The type of chicken feed that is best for your flock depends on the breed, age, and purpose. While cost is always a factor, quality is just as important. Better feeds result in good growth, health, and quality of meat and eggs.
Higher protein feeds result in faster growth rates so if you want to butcher on a schedule then more inputs earlier on will give you that growth. Younger chicken is more tender than older so getting a lot of growth early on can be desirable.
I have categorized the best types of feed by purpose and age. While some specific brands are mentioned, feed availability and brands vary a lot based on your region and if you are living in or out of the city. This article is meant to give you an idea of what to look for when you go to your local feed store.
1. Egg Layers
If eggs are your primary focus then a layer ration is the standard and all your chickens really need.
However, if you want dark egg yolks like you see when you buy free range eggs then you will need to supplement by throwing in some fresh greens or getting a higher grade of layer ration that is made to produce eggs that are higher in Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Flaxseed is one of the more common ingredients in feeds designed to produce more nutritious eggs.
2. Meat Birds
I don’t care how much free range a chicken has, they grow really slow without the use of high protein feeds. If you want the fastest growth then you will always feed 20-24% grower rations. Game Bird feeds as the Purina described in the chick section below offers good nutrition without medications being added.
These feeds are not cheap to buy. The higher the protein the more you can expect to pay per bag of feed. Sometimes buying a dozen or more bags at once will result in a discount. Raising meat birds takes a lot of feed so while you may take a week to get through that first bag or two, the next two weeks you might see consumption double or even triple.
Have more feeders on hand than you think you will need in order to avoid too much competition and fighting for food.
A Note To Those Ranging Giant White Cornish Crosses
If you are raising the traditionally mass raised white broiler birds then you need to make sure to feed them as much 20-24% protein feed as they want for maximum growth. If you try to grow them slowly you will be sorely disappointed.
These chickens have been bred to gain a lot of weight fast and if you don’t use feed with 20-24% protein they will be stunted and you will have a lot more money into raising each bird at butcher time. Make sure to see that you have a source of feed in this protein range before getting these birds.
Also, if you are above 5,000 feet in elevation this is not a good breed because they can have respiratory issues at very high elevations. At the same time, you need to be aware of too fast a growth rate in these birds as well. I have seen cases where Cornish crosses grow so quickly that their legs cannot support them and they cannot ever walk properly and sometimes cannot get around enough to live to be full size.
3. Chicks For Meat or Eggs
20-24% Protein Starter Ration
Chicks need a starter ration. This is a finer ground feed that their little beaks can manage to get up. For larger broiler breeds of chicken, the 24% protein feed is the way to go. This can be hard to find at some feed stores especially in unmedicated form.
When my husband and I were raising broilers, we would buy the Game Bird Chow from Purina. It is made for feeding pheasants, wild ducks, and more. Tractor Supply Company has a good selection of unmedicated chick starters.
Put feed out in a shallow dish that chicks can access easily. You may have some waste during this time because chicks like to sit and sleep in feed dishes sometimes and then you get feces in the food. Dump it out as needed and refresh. You can prevent this of course by using feeds that have covers or too narrow of openings for chicks to lay in.
Non GMO and Organic Feeds
While non-GMO feeds are becoming easier to find, the price tag for organic feeds is very high and cost prohibitive for a lot of people. This is changing but not necessarily fast enough for the vast majority to be able to afford them.
I do encourage you to look through because you may have a food cooperative or farm supply that can get your feed much more reasonable than other places.
If you live near a farm that puts back grain for example then you might be able to get some grain by the ton and store it in barrels and use as needed. The grain might not be certified organic but if you know the farmers’ practices and are comfortable with them then you can save a lot and get a feed that is not Monsanto GMO corn-based.
You will find in my posts that I am very much against using feeds that are made with RoundUp Ready Corn and similar so even if you can’t go organic then try for non-GMO. The least amount of Round Up you have in your food supply, the better.
If a feed price seems too good to be true then chances are it has GMOs and/or RoundUp Ready Corn in it. Basically everything except oats, rice, and some barleys are made to be used with Round-Up.
Foraging and Recycling Food Scraps Reduces Feed Bills
When it comes to egg laying, foraging cuts down on your feed bill quite a bit sometimes. Meat birds like broilers, I think the foraging mostly improves the flavor.
Chicken tractors are a reasonable solution if you are just keeping a few chickens for eggs and are in town and cannot let your chickens run lose all the time.
