Feed, grit, DE help for newbie


In the Brooder
10 Years
Feb 6, 2009
Here's my future situation, and after I've read so many posts here, I thought I'd post this of my own-THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS FORUM! Our chicks are only a week old now, so I'm just trying to get things in my mind now.

1) We have an 8x14 coop with their nesting boxes, windows and a roost. There also is a door that they can go out.

2) They will have an outdoor pen and free access during the day and if weather permits, out everyday. I live in NE, so they may not go out during winter storms, etc.

3) They are all pullets that we're raising for eggs. 21 of the, 7 different breeds. Currently on medicated chicken starter.

Now the questions...

1) When to start the grit? Or will they need since they will have outdoor access? And if I do, can I put a pan of it in their coop?

2) DE, is it the same as oyster shells, as I know it says it is shell? I plan to put it in the nesting boxes, outdoor on the ground and maybe on the coop floor too. Do I mix in with their feed or a seperate pan?

3) Diet, I'd like to think I can free range them outside of their pen, but have safety concerns. I'd like to avoid pellets and use what I have on the farm-corn, grasses, alfalfa, left over food-vegis, fruits, breads, etc. Advice here. Do I need to supplement and keep pellets on hand and available?

Thanks everyone!!!
I have about the same questions. We will be getting 51 day old chicks (BO, Araucana) the end of April. How long do we need to feed the medicated starter? I've read several places that say the yogurt and treats start after the first week. When do we start the egg layer food? When we start seeing pullet eggs?
Sooo many questions..............
Thanks for all your help.
My advice:

1. I don't give mine grit because they have access to the outside world and peck and pick up what they need.

2. I have always used DE as a supplement to their feed. Just a few spoonfuls mixed in and stirred well. It coats their feed and makes it look like powdered donuts!! I also mix DE in the shavings in their coop. Keeps mites and ants away for us. I love DE. We use it in all of our critters feed. Even the cats and dogs get their daily DE serving in their food.

3. I've heard of folks who never buy chicken feed. That free ranging and leftovers from the kitchen keep their chickens well fed. I give mine just about everything. They get scraps, 16% layer feed and they free range alot. Whatever works for you will work for them. Chickens are really alot easier to care for than most people think. I was like you and worried alot in the beginning....now I just go with the flow!!!

Good luck with your babies. Sounds like you are off to a good start!!.

Pullet eggs usually start around 20 weeks or so. It really depends on the breed. I would start layer feed at arond 16-18 weeks.
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DE I don't think would be a good source of calcium for adult birds. It's made from silica (sand based). Oyster shell is good in a pan for hens if you don't use layer rations (calcium already added to feed). I feed my chicks chick-grit when I started feeding them other things than the bagged feed. When I got my very first chicks I used old sand from our pool filter since I couldn't find chick grit!

I envy you in that you can provide so naturally for your birds from the farm but you might to add some sort of supplement so they can have the vitamin/mineral balance that birds need to thrive. I've bought kicking chicken and immuno charge before. I use those in the summer when they seem to eat less bagged feed since they spend more time freeranging.

There's another interesting thread going on right now about amounts of protein. There are as many opinions as there are members. I try to remind myself 100 years ago, chickens were just fine on the farm living under the horse bucket.

Hope this helps!
Colby in KY
Starter until 10 weeks of age
Grower/finisher until 18 weeks of age
after 18 weeks layer or breeder feed depending on if you want to hatch out your own chicks (or not)

Production layers (leghorns, etc) will start laying at 20-24 weeks of age
Dual purpose - what I have - will start laying after 24 weeks of age. They flesh out their bodies more.

Chicks love yogurt, but don't give more than 5 minutes worth or they'll get the runs. Cleaning poopy butt is not fun!

Treats are great. We put them in the food processor for the chicks. Cukes and carrots and stuff. Give grit before giving them big people food.
DE is diatomaceous earth. As far as I know, it's not a calcium supplement.
If you buy food grade DE, it can be used (according to directions) in the feed. It helps prevent parasites in chickens and other animals. It can also be used in the coop to prevent mites, ants, and other insects. You can read up on DE on the internet or do a search here on BYC.
They are supposed to have a starter/grower feed til they start laying, then layer mash or pellets. They need little if any grit if they free range. They do not need oyster shell (for calcium, for good eggshells) if they get layer feed, as far as I can tell; mine have never had any available, and the eggshells are certainly not thin or weak. I have read that you can also feed grower plus oyster shell to laying hens. I am afraid not to offer a feed (starter/grower/layer, as indicated) as I want to be sure that what they need is available to them. My 5 hens free range in my yard and the woods. They have layer pellets available, but they eat very little of the pellets, maybe 2 or 3 lbs. a week or less, I don't keep track; mostly they find their own food, even in the winter, but I live in the South. They go out every day, even in the rain, though they will go back to the coop during a really heavy rain or for part of the day if it is well below freezing. We only get snow once every 10 or 15 years. The grass is brown around here now, but there are plenty of bugs and some green plants all year. I give a few treats but small quantities only (a handful of grated cheese in a day, for example, or a handful of scratch feed.) I bought one small bag of grit (about $4-$5 for a quart or so) about 6 months ago. I offer both layer pellets and grit free choice. They do take a little grit once in a while, but the original small bag is not gone yet.

So, offering layer pellets and grit gives me peace of mind, but I won't contend that either is necessary for them in this environment.

DE is not a calcium supplement or a food. It is used to prevent parasites, such as mites and worms, as a food supplement or as a dust for the birds or their coop. Please read here carefully before you decide whether to use it. It is expensive, and the wrong kind will kill them. The right kind is also called fossil shell flour. It kills bugs by scratching their exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate. I do use it, because free ranging birds are exposed to mites from wild birds, but I will not claim it is necessary or even effective. (One person here said, if you have chickens, you have mites.) I do feel it has controlled mites by using it as a dust. I "powder" them every few weeks with it, when they are on the roost, mostly around their vents and under their wings, plus I add a little to the layer pellets, and sprinkle it around the coop, where they are confined at night. I wear gloves to do the powdering, and it is advised to wear a mask when handling DE. I've lost chickens to predators, but none to disease/parasites that I know of. I bought one bag of fossil shell flour online about a year ago, I think a 25# bag, and still have over half of it.

I also have about 50 hatchery chicks that are about two weeks old, and I also use the medicated starter for them, along with some DE.

There is an amazing amount of information on this site. You can find many answers with the "search" feature, and people will step up and answer if you can't find something. I have spent many hours reading through old posts in some of the sections.

Good luck!
Truly free ranging chickens will adjust their own diet as needed. My chickens will go for treats, but will stop eating them and go for some grass or back to looking for bugs on their own. I have pellets available for them; it stays in the coop and it's more incase I let them out a little late in the morning. A dozen chickens go through about a cup of feed a week!

Oyster Shell- available free choice. This is especially important since they don't eat much layer feed. They need their calcium for eggs.

Grit- They get it free ranging. No need for extra.

DE- I use it in their coop, mixed in their feed, and spread it in their favorite dustbathing areas (a flour sifter works great to get it spread nice). Remember that DE kills both good and bad bugs- so I don't use it near my garden and flowers. I want the bees to be OK.

I also use orange oil on the coop roots. I've also mixed the orange oil with DE and "painted" it on interior walls of coops.

I make sure they have sunflower seeds availble aslo- especially during molt.

Good Luck.

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