Reduced egg production, deformed eggs, feather picking, and other unwanted behaviors can happen if you don’t feed your chickens enough.
So in this post, I’ll teach you how much to feed your backyard chickens.
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We’ll also look at some potential problems that can happen with your chickens’ diet, and what you can do so to make sure your chickens are happy and healthy.
- How Much Does a Laying Hen Eat per Day?
- How Many Times a Day Should I Feed My Chickens?
- Can You Overfeed Chickens?
- How Much Feed Does a Broiler Eat per Day?
- Common Problems with Their Diet
How Much Does a Laying Hen Eat per Day?
The average egg-laying hen needs about 1/4 pound of layer food a day, which is roughly 3/4 cups.
Of course, this is just a rule of thumb!
There really isn’t a hard rule on how much to feed your egg-laying hens because it depends on the breed, how active they are, and the season. Your chickens might need a little less or a little more than 3/4 cup of chicken feed per day.
At first, you really want to aim at giving your chickens MORE feed than you think they would eat. Over time, you’ll get a feel for how much feed your chickens need.
If you’re constantly finding a ton of feed in the feeder at the end of the day, you can always give them a little less feed. Trust me, you’ll get to know how much your chickens eat pretty quickly.
How Many Times a Day Should I Feed My Chickens?
I personally believe that the best feeding method is to free-feed your chickens. This means having chicken feed available for them to eat all day long.
If you don’t want to free-feed your chickens or if you’re away from home during the day, you can feed them once in the morning and then again in the evening (before they roost for the night).
If you’re going to free-feed your chickens, you might run into a problem. Birds, squirrels, rats, and other pests will probably try to get a free meal from the chicken feed.
To fix this problem, I use automatic poultry treadle feeders (Amazon) to make sure only my chickens eat the feed.
These types of feeders might seem a little expensive at first, but you save so much money in the long run since you’re not feeding every wild animal in the neighborhood.
Can You Overfeed Chickens?
Chickens like to eat often and in small portions.
Free-range chickens usually won’t overeat, so you probably won’t have to worry about them becoming overweight if they’re getting exercise by free-ranging and foraging.
Just make sure you don’t feed them too many treats (more on this below).
You can use the free-feeding method for all types of chickens, with the exception of broiler chickens (meatbirds).
How Much Feed Does a Broiler Eat per Day?
Personally, I’ve never owned meat birds. But I’ve heard time and time again that most chicken keepers give their meat birds unlimited feed 24/7 for the first 2 to 3 weeks.
Then, after this period, they should be given unlimited feed for 12 hours and then go without feed for the next 12 hours. You do this until they’re ready to be slaughtered.
Common Problems with a Chicken’s Diet
Eating the Wrong Chicken Feed
Feeding your chickens the proper feed ensures that they’re getting vital nutrients. Chicken feed is even more important if your chickens don’t have much outdoor space because they won’t be able to get minerals and salt from the ground.
PLEASE make sure you get the right type of feed for your chickens. For example:
- 0 to 6 Weeks Old (Chicks): Their diet should contain around 20-20% protein. You should feed them a starter feed for chicks (Amazon).
- 6 to 20+ Weeks Old (Pullets): Their diet should contain around 14-16% protein. You should feed them a high-quality pullet grower feed (Amazon) until they start laying.
- 20 Weeks or Above (Egg-Layers): Once chickens start laying eggs, they require around 15-18% protein in their feed. You should feed your hens layer feed (Amazon) to help them in their egg-laying. (Don’t feed this to your non-laying hens).
- Broiler Chickens/Meatbirds: These types of chickens require a higher-level of protein in their feed (approx. 20%-24%) for maximum growth. Choose a meatbird feed (Amazon) especially made for broiler chickens.
I suggest that you only buy as much feed as you think your chickens will eat within a couple of weeks. This is so the feed doesn’t go stale.
Storing feed in a cool place and in a closed container, like a galvanized steel can with a locking lid (Amazon), slows the rate at which it gets stale.
You can stretch the storage time during cold weather.
Low-Quality Chicken Feed
I’m all about saving money. But, years ago, I made my first big mistake as a chicken keeper…
… I bought cheap, low-quality feed.
I first noticed my chickens weren’t laying many eggs. Then I noticed that the cheaper food was actually costing me more money in the long run because my chickens needed to eat more low-quality feed just to get the nutrients they needed.
Chickens will eat more in the fall when they need extra protein to regrow feathers during the molting season.
They’ll also eat more during the winter months when they require extra energy to stay warm. Plus, in the winter, they’re not foraging as much so they can’t supplement their diet with seeds, plants, worms, and insects.
So remember to increase the amount of feed you give them during fall and winter.
One important thing to know as a chicken keeper is that you won’t get any eggs if your hens are dehydrated. Chickens need access to CLEAN water throughout the day.
Most basic chicken waterers with a no-roost top (Amazon) will do just fine during the warmer seasons. No-roost top waterers are my favorite because it keeps my chickens from roosting and pooping in their water.
Another issue I had, during cold winter days, was that my chickens’ water kept on freezing. Since I didn’t have the time to check the water every few hours, I got a no-roost heated waterer (Amazon). I’ve only had it for two winters, but it saves me from obsessively checking to see if my chickens’ water is frozen.
Too Many Treats
I know we love to spoil our chickens, but too many treats are just as bad for them!
If you give your chickens too many treats, they won’t be eating as much feed and won’t get the nutrients they need to be healthy and happy.
If you’re going to give them treats, including table scraps, make sure it’s not more than 10% of their total diet.
Another recommendation is that you only give treats after they’ve had their feed in the morning, so they won’t fill up on treats.
If you have egg-laying hens, then you definitely want to make sure they have enough calcium in their diet. A lack of calcium can mean that they will lay eggs with thin or no shells at all.
Just be careful not to mix the oyster shells with the chicken feed. Oyster shells should be served on the side so the laying-hens will eat only what they need. Too much calcium is dangerous.
Also, calcium supplements shouldn’t be fed to non-laying hens.
Lack of Grit
It’s very important that chickens have access to poultry grit (Amazon) if anything other than commercial feed is offered.
Grit is the term for tiny stones. Chickens keep it in their gizzards to help them grind up the food they forage.
Free-ranging chickens can get enough grit naturally if they have access to soil. But confined chickens, including chicks in brooders, should be given grit if they’re given treats.
Make sure that the grit is the appropriate size for the age of the chicken (read the packaging carefully). Chicks need chick grit (Amazon), which is finer than grit given to older chickens.
All flocks of chickens have a pecking order. This means that there are dominant chickens and subordinate chickens.
One thing to keep an eye on when you are feeding your hens is to make sure the most dominant hens don’t eat all the food. If this is becoming an issue consider feeding the weaker birds on their own to ensure they get some food.
But it’s always a good idea to have a few feeders and waterers to prevent bullying when feeding backyard chickens.