Feeding Your Chickens

What should I feed my chickens?

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.

Chicken food can be bought from Suburban Chooks (see our Poultry Supplies page for more information), most bulk produce stores or pet food stores.

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 prefer to give pellets and 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 mulch to find it. 

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.

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. Cat food is a special favourite as well as a protein boost (to help with feather regrowth during a moult) or just as a treat.

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…

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…