Buying chicken feed can be a stressful event the first time.
Pellets, mash, medicated, unmedicated, starter, finisher, what does it all mean?
And why is there so much variation in prices?
It is enough to make you say oh, cluck it and give up!
This article helps you through the confusing world of chicken feed.
We are going to wander through the various terms used, what you should feed your chickens and how to pick the perfect feed for your chickens.
Contents and Quick Navigation
- The Best 5 Chicken Feeds
- What To Consider When Buying Chicken Feed
- Every Type Of Chicken Feed Explained
- How To Store Chicken Feed
- Frequently Asked Questions
The Best 5 Chicken Feeds
|Editor’s Picks||Brand||Our Rating|
|The Best Feed||Scratch and Peck Organic Layer Feed||4.5|
|Runner Up Feed||Prairie’s Choice Non-GMO Chicken Feed||4.4|
|Best Premium Feed||Homestead Harvest Non-GMO Layer Blend||4.0|
|Best Pellet Feed||Manna Pro Pellets||4.0|
|Most Affordable Feed||Purina Complete Layer Hen Feed||3.8|
The Best Feed: Scratch and Peck Organic Layer Feed
Scratch and Peck Organic Layer Feed is non-GMO certified and soy free. Not only can this feed be used for chickens but for ducks too. This feed is raw and unprocessed which they claim makes it nutritionally more available. This feed is grown and milled in the US and is suitable for laying flocks.
- 25lb bag suitable for a flock of up to 6 hens.
- Raw and unprocessed.
- Non GMO.
- Feed mix can be too dusty for some chickens.
Runner Up Feed: Prairie’s Choice Non-GMO Chicken Feed
Prairie’s Choice Non-GMO Chicken Feed is a great option for backyard hens. This all natural feed is organic, gluten free and non-medicated. Although the bag size is fairly small it will still be suitable for a flock of 12 chickens for around a week. If you do not want to feed your hens pellets and are looking for a certified non-GMO feed then this is a good option to consider.
- Contains Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Organic and Non GMO.
- Limited availability in some areas.
- Small bag size (only 25lbs).
- Can be dusty at the bottom of the bag.
Best Premium Feed: Homestead Harvest Non-GMO Layer Blend
Homestead Harvest Non-GMO Layer Blend is a family made feed. This feed contains a mix of corn, a variety of grains, diatomaceous earth and Omega 3 fatty acids. It also contains oyster shells which will help to make your hens’ shells harder. If you are looking for a super premium feed that is raw and unprocessed then this is the best option for you.
- No dusty mix and full of grains and corn.
- Contains Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Non GMO and organic.
- Made on a family farm.
- Very premium price tag.
Best Pellet Feed: Manna Pro Non-GMO Layer Pellets
Manna Pro Pellets is organic and certified non-GMO. Each sack comes in at 30lbs which is suitable for a flock of 12 hens for around two weeks. In addition to being organic the feed is also free from any artificial colors. This is a good option for anyone looking for a simple and complete pellet to meet their hens’ nutritional requirements.
- Nutritionally complete.
- Non GMO.
- Pellet form so easy to store.
- Processed so not suitable for those who want raw feed.
- Only comes in a 30lb bag so not suitable for larger flocks.
Most Affordable Feed: Purina Complete Layer Hen Feed
The Purina Complete Layer Hen Feed is a good option for laying hens. This feed is enhanced with marigold which will give your eggs beautiful and bright yolks. It is also enhanced with both prebiotics and probiotics which will help your chickens’ immune systems. Overall if you are looking for a well known brand and a simple yet reliable feed, this is the pick for you.
- Simple yet reliable feed.
- Contains Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Enhanced with marigold to give brighter yolks.
- 40lb bag suitable for a flock of up to 12 hens.
- Feed mix and be dusty at times.
What To Consider When Buying Chicken Feed
There are a few things to consider before you buy chicken feed.
How much does it cost? Does it give value for money? And will your chickens eat it?
Broadly speaking most of the big brands cost the same within a dollar or so. If you choose to use a smaller supplier, or a local mill, then the feed is going to cost you more. Also if you choose to be organic then that too will cost a significant amount more. Just remember that the most expensive is not necessarily the best. Spend some time comparing the nutritional content and price per pound.
You also need to consider if the supplier is nationwide. Some of the smaller suppliers are regional only, so the feed may only be available to you if you live locally or want to pay for it to be shipped (which can be a huge expense).
Chickens are usually not too fussy about what they eat. However if you decide to change brands they can sometimes be reluctant to eat the new feed. If you want to change feed you should buy a small quantity first to see if your birds will eat it.
Finally, consider value for money. This can be a bit subjective but one way that you could be overpaying is in poundage. You should check the weight of the feed you buy. Most bags will be 50lbs but some other feeds only give you a 40lb bag for roughly the same price.
Basic Feed Needs
On each bag of chicken feed you should find either a paper tag or a table that contains all of the nutrients available in the feed and what the composition of the food is.
Chickens require certain things in their feed to maintain or promote growth and good health.
Protein is always the first ingredient. How much protein will depend on the age and requirement of the chicken. For example, a chick requires 20% while a laying hen requires 16% protein.
Other nutrients required are:
- Vitamins: A, D3 and B12 plus others.
