Scratch or Pellet?


9 Years
Aug 15, 2010
Columbus Ohio
OK i have read so many different things and many say that scratch is just like feeding candy to chickens and that you need to feed pellet food. Then i read articles about old times that think that is silly and have fed scratch solely all their lives with chickens. I have a friend that feeds only scratch - they are free range - get scraps - fruits - veggies- etc. And i have to say his birds look healthier and shinier than most i have seen . Any thoughts on this debate?
They may look healthy and shine but they probably dont lay to their full potential. If you feed pellets and scratch at the same time the chickens will eat only the scratch usually thats why you feed it as a treat. The scratch doesnt have the protein in it the pellets do, and that is something chickens truely need when laying or molting. I have feed only scratch and only pellets and I prefer to feed pellets then use the scratch as a treat. Feeding extra veggies and things are great but make sure it is something you do daily so it doesnt mess with their diet.
Not to mention their life-span will be cut shorter. Free-range birds will get just about everything they need if they have good forage, but supplying them with free-choice chicken feed will probably keep them healthier.
"Pellet food" is usually a complete layer ration. "Scratch feed" is usually just grain or a mix of grains.

The complete layer ration is just that. Complete. Everything the bird needs in one package. The same feed can come pelleted, crumbled, or as a mash.

For the friend that feeds only scratch the "free range" part is vitally important. IF the birds have enough range and IF it is of good quality then it may well be that their birds can get by with just some supplementary scratch feed and still lay well. But those two IFs are very important. Not enough range, not enough quality (as in bugs, seeds, etc) and the birds are going to be malnourished which in turn means poor egg production and slow growth.

By feeding the complete ration the birds don't have to free range at all. They can live their whole lives in a cage which is how the commercial egg industry works.

Of course the complete ration is going to be more expensive than just scratch grains. It's costing me about $12 a bag for layer feed right now and only $7 for a bag of whole corn. Big difference in price, but also a big difference in nutrition. One is very incomplete and the other sufficient all by itself.

If you can provide your birds sufficient high quality range then you can get by with just feeding scratch grains just like grandma did. But even here in Florida range does not stay high quality the year around. In the winter time insects are scarce and not much is growing. In drought times there isn't much young, tender growth to be found. The birds that get only scratch grains are going to be hard put to get sufficient nutrition so they're going to slow or stop their laying and they're not going to grow much. Just like grandma's birds did.

The nutshell of all this is you can't get something for nothing. Some how, some way the birds have to get the proper nutrients when they need them to perform for you. They can't perform well on just scratch grains any more than you could trying to live on nothing but popcorn.
thank you for your responses - i am newer to chickens and of course being the "research hound" that i am i have read alot and started to get confused as there seems to be 2 camps on this one. My friend who allows his chicken free range - yes the free range is vast and filled with bugs and so forth - and i have to say the Wattles and combs on his chickens are a VIBRANT red compared to alot of chickens i see where they are just red or even jsut pinkish. Just wanna make sure my hens get the best they can get.

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