Chicken feed is formulated to provide balanced nutrition based on the bird’s purpose. While each brand is nutritionally similar, each company produces its own proprietary blend, so each will use different ratios of similar ingredients to meet general nutrition guidelines.
Do you know what to feed your chickens to provide the very best nutrition? Here are seven types of grain feed choices to feed your flock right.
The feed given to baby chicks is always in crumble form. It’s easy for them to consume and digest without the need for supplemental grit. Chick starter is usually 18-percent protein—up to 20 percent with some manufacturers—which helps the chicks grow strong but steadily. Higher protein contents would cause the little ones to grow too quickly.
Some manufacturers formulate a combination starter/grower feed for chicks. These are appropriate for chicks from hatch until around 20 weeks, when hens begin to lay eggs. Other manufacturers make separate chick and grower feeds. When they do, chick starter is fed for about eight weeks, and then a separate grower feed at 18-percent protein is fed until point of lay.
Most layer feeds, whether crumble, pellets, or mash, contain 16-percent protein, and it’s appropriate for both confined and free-range chickens. Many commercial feeds already contain calcium and expressly instruct not to feed oyster shell grit. If your chickens free range and have access to fibrous plant foods and insects, offer crushed granite grit free choice.
Some feed companies produce a higher protein layer formulation, either for aging hens or as an all-flock formulation. For older hens that are becoming less frequent layers, a little extra protein can put a kick back into their nest box. An all-flock feed is appropriate for many types of poultry at once, including turkeys and ducks, as well as your chickens. An 18-percent layer feed is a very good option to support chickens through their annual molt, too, when hens divert protein away from egg production to produce new feathers.
Feeds for meat chickens are formulated with either 20-percent or 22-percent protein for optimum and speedy meat production. Choose a feed made for meat birds if you’re raising a hybrid, like the Cornish cross, a dual-purpose breed raised for meat, or a mixed flock of chickens, ducks and turkeys for meat. Feed intended for laying hens contains too little protein for fast-growing meat chickens.
Some feed stores formulate their own store brands of feed, sometimes with whole or cracked grains. These feeds will meet nutrition guidelines for the type of birds you are raising, but if their bags don’t have labels, always ask about the protein content. Whole and cracked grain feeds will require grit supplementation, even if your flock doesn’t access to fresh plants and insects.
Chicken scratch is junk food for chickens, containing only 7- to 8-percent protein. It is entirely inappropriate as a diet staple. Feeding too many treats, including scratch grains, can lead to obesity and obesity-related illnesses in your flock. The best thing you can do with scratch grains is to leave them on the store shelf.
Depending on your location and what’s available in your area, manufacturers might use slightly different terminology on their feed bags or have varying advice on what to feed your flock. Always read the labels, and if you’re not sure, ask questions. The very best thing you can do for your chickens is to feed them the correct feed formulation for their purpose.