I Need "Feeding Chickens for Dummies"


10 Years
Apr 16, 2009
Flippin, AR
I am completely confused..feeling stupid here. I got my first batch of 12 chicks March 22nd...the second batch of 30 a month later, and have been giving them the medicated starter/grower crumbles ever since.

Now my original 5 roosters are crowing and trying to tackle the hens. The big beautiful red beasts will be in the freezer by nightfall.

A friend started me on a mix of 2 parts layer/ 1 part scratch two days ago. Is that a good thing? Should I be using a different feed for my hens now?

All these different terms...starter, grower, layer, scratch, grit, protien levels, etc... I feel so lost.

Can someone give me the EASY version to get the most meat from my roosters and the most eggs from the hens?

I had no idea it was so HARD to raise birds.
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I read this tittle and cracked up! Would make a great book.....

I was told scratch/starter until they lay their first egg and then use the laying pellets

Mine have done great with that
Ok this is right from:

It should help some......

Starter feeds
Feed newly hatched chicks a starter diet until they are about 6 weeks old. Starter diets are formulated to give proper nutrition to fast growing baby chickens. These feeds usually contain between 18 and 20 percent protein.
It is not necessary to feed "meat bird starter" to young layer chickens. Diets formulated for starting meat chickens are higher in protein (22 percent) to maximize growth, which is not necessary or desirable for egg laying chickens and is higher in cost.

Grower and developer feeds
Once the birds reach about 6 weeks of age, substitute a grower feed for the starter. Grower feeds are about 15 or 16 percent protein and are formulated to sustain good growth to maturity.
After about 14 weeks of age, you can substitute the grower feed with developer feeds if they are available. These feeds are lower in protein than grower feeds (14 to 15 percent) and are formulated to prepare young chickens for egg production. Note: These two feed types are virtually interchangeable; either one can be fed to chickens between 6 weeks of age and the beginning of egg production.

Layer and breeder feeds
Once your chickens begin laying eggs, you can choose between layer and breeder feeds. Your choice of feed at this stage depends on how the eggs will be used.
Layer feeds are formulated for chickens that are laying table eggs (those used for food). Layer feeds contain about 16 percent protein and extra calcium so the chickens will lay eggs with strong shells. Start feeding layer feeds at about 20 weeks of age or when the first egg is laid, whichever occurs first.
Breeder feeds are formulated for chickens that are producing eggs for hatching. These feeds basically are layer feeds containing slightly more protein and fortified with extra vitamins for proper chick development and hatching. However, use of breeder feeds is somewhat questionable for the small flock producer, since the increased cost may not be justified by the potentially slight increase in hatchability.
You also may give both laying and breeding chickens access to ground oyster shell. Some high-producing laying birds may require the extra calcium provided by oyster shell, even though the prepared diet is a complete feed. The need to feed oyster shell can be determined by shell quality. If eggs are laid with thin shells that are easily cracked or shells that are rough with almost a sandpaper feel, oyster shell may help to increase shell strength and quality. When feeding oyster shell, provide a separate feeder allowing free choice feeding on oyster shell.

Medicated feeds
Most commercial starter diets are medicated to prevent common yet serious diseases in chicken flocks. Medications are less common in grower or layer diets. Feeds that contain medications are labeled as such.
Check the label for warnings concerning the medication used in feeds. Withdrawal dates will be indicated on the label if there is a risk of the medication's presence in the eggs. Feed medications are highly researched and regulated, so you can be confident that the eggs are safe to eat if you follow the label instructions.
If you wish to use nonmedicated feeds, they usually are available or can be ordered. However, in some cases, mortality levels, especially in young chicks, may rise to unacceptable levels if nonmedicated feeds are fed.

Water is the single most important nutrient that chickens consume. Therefore, it is necessary to provide adequate amounts of clean, fresh water daily during growth and egg production. Chickens will drink between two and three times as much water by weight as they eat in feed. Their consumption of water increases in warm weather.

Scratch (grains)
Chickens love to scratch. They use their feet to disturb the litter or ground to find various seeds, greens, grit, or insects to eat. Feeding scratch grains can promote this behavior, which gives the birds exercise and keeps them busy. However, feeding scratch to chickens is not necessary when they are receiving a complete diet.
Scratch feeds usually are cracked, rolled, or whole grains such as corn, barley, oats, or wheat, which are relatively low in protein and high in energy or fiber depending on which grains are used. When fed in concert with prepared feeds, they dilute nutrient levels in the carefully formulated diets. Therefore, you should provide scratch sparingly. A general rule of thumb is to feed only as much scratch as the chickens can consume in about 20 minutes, or about 10 to 15 percent of their total daily food consumption.
When feeding scratch, also provide an insoluble grit so the birds can grind and digest the grains properly. If the birds have access to the ground they usually can find enough grit in the form of small rocks or pebbles. Otherwise, you can purchase grit. Oyster shell cannot be substituted for grit because it is too soft to aid in grinding.

