9 Types of Chicken Feed Explained
Domesticated animals depend on their owners for many basic needs: shelter, warmth, protection from predators, water, and of course, food. In order to stay healthy and productive, chickens require a diet that properly balances several essential nutrients.
This is partly because they have been selectively bred over the centuries for egg and meat production.1 This diet requires a fairly involved process of blending various grains and other ingredients. While you could literally make your own chicken feed from “scratch" (pun intended), this can be challenging. Many chicken owners prefer to use a commercially produced feed designed to provide a healthy and well-rounded diet for their flock. This is known as a “complete" feed, and there are several different variations available.
Types of Chicken Feed
The age of your chickens will play a large part in what type of feed you need. There are three main types: chick starter, grower, and layer feeds.
Kittens, puppies, humans—they all start off life eating a different kind of food than they end up eating later in life. So what do you feed baby chicks? For about the first six weeks of life, you likely want to keep them on a “chick starter" feed that contains a higher amount of protein (for growing babies) but not so much calcium since they aren't laying eggs yet.
Got a clutch of chicks that are growing well and are six weeks old? It's probably time to switch them to the next formula, called a “grower" or “developer" feed. This contains less protein than starter feed (about 15 percent versus about 20 percent).2
When chickens reach egg-laying age—about 18 to 20 weeks old—they're ready to switch to a layer feed that contains even less protein but some extra calcium for proper eggshell development.3
Styles of Chicken Feed
In addition to the type of feed, you'll discover variations in how the feed is presented—that is, what form it takes. Just as you can have a choice of consuming a potato in the form of French fries, baked, mashed, or chips, you also have various options with chicken feed. Some of these include pellets, crumbles, and mash.
If you're familiar with other types of animal feeds—like those for horses or rabbits—you're probably familiar with pelleted feed. Pellets are small, cylinder-shaped, baked, hardened, and ready to serve. They contain the essential nutrients for that specific phase of your chicken's life. Pellets are easy to feed and, just as important, easy to store.
Pellets meet crumbles. Crumbles, pellets. The two are basically the same feed. Crumbles are simply pellets that haven't been, well, pelleted. How do you know which to choose? It comes down to personal preference—both yours and your hens'! Perhaps your flock likes the consistency of one over the other, but nutritionally, the types should be identical.
Finally, you can feed your flock a complete feed that isn't baked into a shape at all but is just the loose, ground ingredients. You can even make it into a "porridge" if you'd like. Mash is less expensive than the other two types, but not as convenient to feed or store.
Other types of chicken feeds
There are other types of chicken feed to consider that go beyond life stage and shape.
If you're interested in raising chickens organically, consider looking at organic options for feed. While possibly more expensive, organic chicken feed offers some potential advantages, such as being grown with fewer agricultural chemicals.
Commercially produced medicated feeds are available that can protect against common chicken diseases.
“Scratch" is a feed designed to keep your chickens from becoming bored, but provides less nutritional value. Since it lacks key nutrients, chicken scratch shouldn't be fed exclusively; instead, think of it more as a treat. Scratch is basically one or more grains like wheat, oats, or corn that chickens find appealing to eat, but it shouldn't be overfed. Be sure it makes up no more than 10 percent of the flock's diet.
There is more than one type of feed to give to your chickens. Now you can be confident you can find a type that fits your lifestyle and provides them with the nutrition they need.
1. Urquhart, Kristina Mercedes. Hobby Farms. “5 Key Aspects of Feeding Chickens," https://www.hobbyfarms.com/feeding-chickens-feed-tips/
2 Jacob, Jacquie. The Poultry Extension. “Feeding Chickens For Egg Production in Small and Backyard Flocks," https://poultry.extension.org/articles/feeds-and-feeding-of-poultry/feeding-chickens-for-egg-production/
3. Hermes, James. Pacific Northwest Extension. “How to Feed Your Laying Hens," https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/catalog/files/project/pdf/pnw477.pdf