Ask backyard breeders about the best feed for chickens? Those who opt for a more natural approach would tell you their girls do best with those loaded with nutrients. Which are found in the wild as the protein and calcium? Such as a mouse, plus earthworms, grubs, and even frogs?
Left alone to forage in your yard, your chickens might amaze you with what they choose for dinner. Don’t be shocked if one of your girls show up with a wiggly mouse in her beak. We were further enlightened when the rest of the brood gave chase, turning the beleaguered rodent into the rough. This is the equivalent of a football fumbled in the red zone.
How to Pick the Best Feed for Your Chickens
With dozens of companies selling feed for your flock. How do you decide what brand and ingredients are right for you? if already sent. One way to simplify the process is to remember that it all starts with the age of your chickens.
Chicks require more protein for growth, so you’ll look at “starter” and “grower” feed first. Feed them this until they are about two months old. For example, Blue Seal’s “Home Fresh Starter Broiler Crumble” is 23% protein. While ‘Manna Pro Chick Starter’ is 18% protein with a wide range offered by other manufacturers in between.
At about 8 to 14 weeks, they’re Pullets, essentially teenagers of the chicken world. They will need a starter/grower feed that’s roughly 16 to 18% protein. Some will provide a finisher feed until week 18.
Laying hens 18 weeks or older will, need layer feed that’s about 16% protein and has added calcium.
(Lisa Steele’s Fresheggsdaily.com has an excellent reference guide. This details feeding, grit, and water requirements and treat suggestions for all stages of life.)
But we’re going to focus on feed.
Medicated or Organic?
Our choice for chicks is Naturally Free Organic Starter Feed for Chickens. This product is 20.5% protein – and we stuck with that brand when they were pullets and now as laying hens.
Why? We believe you are what they eat when you’re enjoying their eggs and meat – so we’re careful what we give them. And, we think it’s healthier for them, as you see in a few paragraphs.
But you can also serve your chicks feed that is medicated to prevent conditions such as coccidiosis. A parasitic infection that attacks the digestive tract, coccidiosis is particularly deadly for little girls, with diarrhea being one key symptom.
Another Set of Challenges
Although often effective, medications cause another set of challenges. The eggs of chickens fed antibiotics can contain drugs. For example, chickens treated with something called Doxycycline (DOTC) for seven days had DOTC in their albumin 24 days. This is after they had been stopped. While those treated with Oxytetracycline (OTC) for the same time period had OTC in their yolk 9 days after it stopped.
Eggstra’s webpage for Chick Starter Crumble includes this: “DO NOT USE in birds during laying or within 7 days of laying where eggs or egg products used for human consumption or processing. If laying takes place with 7 days, those eggs or egg products must not be used for human consumption or processing.”
Other Ingredients to Consider Avoiding
Those who opt for the non-medicated approach know they will likely pay a little more for their feed because it’s probably soy and maybe even corn-free. Both are less expensive additives that can contain GMOs – genetically modified organisms – another no-no for the natural crowd.
Each ingredient has its own set of potential problems. Among other things, soy is high in phytic acid, which can block the uptake of vitamins and minerals. Genetically modified soy is also causing allergies.
Some organic corn is OK in feed, but not too much. You’re looking for balance in their diet, as well as your own.
One of the best places to compare ingredients and nutrients of different commercially prepared feeds, is all in one place is poultryDVM.com. Not only do they have a handy chart that supplies side-by-side comparisons of protein, fat, and fiber content, but by clicking on the brand’s product, you can see the additional nutritional information.
Many brands sold on Amazon.com also include a screenshot of their ingredients and nutritional information in the upper left-hand corner or underneath the product for you to read.
Choices for the Organic, Non-GMO, Soy-free Coop
With all the interest in backyard barnyards, feed companies are responding in kind. You still don’t have as many choices as those available in the chip aisle of your local supermarket, but we’re getting close.
Needless to say, you’ll generally pay more for those with better quality ingredients – and you have to decide whether you or your flocks are worth the extra expense.
But let’s assume for a moment that you’re going to go with a soy and GMO-free product that also has organic ingredients for your laying hens.
There are several you can choose from, including:
- Coyote Creek Organic Layer Feed — The company says its layer feed is soy-free and non-GMO Project Certified “has an optimal protein and amino acid level, as well as higher calcium content for shell strength and egg production.”
- Manna Pro Layer Pellets – Winner of the coveted “Amazon’s Choice” rating. Manna Pro Layer Pellets made without pesticides and medications. Our pellets are USDA Certified Organic, so you can have the utmost confidence in your feed. Plus, our pellets contain the highest quality nutrition you have come to expect from Manna Pro.”
- Mile Four Organic Layer Feed – This USDA certified organic and non-GMO feed formulated with natural whole grains. Not pellets, mash, or crumble.” It contains Organic field peas, organic wheat, organic flax meal, organic flax meal, and organic alfalfa, among other ingredients.
