Demystifying The Backyard Chicken Diet

Demystifying The Backyard Chicken Diet

A lot of people go into raising backyard chickens with the assumption that you need expensive equipment and fancy contraptions in order to have happy and healthy chickens. That isn’t the case at all. Raising backyard chickens couldn’t be easier because all your chicks need is food, water, and a place to get out of the weather (shelter).

Today, we are going to be talking about the backyard chicken’s diet and what to feed chickens if you want healthy and delicious eggs and meat.

Understanding A Chicken’s Nutritional Needs

Chickens are foragers, but they are also omnivores. This means that not only do chickens eat whatever feed you throw out for them, they also hunt for worms and small insects while out in the yard.

Chickens Eating

What a lot of people don’t realize is that if you want large, tasty eggs, you have to make sure your chickens get the right nutrients. Not only do you have to give them the right nutrients, but you also have to take into consideration the age of the chicken, whether they are a laying hen or a broilers, or if you have a mixed-age flock.

Feeding Chicks

In the first six weeks of raising chicks, you’re going to give them a starter ration that is between 18 to 20% protein for future laying hens. If you’re raising chicks that will eventually become meat birds, you’ll want to give them rations that are between 22 to 24% protein.

The food for chicks is available in medicated formulas and non-medicated. The medicated formula includes a very small amount of anti-coccidiosis drug called amprolium. Please keep in mind that this drug doesn’t mean the chick is immune from contracting coccidiosis, it just means they are at a lower risk.

Medicated Vs Non-Medicated

Commercial hatcheries will often given their chicks medicated food because the little chicks are raised in cramped spaces that doesn’t get cleaned regularly. In most cases, the average person raising backyard chickens will never need to give their chicks medicated food for a few reasons:

  • You’re hatching less than 50 chicks at a time
  • Your chicks have plenty of space to move around
  • You keep their pen clean and there aren’t any piles of droppings everywhere

We want to note that if you’ve purchased your chicks from a hatchery, you’ll want to check to make sure what kind of food they’ve been given (medicated or non), but also if the chicks were vaccinated. If they were vaccinated and you give them medicated food “just to be safe,” you could nullify the vaccine, thus putting the flock at risk of contracting the disease.

Feeding Laying Hens

If you’ve got a few laying hens, you’re going to want to give them food that has enough calcium (about 20 grams) in it to help the hen lay eggs with thick shells. While it’s true that a hen already has calcium reserves in their bodies, if they don’t get enough calcium from their diet, it could result in soft shelled eggs, or worse, they could stop laying eggs all together.

You can give hens a balanced layer feed or you could give them a high quality “all flock” feed. If you go with the all flock feed, you’ll need to add a calcium supplement like oyster shells or grit on the side, never mixed into the food.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that laying hens need 5 ounces of food and 10 ounces of water to make just one egg, so it’s important your hens have plenty of food and clean water.

Feeding Broilers

If you’re raising broilers, you don’t want to give them the same calcium-rich feed you’re giving laying hens because it could result in gout and kidney damage. For these birds, you’re going to need a lot of food because these little buggers can eat a lot!

Chickens Feeding Broilers

Did you know that when you’re feeding chickens that will one day become dinner, you’re going to need to give them 2 pounds of feed for every 1 pound of meat? It’s recommended that for the first 2 to 3 weeks, you give meat birds unlimited access to feed.

Then you will feed them on a 12-hour cycle (meaning you will wait 12 hours in between feeding times) until they’ve reached slaughter weight.

Feeding Cockerels And Non-Laying Hens

Cockerels, non-laying hens, and mixed-age flocks don’t have special dietary requirements. You can give them “all flock” feed and they’ll be perfectly happy and healthy.

What To Avoid When Feeding Chickens

When you’re trying to have healthy chickens, what you feed them is incredibly important. Not only is it important to give them good quality food, you should also avoid these common mistakes:

  • Giving chickens mold or dusty feed, which could put stress on the chicken’s lungs
  • Switching feed brands, which can change egg quality and consistency
  • Not giving chickens feed with the proper nutrients during the winter

Fortunately, chickens aren’t picky eaters and you can supplement their feed with table scraps (both the meat and vegetables). With that said, there are some foods that you shouldn’t give them. These foods include:

Dry/Raw Beans

Dried beans contains a deadly toxin called phytohaemagglutinin. A chicken can become gravely ill only after eating three or four of these beans. Once the bean has been ingested, there’s nothing that can be done because the toxins spreads through the birds body very quickly.

Moldy Food

Not only should you not give your chickens moldy feed, you shouldn’t give them any kind of mold. Period. If you wouldn’t eat it, why should your chicken?


Some people will say that you can give a chicken the flesh of the avocado only in small amounts. We recommend steering clear of the avocado all together because there is a toxin called persin. When in large doses, the persin could cause heart problems in the bird which could lead to death within 48 hours.

Green Potatoes And Tomatoes

If you want to give your chickens potatoes or tomatoes, you have to make sure there isn’t any green on them, as the green contains toxins called solanin and chaconine, both of which are highly toxic.

Potatoes Around Small Chickens


This is a no-brainer. If your pup can’t each chocolate, neither should your chickens because the caffeine can be highly toxic. Top that off with the theobromine element, which is also dangerous.

Final Thoughts

Raising backyard chickens is a fantastic way to get fresh, organic eggs and poultry. It’s always nice to know what kind of food your animals are eating, especially when you intend on eating them (or their eggs) later on.

For those who have asked, “What do you feed chickens,” we hope this guide was useful. Leave us a comment below if you have any questions you may have about feeding chickens – we’re always happy to help!