- Trace mineral elements: calcium, copper and phosphorus plus others.
- Amino acids: methionine and lysine.
- Enzymes to aid with digestion.
- Fat is also required in small amounts.
You should always check the feed label to make sure it meets the basic nutritional needs of your backyard chickens.
Every Type Of Chicken Feed Explained
Types Of Feed
Mash is usually finely ground feed that is suitable for chicks. You add water to it and mix it to an oatmeal consistency. Mash is usually considered a little bit superior to other feed because often small companies make these feeds using local produce which may have better nutrition. The biggest problem with dry mash is that the birds tend to flick it all over the place.
Crumble is small pieces of feed that are suitable for chicks. You can give it dry or you can mix it with water and make a wet mash out of it.
Pellets are small bite sized pieces of feed. They are the most popular option for most flock keepers and are suitable for all adult birds.
Age Related Feed
There are several different types of feed for poultry at specific ages. We will go through them individually, but my advice is to not get overwhelmed by the sheer choice available.
As its name suggests, this is the feed to start baby chicks on. This is usually very high in protein 20-24% and should only be used in weeks 1-6 because of the high protein. Protein in this quantity can cause liver damage later in life.
Many flock keepers bypass the starter feed and go directly to grower feed. It is 20% protein and can be used from week 1-18. The benefits of using this feed is that you do not have to change out the feeds as you inevitably end up with leftover starter feed after week 6.
Once the chicks have reached week 18 you can start to transition them to layer feed. This contains 16% protein and is suitable for adult chickens.
This feed is 22% protein and is enhanced with all sorts of amino acids and other nutrients to help your meat birds put muscle on. Meat birds are usually culled by 10 weeks at the latest and they should stay on this feed until that time.
The name says it all. This is specially formulated to provide adequate nutrition to a wide range of fowl including: chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese, pheasants and guinea hens. While it does a good job of meeting all basic needs, you may need to add supplemental vitamins or minerals for a particular species – such as ducks.
You should put a separate dish of oyster shell in the run. Always offer free choice since some hens will not want it and too much calcium can be a bad thing over time. This is the most important supplement for your chickens.
Grit will help your chickens to grind up and digest their food – it is essential in aiding digestion in chickens. Adult birds that free range rarely need grit but if you are keeping your chickens penned then they will need grit to help digestion.
Scratch grains is a mix of grains and cracked corn. It is only around 9% protein so should never be used as a feed substitute. You can give a handful of scratch at night as a treat for your flock.
Cracked corn is a treat to be used in a similar fashion to scratch.
Other Feed Terms
Medicated feed is feed that has been treated with a coccidiostat. This can be fed to chicks to help prevent coccidiosis.
Unmedicated or plain feed has not been treated with a coccidiostat. If your chicks have already been vaccinated against coccidiosis then you can feed them plain unmedicated feed.
Chickens are naturally omnivores which means they will eat almost anything including meat.
If you are raising strictly vegetarian chickens then you may want to use this feed but otherwise it has no real benefit to the birds.
Organic feed is made with only organic ingredients. Generally this is a personal preference and this feed is often very expensive to buy and can be difficult to find.
Omega 3 Rich
Omega 3 fatty acids are an important part of their diet. It is also thought that eggs rich in omega 3 are healthier too. Because of this you can now find feed that has been enhanced with omega 3 fatty acids.
Chicken feed that contains soy is generally not organic. Also chickens cannot process soy very well and in sufficient amounts soy can produce a range of mineral deficiencies in chickens. Because of this people generally prefer soy free feed.
How To Store Chicken Feed
Storing your chicken feed correctly will help it stay fresher longer and also keep the vermin out.
Keeping mice and rats out of the feed is important to prevent disease. Mice and rats will pee and poop in the feed which creates the possibility of transferring disease to your chickens.
It is also important to keep your feed dry and fresh. Moldy feed can grow fungi like aspergillosis which can kill your chickens. This is why it is important to not hoard feed as it will deteriorate and become a problem.
Your chicken feed should be kept cool and dry.
The best option is a metal bin with a fastened and heavy lid.
You can use plastic totes but sometimes vermin will chew through the plastic. It depends on how much vermin you have in your local area. Those suffering with lots of vermin should use a metal bin.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does a chicken eat per day?
A standard sized chicken will eat about a ¼lb of feed per day.
This is around 1.75lb of feed each week per chicken.
How much chicken feed should I buy?
You should buy enough to feed your flock for about two to four weeks.
Keeping feed any longer than 4 weeks means it can get moldy and go bad.
How long does chicken feed last before it goes bad?
Most chicken feed will last around 4 weeks from when you first open it. Ten standard chickens will eat around 15lb of feed in one week or 60lb in one month.
Just remember that with chicken feed you often get what you pay for.
If you want non-GMO certified feed then you are going to have to pay for it. If you are not so fussed about non-GMO and simply want to give your chickens a nutritious feed, then there are many cheaper feeds that will serve you quite nicely.
Hopefully after reading this article it is now a little easier to understand all the lingo used by the manufacturers.
We hope that you find it helpful in your search for the perfect feed for your chickens.
Let us know in the comments section below which feed you use…
Our readers support us. This means when you buy via certain links on our website we can earn a small referral commission (learn more here).