- Modesto Milling Organic Feed – Farmer owned, they pride themselves “as an alternative to commercial and corporate agriculture.” It contains organic milo, organic peas, organic sesame meal, organic wheat, organic sundried alfalfa pellets, and organic flaxseed, among other ingredients.
- New Country Organics Layer Feed — This brand offers a 17% protein layer feed made with cracked and milled grain and “supplemented with kelp, organic alfalfa, and Poultry Nutri-Balancer. It is formulated with more calcium for eggshell strength. Organic flaxseed to increase the omega-3 content of the eggs.”
- Scratch and Peck Layer Feed – This is our choice for our big girls. Certified organic and soy-free and non-GMO Project Verified. It’s a whole-grain unpelletized feed.
Non-Organic, But Still Non-GMO and Soy-free
Then there’s non-GMO, corn-free and soy-free – but not organic — layer feed from companies such as:
Homestead Harvest – This blend contains field peas, wheat, oats, barley, and alfalfa and fortified with vitamins, minerals, and probiotics, among other ingredients.
H&H Old Fashion Layer – This feed contains millet, flax, sunflower, and kelp as well as organic Ferrell vitamins and minerals.
Non-GMO and Liking It
Here are some choices for those who aren’t concerned about corn and soy in their feed, but still want to avoid GMOs:
Homesteader Hobbies Natural and GMO-Free Layer Chicken Feed “Happy Chick’n is a high quality, organic chicken feed for laying chickens. You will see thicker shells, darker yolks, and fuller eggs packed with nutrients for your family.” It contains organic corn, organic roasted full-fat soybeans, organic dried tomato pumice organic dried potato starch and organic dehydrated egg, among other ingredients.
Prairie’s Choice Backyard Chicken Feed – Made with non-GMO ground corn, and non-GMO soybean meal, among other ingredients…”Prairie’s Choice has a long-standing family tradition of providing high-quality, nutrient-dense products to the public from its Deer Grove, Illinois farm.”
Purina Organic Layer Crumbles – From the manufacturer: “Purina Organic Layer Crumbles with the Oyster Strong System provide a balanced and complete diet with 16% protein for feeding organic laying hens. It is made with non-GMO ingredients grown without the use of pesticides and fertilizers. It also contains “an exclusive blend of oyster shell and key vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin D and manganese, ensuring a supply of calcium will be available at night when your hens are forming eggs.” It’s not clear what other ingredients it contains.
“All Natural” Feeds
Some companies make “all natural” chicken feed:
Kalmbach All Natural Layer Pellets— This feed contains corn, soybean meal, dried corn distillers grain with solubles, wheat middlings, alfalfa meal dehydrated, and flaxseed, among others.
Kaytee Laying Hen – Contains ground corn, ground wheat and dehulled soybean meal, among other ingredients. It also contains “marigold extract for rich colored egg yolks.”
Saving on Chicken Feed
There are several ways to save cash on chicken feed.
For one thing, you can and should allow your flock to free-range around your property. Not only can your girls get protein, fiber, and other nutrients from the insects and foliage they eat – ours love to dine on earthworms, dandelion greens, chickweed, and the occasional mouse or frog. But foraging is their natural behavior and gives them the exercise they need — so it’s not just a money saver, it’s a must to keep them healthy and happy.
Just make sure they’re safe from predators such as the neighbor’s dog or even hawks.
Serving Them Table Scraps
Since chickens will eat just about anything, it’s important to make sure you don’t give them foods that can harm them.
There are a variety of lists around that claim to show you what you can and can’t serve them.
There seems to be consensus around avoiding these (hat tip, naturallivingideas.com, thehappychickencoop.com, and backyardchickens.com):
Avocado skins and pits – These apparently have low levels of toxicity.
Candy/Chocolate/Sugar – These can cause digestive problems and worse. Plus, why?
Coffee – Caffeine is toxic to them.
Dry rice – This combined with water in their digestive system. This dry rice can cause serious problems.
Citrus – Some believe it could slow egg production.
Dried or undercooked beans – These contain hemagglutinin which is poisonous to birds and even people.
Moldy or rotten food – Does this need an explanation?!
Onions – Can cause something called hemolytic anemia.
Raw eggs – This is not harmful and raw or cooked eggs are a great treat. But once they get a taste for raw, your egg harvest could be in jeopardy.
Raw green potato peels – Contains solamine which can be toxic.
Rhubarb – Contains oxalic acid which can kill.
Salt or salty foods – Can cause heart failure or electrolyte imbalance.
Others have compiled massive lists of those things both chickens approved and not, so check those out as well.
Our girls love carrot peels, pieces of bananas, apples, blueberries squash, melons, tomatoes, and any green leafy vegetable.
And you haven’t truly lived until you’ve seen them play tug of war and feed on an unfortunate snake.
Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Doodle Board!!