The simplest way to feed a small flock of chickens is to purchase a complete chicken feed from a feed store. Complete chicken feed provides a nutritionally balanced diet for chickens.

Commercial chicken feeds from a reliable feed store have all the nutrients in the right proportions. A balanced diet is necessary for optimal growth and egg production.

If you use a good diet that meets the dietary needs of your flocks, supplementing with other items will upset the balance of the diet. The ingredients used in different types of feed are similar, but the proportions vary depending on the particular chickens being fed. Each bag of feed is labeled with its specific use.

Common mistakes made with supplements include the following:

  • Supplementing complete feeds with cracked corn, oats, or other grains
  • Regularly adding green chops, lettuce, or other low nutrition ingredients to the diet

A chicken’s daily consumption of feed depends on the composition of the diet. Chickens typically adjust their feed intake in order to meet their energy requirements.

If your hens are eating the right feed you will be rewarded with healthy hens that lay lots of eggs for you. In our complete guide to chicken feed, we are going to take a look at basic chicken feed requirements, different varieties of feed, terms that you will see on feed bags and lots more.

Basic Nutrient Requirements of Chicken Feed

Todays commercial chicken feeds are formulated to maximize the growth and egg laying potential of each bird.

Research has shown that many different nutrients are needed by chickens and other members of your flock. Any chicken feed you choose should include:

  • Protein- the amount of protein will vary based on the age of the bird or type of bird.
  • Amino acids – lysine and methionine are the most common
  • Vitamins – A, E, D3 and B12
  • Trace mineral elements- phosphorus and copper sulfate.
  • Enzymes- to help with digestion
  • Fiber- in the form of the grain

Always read feed product labels so that you know what you are buying.

Chicken Feed Varieties

There are three main types of chicken feed that are readily available to most chicken keepers. Below I have outlined the common varieties: starter feed, grower/finisher feed, and layer feed.

Starter Feed

Starter chicken feed is a variety of food that is very protein dense and is designed to meet the nutritional needs of baby chicks.

This feed has a higher protein content that is usually between 20-24%. These higher protein contents are what helps the chicks grow quickly into healthy pullets.

Chicken Feed Infograph

Once your chicks hit 6 weeks old it is important to switch their feed to a grower blend that has a slightly lower protein content. This is done to avoid excess protein causing liver damage to the pullets.

Grower Feed

A grower feed is essentially a feed blend for preteen and teenaged birds. A new chick that is still trying to grow feathers has very different nutritional needs than a young pullet that is scratching for bugs.

From 6 to 20 weeks, the grower feed should contain between 16-18% protein and has less calcium than feed used for egg layers. There is no reason to overwhelm their systems with minerals that they don’t need yet.

Sometimes you will see this called finisher feed, because it is what would be used to finish growing off meat birds. Once your pullets hit 20 weeks or you find your first egg you can start them on layer feed.

Layer Feed

Once your pullets reach 20 weeks or their point of lay you can begin them on layer feed.

Laying hens need a mixture with a 14-16% protein level. Other vitamins and minerals are blended into a commercial feed to round out the bird’s diet. Layer feed has added calcium to ensure that eggs have a clean, hard shell.

Other Terms You Will See On Chicken Feed Bags

When you are standing in the feed store isle it is easy to become overwhelmed by all the terms and jargon on those feed bags. Mash, crumbles, pellets, medicated, scratch grain, what?


Chicken feed that had been compacted into tight pellets. Benefits of using pellet feed is that they are easy to use and result in less waste from spillage if your chickens knock over their feeder.


Crumb feed is a loose variety of feed that resembles the texture of oats. With the smaller size, it is easy for the chickens to eat. Waste can be an issue when feed is knocked out of feeders.


Mash is a loose unprocessed chicken feed. Mash is the finest variety of feed available with a textrue similar to sand or soil. Mash is normally used for baby chicks because it is easy to eat and digest. Waste can be an issue with mash as well because of the increase of incidental spills.

Fermented Feed

Fermented feed is any type of chicken feed that has been mixed with water and allowed to naturally ferment. By fermenting chicken feed you are improving the vitamin and enzyme content and making it easier for the chickens to digest. Another great benefit of fermenting chicken feed is that the density of the feed increased and helps your chickens feel fuller longer and in turn eat less throughout the week.

Scratch Grains

Chickens have a natural instinct to scratch at the ground and by doing so they mix up their litter and scrape the ground in search of seeds, greens, grit, worms, or other insects to eat. By spreading scratch grains in the chicken run you can encourage this natural behavior.

Scratch grains include cracked, rolled, and whole grains such as corn, barley, oats, and wheat. Commercial scratch grains are relatively low in protein and high in fiber, all that fiber then is converted to energy.

Scratch grains should be thought of as a treat or snack for chickens and not a complete feed source. Chicken feeds have carefully formulated nutrition levels and mixing too much scratch grain into primary feed can dilute the nutrient levels of the primary feed.

Scratch grains are just like french fries- if we eat too many then we lose our desire for healthy food and only want junk. Give your chickens scratch grains in the afternoon after they have been eating well throughout most of the day. Only give them what they can eat within 30 minutes because you don’t want them to go crazy on the junk food.

Medicated Feed

Medicated chicken feed is common in starter and grower/finisher varieties and is an easy way to prevent fowl diseases. The medicated poultry feed contains antibiotics and coccidiostats which protects against Coccidiosis and other diseases. Young chickens benefit from being fed low levels of coccidiostat and will then resist mild infections. Chickens can be given a medicated feed until around 16 weeks then they should be switched to an unmedicated feed.

