Are my chickens turning into pigs?


10 Years
Apr 29, 2009
North East Missouri
We have about 20 teenage chicks and 8 babies they go threw 40 lbs every 8-10 days and they free rang all day. We have 12 layers and 1 big roo and they go threw 40 lbs every 8-10 days and they also free range all day. I was thinking we were over feeding them as they have access to food 24 hours a day. I heard that some people only feed during the day but didn't know how I would accomplish that since they are wondering out in the yard. I still think they eat to much since they free range. what do you guys think? And if they are what would I do about it?
First off, 'free ranging' is a widely abused misnomer. If they really free ranged, you wouldn't see them - they would go wild. They are simply moving around from home base in your scenario. You get one or the other, in truth. If you want to derive benefit from them for all your efforts, it should be the latter.

That many large, active birds will strip an area of succulent edibles in a fairly short time. I make it about 30 adults and some chicks, right? Once they go through an area and snag all the good stuff, they head back to the feeder more often. By this time of year, the slow bugs and juicy greens are fading - what's left is the quick and the dry.

If you really want them to derive sustenance from range feeding, then you have to manage their range rather carefully, or move it periodically.

The average chicken eats a 4-6 ounces of feed per day. Even if you low-ball it, due to the age differences and the feed they DO take from ranging, you are talking around 7 lbs or so - daily. Range feeding should in no way be viewed as a substitute for a sound and adequate feeding program. It is a supplement to it.

Like I said, "free ranging" is something of a misnomer.
The teenagers are all around 12-14 weeks. The babies are 5-8 weeks. The grown-up birds are 1 1/2 years. The babies and teenagers are on chick starter and the big girls are on layer crumbles. We go threw 80lbs of food total every ten days. They have 6 acres that they can range but they only use about half of that as 3 acres is a hay field and they tend to just skim the edges of the field.
If they free range and you are going through that much feed I think you have a problem with mice or rats or wild birds eating your feed. Do you only have feeders in the coop or outside also? You must be going broke!
We have the feeders in the coop and outside. I haven't seen any mouse droppings. But I know that means nothing. And yes we are going broke
. lol I didn't think they would eat this much. We keep a light on in their coop 24/7 to deter predators. Maybe they think they need to eat 24/7 scene it is always daytime for them. I think I'm going to step up the table scraps and maybe that will help.
I agree that there must be something else eating. Although my chickens have a light shining in their coop all night, at dusk, they are high up on their roost where they stay all night.

?? You may be the neighborhood Cafe.
I'm gonna harp just a bit more on the whole free range concept, and then I'll leave it to you guys.

Please don't assume that because a bird "free ranges," that it will ignore the feed trough. Or that you can cut back on the feed wholesale. You do the bird a disservice by doing that.

Birds have massive appetites and high metabolic rates. Unless you analyze your range to learn just what IS there, you musn't adopt the blanket expectation that they can sustain themselves on it. Even if they could, it is finite. Their own actions upon the land will eventually net a diminished return.

We want them to "run free and feed themselves," because we love the idyllic. And to a limited extent they can. But fact and fiction must be separated in this case.

For a moment, lets look back a century or so to the heydey of range rearing. In the early 1900's, ranging was considered an integral part of the feed scheme. That they were so good at it is testimony that they knew what they were doing,
But it was only part of an overall scheme to feed their birds with purpose. It was NEVER considered the staple part of the diet.
Where chickens were range reared, the range itself it was carefully controlled - what grew there was as critical as what birds were kept upon it. And insects weren't the primary concern, either.
Rather, the range was considered a source of green feed. Whatever bugs came along were just icing on the cake. Just as with cows or horses, the range was rigorously maintained. There was nothing haphazard about it

Keep in mind, I'm talking about the practices of people who made their livlihood from ranging their birds. They kept the regional markets of the West and North East full of eggs and poultry meat, wherever a rail line could reach. Needless to say, they had much at stake and this wasn't guesswork or pie in the sky for them - these folks knew their business when it came to range feeding.

Now, jump forward to today. Some few people remember these Golden Age range managers, but most do not. They just throw open the gate and shout to the sky, "Be Free, You Chickens and Run Amok!"
As one might guess from the foregoing, there is a distortion between what is best for the chickens and what we believe.

So, when one 'free ranges' their birds today, there is the very good possibility that they are actually hungrier for their forays afield. We think that they are out in what is the equivalent of a "chicken diner," but again, there is no guarantee of that.

Like all animals, chickens dont want to work any harder than they have to. In fact, if they are all over the place "free ranging" their little legs off - chances are good they are hustling hard to scramble up anything edible at all.

At this time of year, the slow, succulent stuff is drying up. Spring turns to summer as it must, and the biomass of the range changes. This means they tend to find less in the way of dense nutrition and what they do find, they have to work harder for. Subsequently, their energy usage skyrockets.

Considering all of the above, they are probably famished when they get back from ranging. This of course means that your feed usage stays high. The paradox is that if you want to keep your feed consumption down - keep them close to home. Weird, huh?

Now, there may indeed be some freeloaders around the feed trough. Wild birds and mice can account for some loss, no doubt. But they don't eat much, frankly. Mice are more about spoilage and disease and wild birds, well... if you had enough of these scavengers to materially affect your feed consumption, you would probably be run out of the house by them!

In the final analysis, I would be more inclined to think that the chickens are simply eating their own they should.
Last edited:
I agree with Davaroo, but also suspect you might have thieves. You have about twice as many chickens as we have, but they are eating considerably more than twice as much food as ours.... But ours get lots of kitchen scraps, and hang around the compost bins all day, so it's possible that that accounts for much of the difference.

Birds running around "free ranging" will burn off many more calories than those in close confinement, so I would not expect those "wild" foods to offset their need for processed feed very much. But, they will be much happier and healthier.

I doubt that removing the feed at night will accomplish anything other than making more work for you. They sleep at night. Turning out the light might reduce food intake somewhat, but then they won't lay as much. So, you'll be putting less into them, but getting less out of them. Not that that is a bad thing - we don't use a light simply because I like the idea of raising them under more natural conditions.

Unfortunately, the best answer, if they are eating you out of house and home, might be to keep fewer chickens.

Oh, and you didnt' mention what breed(s) they are. That could have something to do with it.
our 35 birds all under 13 weeks old, wipe out a 40# bag in about 5 days! They eat more than our german sheperd and 2 westies combined! I feed them twice a day, and watch them eat, (I find it very entertaining..) and not to mention all the special treats! They would go through a gallon of yogurt if I let them! I can't keep bread in the house, my kids are constantly sneaking them out a few pieces here and their. They're eatin' machines!

New posts New threads Active threads

Top Bottom