free range eating for chicks

old biddy

12 Years
Sep 30, 2010
Lamont, Florida
Over the past three years I have raised two flocks of chickens from chicks. All my chickens (14) are free range, though I lock them up in the henhouse at night for safety. In the morning I put fresh layer pellets and crumbles in a feeder and throw out some corn for them to fight over, but mostly they are out and about and all around the farm doing whatever they please. I give them a little thrown out corn late in the day. They are happy and healthy chickens!

Now I have a hen that will hatch out chicks any day now. Her nest is safe and secure inside the hen house and she is locked up at night like the other chickens...and is free to come and go during the day. I have decided to let this laying hen take over and do it the old fashioned way - without my help! My question though, is

1. Will it hurt the chicks if they get into some of the layer pellets and cracked corn?

2. I have feed that is in crumbles but it is not chick starter - is not feeding them chick starter putting them at a disadvantage?

3. Will the mother hen instinctively know what to teach them to eat and what not to eat as it relates to the layer feed?

I know I can feed them chick starter, but that would mean keeping them penned up (building a new pen - not able to do this right now) to keep the layer hens from eating the chick starter. I'm trying to keep this simple. Suggestions?
I think one of the problems that people have with broodies raising chicks is the older flock not letting the chicks eat.

I have heard of people who have a feeder that is protected from the big chickens, but lets the chicks get to it to eat. I think it was my aunt who built one that was just a 2'x2' box, framed with old 2x2 lumber and covered in chicken wire. The chicken wire didn't go all the way to the ground, it was open at the bottom about 5" or so for the chicks to go in. The chick starter was in a feeder in there. It was also a safe place for the chicks to go when the top chicken got her tail feathers twisted and decided to attack the chicks.
There are plenty of studies out there that clearly show chicks that eat too much calcium, like in Layer, can develop health problems, some of them fatal. Not that they all do, but that some can. And it depends on how much Layer they eat. So will letting them have access to Layer pellets harm them? It can. It may not, depending on how much they eat, but it can.

I have seen a broody pick Layer feed out of a feeder to give it to her chicks. A hen will not know instinctively that the Layer is bad for them. I've also seen chicks two weeks old fly up to the big girls feeder to help themselves. If Layer is available, they will get to it.

The way I get around this is to feed them all the same feed and offer oyster shells on the side. The ones that need the calcium can get it and the others don't eat enough to do themselves any harm. I generally feed Grower but it depends on what is available from Tractor Supply. Mine is pretty inconsistent about what feeds they offer. And you may very well find that the big girls don't eat that much oyster shell, even if they are not getting Layer. Often, they get a lot of calcium free ranging.

Will they be at a disadvantage of they don't get Starter? I don't think so with the way you plan to handle it. If I understand it right, I think you will find they don't eat that much of the commercial feed. Mama will have them out almost continuously foraging for the vast majority of what they eat. I think you will find you have some very happy, active, healthy chicks.

Good luck!
We are on our 3rd batch of hen raised babies. They always pick a tucked away spot and I encourage them to stay there by putting the small feeder and water within easy reach from chick #one until a week old. At the same time I may fence them in a small area also just so the babies can get their running legs under them.I keep a feeder of Flockraiser available and chick starter in the small one. So far so good!

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