Medicated feeds should not be fed to laying hens. Some coccidiostats you may see on feed bags include monensin, lasalocid, amprolium, and salinomycin. Some antibiotics added to feed include bacitracin, chlortetracycline, and oxytetracycline. Be sure to check the feed label for any warnings concerning the medication used in the feeds. Monensin, for example, can be toxic to horses and other large stock animals.


These are feeds that are free of all coccidiostats and antibiotics.

Chicken Feed Supplements

Free choice feedings of supplements are ideal because chickens are able to regulate their own intake and they can tell when then they have enough in their system.


Since chickens don’t have teeth they need an alternate way to grind down their food. Therefore we call upon the GIZZARD.

The gizzard is a strong muscular organ that aids in mashing their food before digestion. Chickens store grit in their gizzard and that grit helps then mash their food enough for easy digestion.

All chickens need grit in their diet and it should be served in a separate dish from their regular laying feed.

Oyster Shells

Laying hens require high amounts of calcium to produce strong eggshells. The best way to ensure that your hens are getting enough is to provide free-choice feedings of oyster shells or calcium grit.

Hens that don’t get enough calcium will end up laying misshapen and fragile eggs. Free choice feedings of supplements are ideal because chickens are able to regulate their own calcium intake and they can tell then they have enough in their system.

Special Chicken Feeding Situations

There are a few situations which call for different chicken feed.


Starter feed is what you should be using right from the time that your chicks hatch or you bring them home. A commercial starter feed contains everything that your new baby chicks need to thrive. Your chicks should be fed this chick starter until around 6 weeks old.

Meat Birds

Meat birds require a higher protein content in their feed than layers becuase of their rapid rate of growth.

Using a feed that does not have adequate protein could result in slower as well as less overall growth of the birds. They may also have significant health problems.

The life of a meat chicken is very short, sometimes as little as 5 or 6 weeks before they are culled. During this time they need a high protein diet, between 20-24%.

There are some commercial feeds made especially for broilers with 22% protein content. This type of feed can be fed from hatch to ‘dispatch’ without switching or modifying feed. This feed contains all of the essentials needed for rapid growth in meat birds.

Mixed Flock

If you have a mixed flock there are “All Flock” feeds availabve. These are suitable for a variety of birds including: chickens, ducks, guineas, turkey etc,

It will generally contain around 16% protein plus key vitamins and minerals. It should not be used for birds under 7 weeks of age.

DIY Chicken Feed

chicken feed recipe

If you want to have complete control of what your chicken are consuming in their feed then making your own chicken feed is a great option. Just don’t count on it saving you any money.

Commercial feed manufacturers have the science and production figured out and that is why they are in business, but if you don’t want to go that route then here is a basic recipe for you.

If you want to keep your flock healthy and producing eggs, you must make sure you are feeding them with the proper balance of protein, energy and nutrients. Unfortunately, you can’t just toss them some corn and call it good

Feed Storage

Improper feed storage can spoil even the most nutritius feed that money can buy. Feed looses its quality quickly when stored to long.

Feed should not be stored for more than two months. It is also important to keep it in a dry, cool place. Old feed can lose its nutritional value and is susceptible to mold, especially in warm weather.

Ideally a 25 pound bag of high quality feed should last 10 hens about 10 days, if waste is controlled. You can expect to use 75-90 pounds of feed per year for each laying hen.

Chicken Feeder Options

Once you have found the perfect chicken feed mix, you need to get a chicken feeder to hold all that feed for your flock.

Once you have kept chickens for a bit you will realize that they will eat feed of the ground and they dont really care what their feed is housed in as long as they get it.

Ideally though, a chicken feeder should help prevent waste and keeps feed fresh. There are three main types of feeders, and of course some great DIY feeder options.

Trough Feeders

Trough feeders are great for young chicks in the broader house. They sit low to the ground and can be moved easily.

Top Trough Feeder

This Miller plastic trough feeder is our choice for trough feeder.

Snap in hinge ensures long lasting use

Easy to clean and red color attracts chicks

Gravity Feeders

Gravity feeders are the most common feeders used today. You fill them up at the top and the feed trickles down as it is eaten. These feeder are simple yet effective.

Gravity Chicken Feeder

Top Gravity Feeder

This Harris Farms hanging feeder is our choice for gravity feeder.

Designed for fast filling with an open top

Simple 2-part twist lock assembly

Base is designed so chicks cannot scratch out feed

Automatic Feeders

Automatic feeders are a great option that can save you a significant amount of money on feed bills. The chicken feed is housed inside the feeder which means it is protected and stays dry even in the rain.

These feeders generally work by the hen standing on the bottom pedal to open the feed box and then they can access the feed.

Top Automatic Feeder

This Grandpa’s Automatic Chicken Feeder is our choice for auto feeder.

On-demand automatic feeder means your hens will have access to feed all day round, which ensures optimal laying and healthy chickens

It also helps to eliminate feed spillage, keeps pests away and as a result means you save on feed costs.

DIY Feeders

PVC Feeder

With a few PVC pipes, you can construct an easy yet effective feeder for your coop. Get the instructions here.

Chicken Feeder from 5-Galon Buckets

5 Gallon Bucket Feeder

Simple and effective – open the lid add more food. Get the tutorial at Bless this Mess


There are a lot of terms and shinny advertising on feed bags but with some basic knowledge it is easy to navigate the feed isle. If you are looking for something that is organic, soy or corn free you may have to hunt a little. But they do does exist even though they can be can be difficult to find and they will cost you more than regular chicken feed.

Feeding your flock can be as simple or as complicated as you make it.

Chicken Feed Pin

We hope that you found our complete guide to chicken feed educational and useful.

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