What to Feed Chickens – Layers & Broilers – Chicks to Adults


It’s the most common question posed to me as I answer the phone so I figured that an article in the FAQ’s section might be in order. Chickens are omnivores, meaning they will eat meat and vegetables. Chicken diets are a little more complicated than just throwing heads of lettuce and ground beef at your flock, however. Here’s the scoop…

Things to Know

First things first! There are three different forms of feed. Pellets are largest, crumbles are smaller, and mash is the smallest form of chicken feed. The form of feed you use is typically up to you.

Feeder space is also an important ingredient, so to speak, of your chicken’s diet. There should be enough space at your feeders for all of your chickens to eat at one time. If not, some chickens won’t get enough to eat. You know those bullies that take smaller kids’ lunch money? It happens in your backyard flock too. Give the big kids their space and the small kids won’t have to be pushed out of the way.

It’s also helpful if the feeder is off the ground. It prevents your silly chickens from running through it and tracking poop into it. Poop carries diseases such as coccidiosis. Besides, who likes eating poop? (I’m not raising my hand). It also helps prevent waste. A good rule of thumb for feeder height: The height of the back of your smallest chicken.

You might have heard the term coccidoisis before and so you’re considering using medicated feed to prevent it. If you got your chicks vaccinated for Mareks vaccinations (the only type of vaccinations we offer), you may use medicated feed. (What is Mareks Disease?) However, if you got them vaccinated for coccidiosis (we do not offer a coccidiosis vaccine) do not use medicated feed as it will counteract the vaccine and make both the vaccine and medicated feed useless. If you keep your chicken living quarters clean and dry they are much less likely to struggle with disease. Coccidiosis thrives in overcrowded, overheated, dirty, damp conditions. Free ranging poultry will build natural immunity to the disease because they will get exposed to small amounts of it which are present in every barnyard. For this reason, commercial operations are usually the most at risk for coccidiosis.

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Free ranging your poultry is something we always recommend since it provides healthier chickens with a well balanced diet of insects along with stronger immune systems.

Grit is something that chickens need to grind and digest their food since they don’t have teeth. Grit is made up of sand, dirt, and small rocks that chickens store in their crop where the food is ground up. Free ranging chickens will naturally pick up grit as they peck and scratch around on the ground in search of bugs and other things to eat. You only need to provide grit if your poultry isn’t allowed to free range outdoors.

Commercially prepared feed is carefully balanced to include all the nutrients your chickens need. Don’t dilute the feed with lots of extra treats like mealworms and table scraps. This fills up their stomach with empty calories which means they won’t eat the important stuff that’s good for them. Very similar to how you fill up on potato chips and french fries and then don’t feel like eating salad. Or am I the only one that does that?

Also, before we start on feed types, we must know our chicken types. Layers are chickens that lay a lot of eggs and are kept mainly for that purpose. Layers are birds like White Leghorns, ISA Browns, Rhode Island Reds, Black Australorps, Barred Rocks, etc. Broilers are birds that are raised for meat. These are birds like the Jumbo Cornish Cross (which makes up like 95% of commercial chicken meat) and Freedom Rangers. Dual purpose chickens are merely chickens that do well in both categories (the Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock are generally considered dual purpose. I usually call them layers because that’s why a lot of people buy them). That’s your typical types of chickens.

Good! Let’s get started on feeding your day old mail order chicks:

Feed Type Schedule

  1. Day Old Chicks – 8 Weeks of Age: Starter Feed. Typically 20% protein for layers and most birds. Broiler chicks, however, are extremely fast growing and since protein is vital for development, broiler chicks should have more protein. Use broiler starter (which has a protein content of 21-24%) for broiler chicks.
  2. 8 Weeks – 18 Weeks: Grower Feed (Also called Finisher Feed). Grower feed dials back the protein content to around 16-18%. A high protein diet can cause layers to reach maturity too soon. It’s important you make this switch and let your chicks growth slow down. Take it easy son! You’ll get beautiful eggs in your coop soon enough. Broilers (meat chickens) on the other hand grow really fast and so some will be harvested while still on grower/finisher feed. They can still be fed higher protein feeds.  Jumbo Cornish Crosses are already being harvested at 8 weeks of age require and grower/finisher feed with 20-21% protein! Freedom Rangers grow slower and are typically harvested at 9-11 weeks of age (Click here for a detailed feed plan for Freedom Rangers).
  3. 18 Weeks – Happy Old Age: Layer Feed. At this point, broilers don’t exist because they are in the freezer waiting to be included in the secret family recipe. True story, I had a lady at McDonald’s comment to me how sad she was that we mailed chicks since apparently it’s cruel. I couldn’t help but lift one eyebrow slightly because she was selling me a McChicken sandwich. So… whatever. Anyway… At 18 weeks of age, switch your layers to a Layer complete feed. Do not feed layer feed to chicks under 18 weeks because the extra calcium in the layer feed can cause kidney damage, reduced lifespan, and poor egg production for the rest of the chicken’s life. Once your layer is 18 weeks, however, it needs the extra calcium for egg production. If a chicken isn’t getting proper calcium supplies, it will pull calcium out of it’s body in order to make eggs. This, obviously, isn’t healthy for your chicken. It’s a good idea to supplement the layer feed with crushed oyster shell. DO NOT mix the oyster shell in with the layer feed since your chickens all have different calcium needs. Instead, put the crushed oyster in a separate feed container and make it available free choice to your laying hens. They will eat the oyster shells if they need the extra calcium and they won’t if they don’t.
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More Reading…

Finisher Vs. Grower FeedBackyardChickens.com forum

What to Feed Your ChickensHencam.com

Feeding Chickens at Different AgesThe-Chicken-Chick.com

See Also…

Preparing For, Raising, & Releasing Your Mail Order Chicks

Hope that helps!

Have a great day,

Josh S.


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Posted in FAQS, Feeding Poultry, Maintaining Your Flock.