Chicken Feeding Guide: Types of Food and Nutrition Needs

After building a chicken coop, you may be eager to get started raising your chickens and before that, you will need a chicken feeding guide.

Before you begin, however, there is still something very important you have to learn how to feed your chickens.

The nutritional needs of chickens are different from those of other birds so you need to learn exactly what your chickens will need to eat before you go out and buy them.

Also read: 7 Things You’ll Need To Know Before Buying Ayam Cemani Chickens

In this article you will learn the basics about nutritional needs for chickens, what to feed chickens naturally, what not to feed chickens, and receive tips for feeding your chickens a healthy diet.

Nutritional Needs of Chickens

Nutritional needs of chickens

If you have ever kept chickens before you may already have noticed that they never stop moving. Chickens are always on the move which means that they have very high needs for nutrients and for energy.

In order to ensure that your chickens remain healthy and active you need to familiarize your self with their basic nutritional needs so you can provide a diet that meets those needs.

The nutritional needs are not significantly different between breeds. The information provided in this article is based on nutrient requirement figures published by the National Research Council found in the Merck Veterinary Manual.

The nutrient requirements change as the birds grow from hatchlings into adult birds. The energy needs of chickens vary according to their environment and their level of physical activity.

Chickens are very good about regulating their diet. They stop eating when they have consumed enough nutrients and they increase their food intake if their needs have not yet been met.

This being the case, you do not need to worry about overfeeding your chickens — your main concern should be to provide them with enough food that they can eat as much as they want/need to.

Like all animals, chickens require a balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat in their diets. They also require certain vitamins and minerals.

Also read: Mealworms for Chickens: The Benefits and How to Raise it

The protein needs of chickens are fairly high during the development period and they rise again during laying.

Chickens can produce certain amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) themselves but require certain other amino acids in their diet these include arginine, lysine, methionine, and threonine to name a few.

Chickens also require certain vitamins and minerals in their diet, including calcium and phosphorus. Most of the nutritional needs of chickens can be met by feeding them a commercial diet.

To give you an idea what kind of nutrients a chicken needs to be healthy, consult the chart below:

Nutritional Needs for Chickens


Age (in weeks)0 – 66 – 1212 – 18
Body Weight450g980g1,375g

Laying Hens

Age (in weeks)0 – 66 – 1212 – 18
Body Weight450g980g1,375g

In addition to the essential nutrients that have already been mentioned, chickens also need a great deal of water.

Make sure that your chickens have unlimited access to fresh, clean water at all times, especially during their early growth and development.

In most cases, a chicken will drink two to three times as much water by weight as they consume in feed.

Water consumption will increase during the warmer months and decrease a little bit in the winter. If it gets very cold in the winter, remember to check their water regularly as it may become frozen.

Types of Chicken Feed

If you pay a visit to your local farm supply store you will notice that the shelves are stocked with many different kinds of chicken feed.

Not only are there half a dozen or so different standard formulas, but each brand is a little bit different from the others.

In this section you will learn about the different types of chicken feed and when you should be using them for your chickens.

Starter Feed

starter feed

When you bring your Ayam Cemani chicks home or if you hatch them your self you will need to put them on a starter feed.

These formulas typically contain between 18% and 20% protein as well as a specific combination of nutrients that chicks need to facilitate healthy growth and development.

If you are raising your chickens for meat, you may even consider using a starter diet formulated for meat chickens — these formulas are a little higher in protein, around 22% , to help maximize growth of your chickens.

Grower Feed

grower feed

Once your chicks reach about 6 weeks of age you should switch them to a grower feed to help them sustain a steady growth rate until they reach maturity.

These formulas typically contain 15% to 16% protein and you can feed
your chicks this formula until they are about 14 weeks old.

At this point you should switch them to a developer feed these formulas contain 14% to 15% protein and they are ideal if you are preparing your chickens for egg production.

It is not necessary to switch your chicks to a developer feed but once they reach 20 weeks you will need to swap over to an adult feed formula.

Layer/Breeder Feed

layer breeder feed

For hens, you will have to choose between a layer or a breeder formula. Layer formulas contain about 16% protein and they have extra calcium to ensure that the chickens lay eggs with strong shells.

This type of formula is recommended if you are keeping chickens to produce eggs for food. You should start your chicks on a layer formula
once they reach about 20 weeks of age.

If you intend to hatch your eggs, your hens should be kept on a breeder formula.

These formulas have a little bit more protein than layer formulas and they are supplemented with extra vitamins to ensure proper development and hatching of the eggs.

Medicated Feed

medicated feed

Another type of feed you might consider using is the medicated feed.

Most commercially produced starter feeds are medicated to help prevent some of the most common diseases known to affect flocks of chickens.

It is less common for grower feeds and layer feeds to be medicated, though you can still find them.

Always read the label carefully before using a medicated feed, especially if you are feeding it to laying hens.

The label will give you instructions for when to withdraw the medicated feed if there is a risk of the medication being passed to the eggs.

As long as you follow the instructions on the package, however, you do not have to worry about the eggs being safe to eat.

Other Types of Food

In addition to commercial chicken feeds, you should also be offering your chickens other types of food including scratch grains, green vegetables, fruit, and table scraps.

In this section you will receive recommendations for feeding each ofthese types of food.

Scratch Grains

scratch grains

Even if you have never kept chickens before you are probably familiar with their scratching behavior. Chickens scratch the ground with their feet to break up the dirt, looking for seeds, insects, and grit to eat.

Offering your chickens scratch grains can help to encourage this type of behavior which will also help to make sure that your chickens get enough exercise.

Examples of scratch grains include cracked, rolled or whole corn, barley, wheat, and oats.

These grains are fairly low in protein but high in dietary fiber. Most poultry farmers recommend using limited amounts of scratch grains — if you use too much it could affect your chickens appetites for more nutritious foods.

You should only offer your chickens scratch grains in the afternoon after they have eaten their regular feed.

Only offer your chickens a few handfuls of scratch grains (depending how many chickens you have), limiting your feeding to an amount they can eat within 15 or 20 minutes.

You can offer a little more during the winter to provide your chickens with extra calories to stay warm.


grit chicken feed

Chickens do not have teeth so they eat grit to help grind down food in their gizzards. It is especially important to feed your chickens grit if you offer them scratch grains because these foods are harder to digest.

Free-range chickens can often find enough grit on the ground in the form of small rocks and pebbles but it never hurts to offer some anyway.

In addition to grit you might also want to offer some crushed oyster shell because it is high in calcium.

Most commercial layer feeds contain an adequate amount of calcium for laying hens but it never hurts to provide a secondary source.

Green Vegetables

green vegetables

In order to keep your chickens in good health, you must feed them a varied diet that consists of more than just commercial feed pellets — fresh greens should also be part of the diet.

Free-range chickens will be able to feed on weeds and other plants but you should still offer some vegetable greens on a daily basis.

Some of the best vegetables to offer your chickens include cauliflower leaves, cabbage, spinach, dandelion greens, and grass clippings.

You can also feed your chickens potatoes and potato peelings as long as you boil them first.


fruit for chicken

In addition to green vegetables you can also give your chickens small amounts offruit as an occasional treat.

Grapes and strawberries are a favorite among most chickens — just be careful not to feed too much or your chickens could develop diarrhea.

Table Scraps

table scraps for chicken feed

The diet of chickens that are kept primarily in coops can be supplemented with table scraps for variety.

Free-range chickens, on the other hand, can usually find enough food to supplement their commercial feed diets.

If you do choose to offer your chickens table scraps, make sure not to feed too many carbohydrates and limit scraps to 20% or less of the birds diet.

The best way to feed table scraps is to stir them up with some layers mash and add a little bit of water to create a crumble.

Most chickens will eat almost anything — everything from coffee grounds to stale toast. You should be careful to never feed your chickens rhubarb leaves or av- ocado, however, because they are toxic to chickens.

Chicken Feeding Recommendations

For the first two days after chicks are born, they continue to absorb what is left of the yolk from the egg. After two days, however, you will need to make food and water freely available.

Offer your newly hatched chicks a finely ground starter feed free-choice until they are 14 to 18 weeks old.

At that point you can switch to a layer or breeder feed. Adult chickens are very good at regulating their intake of food so you generally do not need to worry about overfeeding.

Just make sure that you have enough feeder space available to accommodate your entire flock at one time as well as plenty of waterers.

In addition to learning how to properly feed your chickens, you should also take the time to learn about some common feeding mistakes so you can avoid making them yourself.

One of the most common feeding mistakes poultry farmers make is giving their chickens too much mixed corn. Mixed corn usually contains about 80% to 90% wheat with just 10% to 20% cracked maize.

Wheat is relatively low in protein (around 10%) which makes it a poor feeding choice for laying and breeding hens. Maize is also fairly high in fat — this may be okay for feeder chickens but it is not ideal for laying hens.

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