Many of those new to raising chickens may be confused about what to feed chickens. To be clear, the audience for this article is those who are raising their own backyard chickens, in their own chicken coops and hen houses. Commercial hatcheries are a different story altogether and not addressed in this article.
If you have done any research at all about what to feed chickens you already know that there are many products available and just as many arguments about which product is best. The good news is, for those new to raising chickens, feeding your chickens a well-balanced diet is easier than you may have been led to believe.
The two things you need to keep in mind when selecting the right feed for your chickens are: age and purpose.
Most feed stores and farmer’s co-op’s will carry a variety of feeds. The specific feed you buy should be based on where the chicken is in terms of its development, as well as what you want the chicken to be or do. For example:
You can find chicken feed that is specifically designed as a starter feed for young chicks (age) that you plan to raise as brooders (purpose). Chicks need a diet high in protein to help boost their growth. You can also fine feed that is specifically designed for hens you wish to use as egg laying hens. Laying hens often need more calcium, and this type of chicken feed provides that added nutrient to them.
The bottom line is until you have gained enough experience and confidence to mix your own feed (should you choose to do so), commercial chicken feed is just fine, as long as you buy according to age and purpose.
One note that may surprise you is that it is not recommended that you add nutritional supplements to the commercial chicken feed you buy. High-quality chicken feed will often have the word “complete” attached to its brand name. This means that a specific set of criteria have been applied to this particular type of chicken feed. If you add to the formula, even with the best of intentions, you may actually impact the digestion of the feed and cause harm to the animal.
In addition to feeding your chickens the proper food, your chicken coop or hen house should always provide some means of delivering clean, fresh water for your birds. Many people do not realize it but the chicken anatomy is much like the human anatomy in that the body is made up mostly of water. Access to clean, fresh water, whether it is provided inside the chicken coop or hen house or outside, is an essential element to raising healthy animals. Lack of water, especially in hot weather can be lethal to your chickens.
Should you notice that your birds are not drinking as much as they should, check the temperature of the water. Chickens are notorious for not drinking if the water is either too cold or too hot. Fresh water must be provided daily, and the trough must be kept clean of droppings and other debris.
Many people consider adding a free-range run to the chicken coop to allow their birds to eat from grassy areas. This is fine as long as you understand that your chickens will also need access to at least some high-quality chicken feed. Most grassy areas and pastures will not contain all of the nutrients that your birds need, and thus those nutrients must be added through chicken feed.