You may find that you don’t compost much after you get chickens. All chickens are omnivores so any meat or vegetable leftovers can be fed to them so long as there is no chicken products in it. The reason why so many people got caught up with the vegetarian chicken feeds is that no one wants to buy chickens that have been fed products containing other chickens.
Large commercial operations have got caught doing some pretty unscrupulous things and in an industry where there is constant pressure to keep prices so low, cheap sources of feed were too good for some to pass up.
Mixing Your Own Rations
You can create your own blend of chicken feed if you like. It can be as simple as buying corn, oats, and flax seed and mixing them in various proportions. This works better if your chickens have some access to pasture and foraging and those that are not being raised for fast meat production.
Be aware of protein levels and what your flock has available to them outside. Lots of bugs, worms, etc are all sources of protein and can mean your flock will lay just fine with a lower protein ration. Custom mixes can always have some oil like Flaxseed added to boost calorie content and enhance the quality of eggs.
You may want to include a vitamin supplement in waterers for your flock if mixing your own rations just to be safe. You can get powders that are really cheap and have electrolytes and other good stuff in them. A bit of diatomaceous earth added to feeds will keep birds free of parasites.
Oyster Shell and Small Rocks
Chickens need grit to process and digest food. Free range birds usually just pick up very small bits of stone and use that. If you are concerned then some small pebbles gathered up and thrown into their cage is all that is needed. Oyster shell is sometimes added or kept out in small containers to ensure thick egg shells.
A calcium deficiency can result in eggs that don’t have shells or have very thing ones that result in spoiled eggs and low rates of hatching. A big bag of oyster shell is inexpensive and takes care of the problem quickly. Most premixed layer rations have enough calcium to prevent this but chickens that are free ranging usually don’t have any problem getting the calcium they need from the land.
Supplement and Treat Blocks
Purina and other feed makers have started making blocks that contain vitamins, nutrients, and good tasting seeds for your flock. These blocks are not outrageously expensive and do help make sure chickens are getting everything they need.
Purina Animal Nutrition Flock Block 25lb This is not something you have to have to raise your birds but it can make your birds happier and make up for any lack of minerals. A lot of people just like to have these so they can watch their chickens.
Feeding Safety: Chickens & Kids
Writing this article made me think back to my own experiences and some of the books I have read over the years. Carla Emery in the classic “
The Encyclopedia of Country Living” had a lot to say about chickens and what she said about safety is worth noting.
A large rooster can hurt an adult – let alone a child. A lot of families are keeping a few chickens in the back yard now with the relaxed rules in many towns at play so it is important to remember that even a small animal can cause harm under the right circumstances.
Teach kids to be careful around hens with chicks as they can get defensive. If a rooster shows signs of aggression after having their behavior corrected a time or two then you should butcher them. It is not worth the risk to have an aggressive rooster or pass them on to someone else.
Most old breeds of chicken are incredibly tame and calm so aggression happens infrequently. Negative traits have largely been bred out.
A Mixed Flock: Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Turkeys and More
If you are looking for rations to feed a mixed flock of birds then you need to make sure to always use unmedicated feeds.
The medications in many chick starters can kill birds like ducks, geese, and turkeys. Make sure to read labels carefully because mistakes can get made at feed stores. Starting a flock of birds takes time and money and you don’t want to have a dead or sick flock due to a feed error.
I have definitely been given the wrong feed when I first raised turkeys and only two survived. There could have been other issues at play I was not aware of but the feed issue certainly didn’t help.
Grain needs to be stored under as dry and bug-free conditions as possible. It is a good idea to have some extra feed on hand for your animals in case of bad weather or any type of emergency or situation that could disrupt supply lines or block your access to getting to the feed store.
I like the 30 gallon or larger Rubbermaid trash cans with lid for storing a few bags of feed that I want access to quickly. Larger amounts work best sealed in the barrel. Old 55 gallon juice barrels or 35-gallon plastic barrels. Having some grain storage can save you money because sometimes you can have barrels filled with grains from a hopper and save money buying in bulk.
Adding diatomaceous earth to the grain will keep bugs out and when fed to your chickens, prevent and treat any parasites they may be exposed to. Grains can keep for years when properly stored but it is a good idea to date things and rotate them out if you are storing a few years worth.
Ask Around Your Area About Feeds
Since regional feed mills and suppliers vary so much you may want to ask other flock owners in your area what they use and the results they see. It doesn’t hurt to try out various feeds either.
Chickens can have their feed switched any time and don’t require a gradual switch over like when you change your dog’s diet. Some flock owners discover their birds won’t eat some feeds as well as others and that is a deciding factor for them.
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