What and When to Feed Your Chicks
By Lisa Steele, Blue Seal Brand Ambassador
Baby chicks are much like our own babies. They don’t really stick to a regular schedule and instead eat when they’re hungry, sleep when they’re tired and play and poop in between. Feed and clean water should be available 24/7 for chicks until they are about eight weeks old and ready to go outside, at which time they can be fed at sunrise and then again before dusk, with no feed or water available to them at night.
Hatch – 8 Weeks
Baby chicks need to be fed chick starter feed, like Blue Seal’s Home Fresh Starter. Chicks love it! Higher in protein than other feed formulations, this formula provides chicks with all the nutrients they need for their growing bodies. It’s a smaller-sized crumbled feed so it’s easy for chicks to handle.
Treats at this age should be limited. Chopped fresh herbs or weeds, some raw rolled oats or scrambled eggs are about all I offer to baby chicks. Filling a dish with coarse dirt or chick grit is essential if they are eating anything other than chick feed, and sprinkling some probiotic powder, garlic powder and brewer’s yeast on the feed will provide them natural supplements that are beneficial to their immune and digestive health.
8 through 20 Weeks
Female chicks are referred to as pullets, and should be given grower feed (Home Fresh Grow and Show). A bit lower in protein, it will sustain their moderated growth until they get to laying age. At this point, more varied treats can be offered, including fresh fruit and vegetables, berries, whole grains, seeds and the like. Grit still needs to be available to them as well as fresh water any time feed is being offered.
Around 20 weeks, pullets will be approaching laying age and should be switched to layer feed (Home Fresh Extra Egg). This feed generally has 16-18% protein and also includes added calcium, which laying hens need to make nice strong shells and produce the contractions necessary to lay their eggs.
I continue with the supplements, grit (now providing them a dust bath in the run that has plenty of small stones to act as grit) and also a small container of crushed oyster shells or eggshells. Various layers need more or less calcium in their diet, so offering it free-choice ensures that each hen gets as much or as little as she needs.
Chickens shouldn’t be fed layer feed until they are close to laying age because the added calcium in younger chickens can lead to kidney stones later in life. Mixed flocks, (layers co-existing with pullets or non-layers), should be fed grower feed until the youngest flock members reach 20 weeks, at which point the whole flock can be switched back over to the layer feed.
If laying hens don’t get enough calcium in their diet, they will leach it from their bones, so putting out supplemental calcium for layers at all times is critical.
Roosters in a flock of laying hens can be fed layer feed, but if you have a flock that consists only of roosters, or older hens that aren’t laying any longer, you can feed them grower feed since they don’t need any additional calcium.
Feeding inside the coop makes a mess and attracts flies and rodents, so instead, feeding outside under a covered area and then taking up any excess feed at night is recommended. An adult hen eats about ½ cup (4 ounces) of feed a day, so rationing out the feed in the morning and then topping off feeders in later afternoon if necessary leads to less feed waste.
Treats for adult chickens should be limited to no more than 10% of their total diet and given in the afternoon after they’ve filled up on their regular feed. Treats should consist mostly of healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seeds, fish and meat scraps.
Lisa Steele is a 5th generation chicken keeper, author, DIYer and master gardener. Follow her blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com.