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 talk all about how much to feed your backyard chickens.
We’ll also look at some potential problems that can happen while feeding, and what you can do, so your chickens can be happy and healthy.
How Much Feed for Egg-Layers?
The average hen needs about 1/2 cup of chicken feed and a cup of water per day. Of course, this is just a rule of thumb. So your chickens might need a little less or a little more than 1/2 cup per day (but it’s usually roughly between 1/4 and 3/4 cups per day).
At first, you really want to aim at giving your chickens a little bit more than you think they would eat.
How Many Times a Day Should I Feed My Chickens?
I personally believe that the best feeding method is to feed your chickens free-choice. This means having feed available for them all day long.
Chickens like to eat often and in small portions. And free-range chickens usually won’t overeat, so my chickens never became overweight. You can use the free-choice method for all types of chickens, with the exception of meat birds.
Although, keep in mind that if you’re going to feed your chickens all day long, beware of birds, squirrels, rats, and other pests trying to get a free meal from the chicken feed. I use Grandpa’s Feeders to make sure only my chickens eat the feed. It’s a little expensive at first, but you save so much money in the long run since you’re not feeding every other animal in the neighborhood.
Over time you will know exactly how much to feed your chickens. There really isn’t a hard rule on how much to feed them as it depends on the breed, how active they are, and the season.
If you are constantly finding feed in the feeder, you can always give them a little less feed. Trust me, you’ll get to know how much your chickens eat pretty quickly.
If you don’t want to feed your chickens free-choice and you’re are away from home during the day, you can totally feed them once in the morning and then again during the evening.
Just remember that chickens should eat before roosting at night because they need a lot of food to produce eggs.
How Much to Feed for Meat Birds
I’ve never had meat birds. But I’ve heard most meat bird keepers recommend giving meat birds unlimited feed 24/7 for the first two to three weeks. Then, after this period, they should be given unlimited feed for twelve hours and then go without feed for the next twelve hours. You do this until they’re ready to be slaughtered.
Potential Feeding Problems
Feeding your chickens the proper feed ensures that they are getting vital vitamins, nutrients and minerals from their food source to keep them healthy. 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.
Just make sure you get the right type of pellets for your chickens. For example:
- 0 to 6 Week Old (Chicks): Their diet should contain around 20-20% protein. You should feed them some kind of chick starter.
- 6 to 20+ Week Old (Pullets): Their diet should contain around 14-16% protein. You should feed them some kind of high-quality pullet grower until they start laying.
- 20 Week 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 to help them in their egg-laying. (Don’t feed this to your non-laying hens).
- Meat Chickens: These types of chickens require a higher-level protein in their feed (approx. 20%-24%) for maximum growth.
Any prepared feed you buy should be used within about 4 weeks of being milled. So only buy as much as your chickens will eat within a couple of weeks.
You can stretch the storage time during cold weather. Storing feed in a cool place and in a closed container (my favorite anti-pest container is this one) slows the rate at which it gets stale.
Buying Cheap 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.
But my chickens weren’t laying many eggs and it actually cost me more money in the long run! 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 require 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 will drink approximately twice as much water by weight as they eat in feed, so make sure they have access to CLEAN water throughout the day.
Most basic chicken waterers with a no-roost top will do just fine during the warmer seasons. My favorite is this one from Amazon 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 one winter, but I like it so far.
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.
Personally, I don’t give my chicks and pullets any treats at all. I stick to chick and grower feed to make sure they get all the nutrients they need to grow into productive chickens.
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.
If you hens are laying abnormal eggs, you can give them calcium via oyster shells. Just remember that oyster shells should be given to your hens on the side and not mix it with their feed. They will only eat it if they need it. Too much calcium is dangerous and should not be fed to non-laying hens.
For more information on oyster shells, check out my post: Do Chickens Need Grit and Oyster Shells?
Lack of Grit
It is very important that chickens have access to grit 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 wild foods 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 are given treats.
Granite and cherry stone are two recommended grits (this is my favorite grit from Amazon).
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.
That’s it! I hope this post about how much to feed chickens per day helped you out!