Raising Chickens: Give them the Right Feed at the Right Time

Your chickens will stay healthier and, ultimately, give you more eggs if you feed them correctly at all their life stages. Poultry feeds are formulated to meet the specific needs of your chickens during the stages of life, from newly-hatched chicks to adult layers to broilers.


Like human babies, newly-hatched chicks need a different kind of food than adults. Chicks need more protein – 10 to 20 percent – to encourage good growth, develop strong muscles, and produce feathers. Some starter feeds include medication against coccidiosis, an intestinal disease caused by parasites, the most common and deadliest threat to newly-hatched poultry, who are still developing their own immune system. FeedingChickensHowever, if you’re raising chickens naturally or organically, you’ll want to choose a non-medicated feed, such as New Heritage Feed Co.’s Chick Starter, which contains essential oils to naturally boost chicks’ immune system to fight coccidiosis. Keep chicks on chick starter-grower feed for about 18 weeks, which is the age when they generally start laying eggs and can transition to adult feed.


Laying hens need high levels of calcium, vitamins, and minerals to produce an egg every day, and layer rations, with 16-20 percent protein and higher calcium amounts, provide the nutrients to keep hens healthy and eggshells hard. When the time comes to switch from starter-grower, prevent upsetting your chickens’ digestive system by making the transition over about a week. Mix the starter-grower and layer feed evenly for three or four days. For the remainder of the week, gradually reduce the starter-grower while increasing the layer feed until they’re completely on layer feed.


If you’re raising meat birds as broilers, you’ll want maximum growth, which is achieved by feeding starter-grower in the 20 percent range from the time they’re newly hatched until harvest.


Occasionally feeding table scraps – vegetable peels, stale bread, wilted greens – is fine, but should not be a regular part of your chickens’ diet because they don’t provide nutrients to help with egg production or health. “I do feed table scraps as treats, but they’re not getting them constantly and certainly not as a percentage of their diet,” says Julie Ortloff, who raises heritage breed hens on her Cold Spring, Minn., farm. Julie does add rosemary, oregano, basil, and thyme to her chickens’ feed to help the birds internally by strengthening their bones, eggshells, and respiratory systems. “I try to keep their respiratory system very well maintained and I find that herbs help with that, especially in winter when they’re spending so much time inside the coop. Air quality so important and those herbs help with that.”


It goes without saying to always provide your chickens with plenty of fresh, clean water. The birds need water for digestion and to keep their body temperature at healthy levels. They’ll also go off their feed if they don’t get enough water, which will affect egg production. Monitor your chickens’ water use frequently and adjust as necessary so water is always plentiful.

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