Feeding Your Chickens - The Basics

Author: Aussie Chook Supplies  

Feeding your chickens the correct types/stages of food is important to provide them with a balanced diet, and is easiest given in commercially sold forms (pellet, mixed grain or both). It is always a good idea to ask the seller what kind/brand of food the birds have been eating, so you can continue to feed them the same type. Introduce new foods to old food gradually, over a few days as some chickens can get sick with sudden diet changes.

What should I feed my chickens?

There is some variation between brands for when they recommend different food stages, but as a general guide they are:

  • ‘Chick Starter’ for day old chicks until they are approx. 8 weeks old. This is a small sized food, which is easier for chicks to digest. It is also often medicated to protect against disease (namely, coccidiosis). Often contains 17-20% protein, dependant on brand.
  • ‘Pullet Grower’ is fed from 8 weeks to point of lay (approx. 22 weeks), dependant on brand.
  • ‘Layer pellets/mash/grain mix’ is formulated for chickens at “point of lay” or are laying eggs.

Should I feed my chickens pellets or a mixed grain? Some people have told me that they won’t lay properly if I give them a mixed grain…

The decision of what to feed your chickens is a combination of what you want them to eat and what they will eat. Generally pellets are easier to give to chickens as it is a completely balances food which has everything they need in one form.

Chicken keepers who give their chickens primarily mixed grain find that they will pick out and eat what they like and leave the rest of it (much like a child will eat lollies instead of eating a full plate of meat and veg). If they are doing this, they won’t necessarily be getting a balanced diet. What most chicken keepers do to get around this is to give them whatever amount they choose  and just wait until the girls have eaten it all before refilling the food container. Another option is a mash (wet or dry) or a crushed grain mix which means they can’t pick out the individual grains and will get a much more balanced diet.

And if you are wondering what do we do? We have found two preferred methods of feeding our chickens. Our favourite pelleted commercially available food is Pullet Grower or Showbird Breeder MP by Laucke Mills. It is a small, highly palatable, high quality food that can be given to bantams and standard foods without issues around pellet size as it is a small pellet. Food consumption is also lower on a better quality food as they will absorb more nutrients and not need to eat large quantities to get the same amount of nutrients from a poorer quality food. The other option we have found chickens to do extremely well on, is fermented food.

We also to only give a few handfuls of grain as a treat (albeit most days) because they love it and it gives them something to do as they have to forage through the backyard to find it. 

My Grandfather/Uncle/man down the street said that he only fed his chickens wheat/bread/scraps. We have done the same and are not getting eggs. What’s going on?

As we have said previously, chickens actually do need a balanced diet to remain in good health and provide you with great eggs. A diet solely consisting of wheat, bread, scraps or any combination of the above is really not adequate. And that is why you aren’t getting eggs or having quality issues with your eggs. Chickens fed a balanced food will be healthy, happy, strong, have good feather, leg and comb colour, be active and lay you the best eggs you could ask for…

Can my backyard chickens get enough nutrients from just free ranging? Do I have to feed them pellets?

Freeranging in a backyard setting will, at best, provide nutritional supplementation for a backyard chicken's diet. They may get a small variety of insects (which will quickly become extinct with repeated foraging), some of the vegetables you are growing (and trying desparately to keep them away from) and will eat your grass down to dust if given half a chance. 

Once upon a time the neighbourhood chickens would be able to survive, and even flourish, with a diet from free ranging. But keep in mind this ideal is mainly from third world and under developed nations and their dietary needs was met by wandering far and wide, often over kilometres every week. They would scratching through freshly tilled soil from farming areas and rubbish dumped areas, fallen fruits from seasonal trees, scratch around firepits, fed leftover bits and pieces of scraps thrown out the window by caring neighbours, eat worms and insects that came up after periods of rain. Not from a small patch of land barely larger than 200m sqaured, which is large by 2021 standards.

So yes, the overwhelming majority of chickens kept in Australia will rely on you to provide a commercially available, balanced chicken food appropriate for their life stage and dietary needs.

What is ‘shellgrit’, and why should I give it to my chickens?

Shellgrit is a form of calcium for chooks that is readily available from most places you buy chicken food. Chickens need calcium for strong bones, but also strong egg shells. Shell grit is also useful to help grind up seeds and food in the gizzard (as chickens don’t have teeth) – free range chickens will eat dirt and small stones to help grind up the food but this may not contain sufficient calcium levels . Most commercially bought food has added shell grit, but it is easier to have it available for your girls (in a separate container so you can know how much they have eaten) to avoid any potential problems related to low calcium levels.

Can I feed crushed egg shells to my chickens, or will this encourage egg-eating (which I definitely don’t want!)?

Egg shells can definitely be fed back to your chickens and are a great way to fully recycle them instead of the compost heap. They are also a great way to give your chickens a readily absorbable form of calcium to strengthen bones and egg shells.

There are some standard steps that need to be followed to ensure that they do not encourage egg-eating behaviour, which is achieved by removing all resemblence to a normal egg shape. Firstly, the opened egg shells need to be air dried for approx. 2 weeks or dry them on an oven tray at 100 degrees for 30mins. Then they need to be ground to small pieces or a fine powder, easily obtained by putting them in a ziplock bag and breaking them up with a rolling pin.
Then they just need to be offered in a separate container to their regular food where the chickens can self regulate how much they need, in the same way that they will consume shellgrit.


What ‘human food’ is okay to give them?

Chickens enjoy a varied diet as much as we do. They will quite happily eat all sorts of leftovers, such as vegetables, fruit (including peelings/rinds from watermelon and cantelope), sandwiches, cereal, pasta/noodles and bread. Bascially all the leftovers from the kids dinners and uneaten school lunches go to them and they (the chickens, not the kids) love it!!! All uneaten leftovers should be given in the morning and needs to be removed by bed time to prevent the chickens from eating soiled or “off” food (which can make them sick), and so you don’t attract rats by having food for them sitting around.

Chickens are omnivorous, which means that they eat meat and veggies (like us). Don’t be afraid to give them meat occasionally, they love it.

What ‘human food’ is NOT okay to give them?

Chickens do not like, and should not be given, citrus fruit, potato peelings or avocado (the latter is poisonous to chickens). Chickens love lettuce, but this should be given in small amounts and not very often as it isn’t high in nutrients and can give chickens diarrhea due to the high water content. Hard vegetables are best grated, cooked until soft or vitamised in a food processor.

What is a ‘mash’ and why would I give it to my chickens?

Mashes are a much loved form of food that can be given to chickens. It is basically a mix of food that you make for your girls and can contain a variety of ingredients including everyday chicken food, chopped up fruit/vegetables, bread, pasta, rice, yoghurt, leftover childrens’ breakfast cereal/sandwiches, egg, egg shells, shell grit, vitamins, minced garlid, leftover dinners… basically anything you don’t want to eat but don’t want to waste…

Chicken keepers Australia wide make warm mashes for cold weather and cold mashes for warmer weather…

It is also a great way to add supplements to their food in a form they will readily eat, for boosting health or adding medications and even getting reluctant chickens to have their wormer treatments.

Here and here are a couple of links from the Backyard Poultry website where chook keepers show photos and share their girls favourite mash recipes…