Feeding chickens… I get more questions on this subject than any other related to homesteading. When you’re born and raised on the farm things like this are second nature to you. To inexperienced or new chicken keepers, questions about feeding chickens can be overwhelming.
There’s so much information out there, how do you sift through it all? That’s where I come in. We’ll answer the questions I receive most often about feeding chickens and hopefully take all the apprehension away.
As you’ve often heard me quote my Papa: “There’s as many ways of gettin’ a farm job done as there’s farmers. Ya gotta be willing to listen, help, and learn from ’em, even if it’s just to see what not to do.” With this principle to guide us, we open ourselves up to learning and educating ourselves and others.
In this four-part series, I’ll share with you what I’ve learned about feeding chickens in my 35+ years of keeping these inquisitive, entertaining, productive farm animals we call the chicken.
A Childhood Story
As a girl, one of my favorite jobs was feeding chickens and gathering the eggs. I was about 8 or 9 when I experienced a day I will never forget. Granny’s feed barrel was covered by a board with a piece of scrap iron on top to weigh it down. This was to keep the critters out, of course. It was the responsibility of whoever was last in the barrel to be sure it was replaced correctly.
I didn’t do my job well this time because when I lifted the lid to get the feed (I shudder while recalling), “bam” up the sleeve of my flannel shirt ran a mouse! I ran towards the house screaming while clutching my arm. Granny thought something was killing me because of my screaming and came running.
Once I was able to blubber out what had happened, she told me to let go of my arm. It took some convincing with a serious “you better mind me” voice before I finally let go and out fell the mouse…dead! I had squeezed it to death. She told me to get the chickens tended to while making sure I understood to put the lid back on the barrel properly. She was laughing as she went back to getting breakfast. Now you know why mice and I are sworn foes.
Feeders vs. Scattering
We’ve tried several different types of feeders. We tried a plastic feeder that you fill with feed and place on the ground. It’s supposed to be waterproof, but we found moisture did get in and caused the grain in the corners to mold and sour.
We also tried steel feeders with pans attached that hang from the ceiling or roof. You fill the top with feed and it comes down into the tray. I wasn’t actually unhappy with this one, but I did notice wasted food.
If you’re like me, you hate waste of any kind. I was thinking one day, “Ya know, Granny never used a feeder and it worked for her. Why wouldn’t it work for me?”
So I called her to talk it over (boy, I would love to still be able to do this). I did some experiments to see which feeding system the chickens would prefer. I put feed out in the plastic feeder, the metal feeder, and scattered feed on the ground.
I discovered my chickens are most happy when they scratch and peck for their food. They would eat out of the feeders when they came in from free ranging if there was no feed on the ground. Mostly they left the feeders alone.
I do free range poultry and give them kitchen and garden scraps so they don’t really need grain. I do offer it as a treat when I call them in for the evening. This means I don’t use as much feed as some people. I’m actually learning about going totally grain free with poultry…that’s a work in progress.
How Much Feed Do Chickens Need?
To decide how much feed their flock needed, the old timers would scatter grain and see how much they could clean up in 30 minutes. What they ate in that amount of time is what they would feed them once a day. Most of them fed their flocks in coop or yard every evening when they came up for the night. This gave them the chance to see the flock and gave the flock an incentive to come on in.
If you prefer a measurement, I have that for you. A chicken eats 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup of feed each day. That’s 2 to 3 oz per bird. If you free range your flock, you can feed half of this in the evenings to teach them to come in for the day.
I’ve trained my chickens to come to a white bucket. I did this by using the same bucket each time I went out to feed them from the time they were chicks. They will run in from the woods when they hear me and see the white bucket no matter what time of day. After I scatter the feed, I close the yard gate and return after they roost to shut the coop.
How Much Feed For Chicks?
Of course, chicks eat considerably less than an older chicken. They need 1/8 cup or 1 oz per chick a day. Keep food constantly available for chicks the first 4 weeks. From then on, feed them twice a day. For the second feeding of the day, I take them garden or kitchen produce.
When they’re 8 weeks old, I begin to feed them adult portions of grower and garden/kitchen produce. At this age, I’m fattening up the ones who will be processed for food and making certain the ones who will be introduced into the flock as layers are a good size and in good health.
Next time, we’ll answer your questions about what type of feed I use and why and how to tell if your chickens are getting enough.
Do you have a special routine for feeding chickens? Share your experience with us.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack