All this chicken feed stuff is getting complicated!


6 Years
Apr 16, 2013
1) Growing up, my dad always kept a flock of chickens, turkeys, guineas, etc. They were all free-range and he just gave them a couple scoops of cracked corn every day to supplement. We never had any problems, and all the animals seemed very healthy. This was just a hobby, though.

Now I have my own place, and my husband and I purchased 30 chicks about 6 weeks back. They have been on chick starter, but I am getting ready to transition them to whatever adult feed we're gonna feed them. We got a mixture of rhode island reds, barred rocks, and buff orpingtons. I'm hoping to take 10 to slaughter when they are about 18 weeks old. Out of the other 20, I'm hoping to end up with a few good laying hens (taking into account the higher mortality rate of free-range due to predators, as well as some of them ending up being roosters)

I was thinking just to feed them all a couple scoops of cracked corn a day, and they have an orchard grass hay field to mosey around in, as well as our yard and a corn field. Do you think this will be ok for both intentions (laying as well as meat)? Or do you have another reccomendation? We want the meat to be as natural as possible without breaking the bank. What's your opinion on the pesticides, GMO, etc effects of using just your typical bag of cracked corn from Tractor Supply (I think the brand name is Producer's Pride) or would I be better off getting the corn ground at our local feed mill in this regard of trying to avoid non-natural ingredients?

2) Also, I have been hearing some mixed reviews on eating roosters, like that they are tougher. I definitely don't want to waste my money, time, and energy on taking roosters to slaughter if there's a chance we won't enjoy eating them. Does anyone have an opinion on this?

Any help is SO appreciated!!!! Thanks:) -Hillary
Chickens will survive and thrive just fine free ranged and corn on side. The problem arises when it's egg laying time and your wondering why your not getting many eggs. The more chickens are allowed to forage for themselves and if that area is great foraging. which your sounds like it is, the less you'll need to spend on feed. The feed you give them though should be better than cracked corn. Starter/grower feed right up to point of lay then layer feed are nutritionally balanced for what they need.

Any meat is tough if not cooked properly. Freshly slaughtered animals should be left to set a day before cooking too. Older birds need to be cooked at lower temperatures for longer. Don't expect large breast meat from non meat birds and they obviously take longer to grow than the Cornish cross chickens from the market so are not as tender. I've a plethora of male chicks this spring so am going to try grilling up a bunch at around 13 weeks. They'll be tender but very small, cornish hen size, whole chicken per person feeding. As they age longer than this the texture is firmer due to being active and muscle but certainly not tough. The flavor is far superior too.
What EJ said. My Ozark Grandma kept her birds in a similar way, but her production was nowhere near mine. I doubt any of her birds were six pounds live weight from how she's talked. And six eggs a week from one hen? Nope. More like 4ish.

It's really not difficult to feed a grower or all-in-one type food, offer it free choice. They may not eat much at all when there's lots of forage available, and that's fine. But it'll be there when they need it. I don't get worried about different types of feed at different ages, the main difference is protein level. With free ranging, your birds will adjust their protein themselves, so really what's 2 or 4% difference in the feed? I feed everyone an all-in-one feed and offer oyster shell on the side. I don't range anymore but supplement heavily with table scraps and greens. I have healthy birds with glossy feathers that lay lots of hard shelled eggs.

As to eating the roosters, check out the meat bird section, lots of discussion there. Low and slow is the way to go. Crock pot, pressure cooker, etc.
I'm just joining in to say thank you for posting this! I grew up feeding/raising chickens the same way you mentioned, and all of these different options are getting overwhelming. Starter feed? Grower? Layer? Grit? I'm sure I'll figure it all out as I go (my chicks are less than 2 weeks and still in a brooder) but it seems the more information I read the more confused I get.
Lots of good advice on this thread. We have good forage for our chickens once the weather warms up, along with a lot of acreage. Some properties have very little food for a chicken or only in some seasons. I keep feed available all the time. They prefer to forage and will eat only what they need.

The only thing you shouldn't do is feed a layer feed to chickens that aren't laying, especially young chicks. It has more calcium in it and is hard on the kidneys. Any of the other feeds are fine. Starter, grower, starter/grower or an all flock/mixed flock feed will all work. People have preferences, but you won't go horribly wrong with any of them.

If you don't feed a layer feed to chickens that have started laying, make sure you supply a source of calcium. Oyster shell is the most common.
I have a question about feeding my birds that I was hoping I could get some help with.
I have some birds that will be ready to go on layer feed two to three weeks ahead of some of my other birds. I was wondering if I put out both kinds of feed the chick starter and the layer feed if that would be ok? I don't want to hurt the younger ones but my DH said he is not building another pen. So I am at odds as to what to do.
Thank you
Hi Woodlandwoman , I just saw your post after I posted for help. Sorry.
So I can feed all my chickens a grower feed for the couple weeks till my other chicks catch up and then feed them layer feed!
Thanks so much for your help!
I would personally just skip the layer feed altogether and have all the birds on grower permanently. Just provide a dish of oyster shell on the side for the layers to get when they need it. Layer is not good for younger birds or any birds until they start laying, and also not good for any roosters. Mine have never had layer feed and most of them all lay good healthy eggs daily. With lots of free-ranging and access to greens, bugs, and your table scraps, it will help keep your grower feed cost down too.
Layer feed is just chicken feed with more calcium and generally a little less protein. It is made as a complete diet for frequently laying hens ONLY. I think the most important chicken food thing to know is never to feed layer to young birds. The extra calcium is very bad for them. All the other food choices are mostly personal preference. Laying birds do not NEED layer feed. There are other ways to achieve that nutrition balance if you have a mixed flock.

I personally feed a 20% protein grower to all of my birds at all life stages. This feed has a very low amount of calcium so birds of any age and roos (if I ever have any) can also eat it without issue. I put a bowl of oyster shells separate from the food so that my laying hens have that extra calcium that they would be getting with a layer. They will eat that as needed and stop eating it when they do not need it, like when they molt. This feed also has a higher protein. I grow fodder so I choose a higher protein feed that allows me to supplement their feed with sprouted grains without lowering the overall protein intake too low.

I think all of the information can seem overwhelming but it is really about a few key choices and what your personal goals are. (People tend to feel very strongly about their food choices but really you just need to do what works best for you.)

You can do what I do and feed one type of feed to everyone all the time. This would need to be a non-medicated starter or grower with the ingredients you want for your flock.WIth this method you need an separate calcium source for your layers. I personally seek out an organic, non GMO, soy free feed with a fish meal protein source. I do feel strongly about my choice here but recognize that I do pay a lot and that these ingredients are not necessary for my birds survival. There are lots of other choices in non-medicated growers and starters that are cheaper with soy protein bases.

Another simple route would be a non-medicated starter until all of your birds start laying then if you have all laying hens only can you switch to a layer.

If you prefer a medicated starter then you might want to go medicated starter for 8 weeks or so then switch to a grower and choose as the birds start laying if you want to switch to a layer or not.

Some people do a layer for their adult hens during the high laying season and then switch to a grower with less calcium during molting and winter when production is low.

I would read the labels at your feed stores. It helps to see that they aren't super different from one another. What sort of system works best for you and your routine? How much and what kind of protein do you want? Are the birds getting the right amount of calcium? I think those are the key questions.

The feed store has tons of stuff in it so it helps to know a few terms:

Scratch is grains, usually mostly corn, that you just toss out into the yard as a snack. It is not feed and you don't want to give too much because the birds will eat this instead of healthier choices.

Grit is little rocks. Chickens eat these and they collect in their gizzard and serve as "chicken teeth" to grind up food. If your chickens free range or have a large run they will find their own rocks in the dirt. If they are confined in a smaller space, like mine, you will want to provide.

I hope this helps and is not just more confusing....
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Hi countrygirl74, Thank you so much! This has had me a little worried about my younger chicks. But they do get a good bit of scraps each day. We are addicted to giving them their goodies! lol
I will have plenty of vegies and fruit as the garden and trees get ready! But they are growing by leaps and bound now! We do have lots of bugs around for them to eat.
I cannot free range them as we have to many predators here in our neck of the country. This morning I had nearly 50 buzzards trying to figure out how to get my birds already! But my dogs keep most everything else at bay.

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