques. Understanding what works best for you and your flock is key to raising healthy chickens. With so many options, tips, and myths about chicken feeding, it can be overwhelming. Read on to learn the essentials of feeding your chickens and find answers to common questions.

What to Feed Your Backyard Chickens

The foundation of a balanced diet for your chickens includes protein-rich poultry pellets, chicken feed, or mash. These feeds are high in protein, which helps hens produce healthy eggs with strong shells. Poultry pellets and mash provide most of the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. These can be purchased at local department or farm supply stores.

  • Poultry Pellets: Made from grains like corn and wheat, with fishmeal, limestone, and soybean meal added. These ingredients are formed into pellets.
  • Mash: Contains similar ingredients to pellets but has a crumbled texture. Both poultry pellets and mash offer essential nutrients not typically found in free-ranging and foraging.

Here’s a brief overview of different types of chicken feed and their uses:

  • Chick Starter: High in protein, sometimes medicated, for newly hatched chicks up to 6 weeks old.
  • Grower Feed: Slightly less protein than chick starter, used from 6 weeks until hens lay their first eggs.
  • Layer Feed: High in protein and calcium, formulated for egg-laying hens to improve egg quality.
  • Flock Raiser: Suitable for both roosters and hens, and can be used for mixed flocks including ducks or turkeys.
  • Scratch Grains: Given as a treat, not a primary feed. Made of various grains and seeds, encourages foraging.
  • Grit: Helps with digestion. Free-range chickens find their own grit, but penned chickens need supplemental grit.
  • Garden/Table Scraps: Chickens enjoy various scraps like vegetable parts, greens, cooked beans, rice, pasta, and bread. These can supplement their diet and provide additional vitamins and nutrients.

Free-ranging chickens obtain many vital nutrients naturally by eating grasses, leaves, and bugs, which can reduce the amount of feed you need to provide.

When to Feed Your Backyard Chickens?

The optimal feeding times are in the morning and early evening, but your schedule may vary. Chickens tend to eat small portions throughout the day and are hungriest in the morning after being let out of their coop.

Automatic feeding systems can provide food all day, allowing chickens to eat at their leisure. Chickens rarely overeat, so this is generally not a concern.

If you don’t use an automatic feeder, feeding twice daily or at consistent times helps chickens adapt to your schedule.

Different Feeding Techniques

There are various feeding techniques, including automatic feeders and troughs:

  • Automatic Feeders: Gravity-fed systems allow chickens access to food all day. They save time and eliminate the need for frequent feedings.
  • Troughs: Ideal for pen-kept chickens, keeping food off the ground to prevent contamination from feces. Troughs should be topped off a few times daily.
  • Free-Ranging: Free-range chickens forage for much of their food but still need supplementary feed. Feeding them once in the morning can suffice.

Protecting Your Chicken’s Food

Whether free-ranging or penned, it’s essential to protect chicken food from pests and predators:

  • Inside the Coop: Use automatic coop doors to keep pests out. Run-Chicken’s automatic coop doors close securely at sunset, deterring pests and predators.
  • Outdoors: Remove leftover food before nightfall to prevent attracting pests. Protecting food and the coop from pests helps keep chickens safe and saves on feed costs.

Foods That are Toxic for Chickens

Avoid feeding chickens the following toxic foods:

  • Avocados (including skin and pits)
  • Raw, green potato skins
  • Raw or dried beans, peas, and lentils
  • Garlic
  • Butter
  • Citrus fruits
  • Apple seeds
  • Apricot leaves
  • Chocolate
  • Leaves of tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants (nightshade family)

Feeding chickens properly ensures their health and productivity. By providing good quality feed and healthy snacks, you can maintain a happy and healthy flock that rewards you with fresh eggs, meat, and backyard entertainment.