Now with that said this is what I feed...

Starter from 1 day to 5 weeks old my starter is a medicated feed with 28% protein
Grower from 5 weeks old till they start to lay eggs my grower is 21% protein
Layer when they start to lay eggs and it has a 20% protein
Scratch Grain I dont feed till they are laying eggs and then I use a 16% protein all grain pigeon feed with corn for scratch.
Grit I start grit when I start giving scratch grain...

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Feed them age appropriate chicken feed available 24/7. Nutritionally it doesn't matter if it's mash, crumbles, or pellets but pellets have the least waste. So chick starter at first. If your store sells seperate grower you have the option of switching to that but many don't have a seperate grower so feed starter until layer. Then feed layer when they get close to or as soon as they lay their first egg. Do not mix anything with it. Aside from the fact you may not be providing proper nutrition if you mix something the chickens are quite likely to dump their feed everywhere in order to pick out the pieces they like.

Whole grains may also be placed out free choice all the time to cut down on feed costs but are best not mixed in with the chicken feed. Whole grains are not a balanced ration by themselves so they should not be forced to eat a certain amount of it unless you do your research and know exactly what ratio of everything they are getting in your mix.

Scratch is a treat and should be fed sparingly. It definitely should not be included in the feed that is out 24/7. It has little nutrition and is like giving them candy all the time. A healthier treat is black oil sunflower seeds (the ones sold for birds). These are packed full of useful vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids but also probably should not be out 24/7. They have so much fat and calories they could potentially make fat birds. They work better than corn for keeping on weight and providing energy in the winter. The birds generally also like them so well that many would overeat on them like they would scratch if you leave it out there all the time.
I'd like to add that it's not good to feed chickens layer feed before they are of laying age, as it's got too much calcium in it, which is harmful to internal organs.
ok, so what would you feed a rooster? i just saw this thread and figured this'd be a good ques to ask here. btw i was working at a feed store NO ONE has Ever asked us this, and i figure since we didnt have anything special they would just eat whatever the hens do? but say the rooswere separate, should they just get grower ration?
OK...Thank you for all the good instructions. I double checked on what feed I was given this time. It is 1 bag scratch and 2 bags meat bird feed. I hope that is OK for now. Maybe I need to add more of the meat bird feed to offset that much scratch being in it?

What age do hens start to lay?
Laying age depends on several things. Breed being one of them. Weather another. General rule of thumb seems to be at around 20 weeks. I would say no to feeding hens any kind of meat bird food. This stuff is designed to put on the lbs. I had 6 packing roos that i fed the regular start n grow. I had them processed a little early cause they were causing problems. I didn't get very meaty birds but they are still good eating. I use scratch only as a treat, about 2 handfulls for 21 birds morning and night. As far as crumbles, mash, pellets etc the terms only indicate what form the feed comes in. It's all the same otherwise. Hope this helps. Good Luck
Don't feed the scratch at all. The meat bird feed mostly just has higher protein than chick starter and many feed game bird feed that has even higher protein so it's not bad. Chick starter would probably be better if you can get that next time but for now feed just the meat bird. If you want to give the scratch as a treat you can throw a handful in their pen everyday. They should have grit if they are getting scratch, grains, or most other foods besides just chicken feed.

Most seem to switch to layer somewhere around 6months or when they see the first egg. I can't keep mine seperate that long to feed them different feed so they just start eating layer at about 3months when they get turned loose in the coop. You can feed flock raise if you have various ages mixed together

If you have roosters seperate flock raiser would be a good choice for them. If they are mixed with your layers it's generally not worth it to feed them something else. They will probably out live your hens eating layer feed even though it has more calcium than they need. Male birds don't have as much demand on their bodies since they don't lay eggs so they tend to live longer even if not fed the ideal diet.
Wow, I am learning a lot here. You folks sure do know your chickens!

I believe I may have to start buying my bird food myself instead of letting my friend get it when he buys for his own birds.

He usually has 200 birds or more, but I am not comfortable with the way he confines the little guys in a hot greenhouse and the older ones in crowded mobile covered pens, outside in all weather. With the short life a meat bird has to start with, they should be allowed to live clean and healthy with room to enjoy being a bird. His birds seem to grow slower, die more frequently, and get butchered long before they are of a good size. So perhaps he's not the best person to get advise from?

My friend already mixed the scratch in with my meat bird feed, so will just finish that out, then go with the Layer food. The roosters will be in my freezer once they get big enough, so it will just be laying hens. They spend a lot of time in the yard where they should be able to get grit from the soil to handle the scratch. Since none of my hens are laying yet, I think it will be ok just for this one batch of food?

We had a storm last night, brought out a lot of nightcrawlers...I had a blast this morning watching the chickens scuffle over who would get to the worms first. They thought it was Christmas! Chickens are F

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