How Do You Know What Kind of Feed to Give Your Chickens?

Reader Contribution by Shelby Devore and Farminence
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A trip to your local feed store can leave you scratching your head if you’re trying to buy chicken feed. There are so many options available: grower, laying pellets, starter, scratch grains, organic, medicated. How do you know which one to get?

The best way to determine the feed that is suited to your chickens is to figure out what the different feeds are. After you know what the feeds are, you can purchase the right feed with confidence.

Feeding for Age Groups

If you’re buying feed for the first time, there’s a high chance that you’ve got chicks. One of the ways that you can sort feed out is by the feeding stage, or age group of the chickens it is made for. 

Up to 8 weeks old. Chick feed is often called starter feed. Starter feed usually comes in a small crumble so that young chicks can eat it easily. Starter feed has a high amount of protein to support the rapid growth that baby chicks go through. Starter feed can be fed to chicks from day one until they are about 6 to 8 weeks old.

After chicks are 6 to 8 weeks old, you’ll want to switch them over to a grower feed if you can find it. Grower usually comes in a pellet and has a slightly smaller amount of protein. Although the chicks are still growing and maturing, they don’t require quite as much protein at this stage. Grower feed is provided until chicks are about 16 weeks old.

Chicks that are around 16 weeks old can be swapped to an adult feed. If you have egg-laying chickens (and not meat chickens) then you’ll want to put them on a layer pellet. Sometimes you’ll hear this referred to as ‘laying rations’ in older feed stores. Laying rations can be fed to both hens and roosters, so don’t worry if you have both. Laying rations provide protein and energy. It also has added calcium to ensure healthy eggshell production.

Feeding for Bird Types

You may need to consider the type of bird that you’re raising when you’re purchasing feed. Egg layer breeds can follow the feeding guidelines listed above. Meat chickens need to be fed differently.

Meat chickens grow and mature very quickly so they will need a feed that is going to support that rapid growth. Look for feeds that are labeled for meat birds or that have a protein content above 20%. You can find meat bird feed in both crumbles for young chicks and pellets for older birds. 

A word of caution: Just because you can purchase meat bird feed with excessive protein contents (26 to 28%) doesn’t mean that you should. This can lead to extreme muscle growth that outgrows the heart and lungs. Unfortunately, this causes an often fatal condition called ascites or water belly. Ascites is very hard to treat and is much easier to prevent than to treat.

Meat birds can have the same feed throughout their entire lifetime.

Other Feed Considerations

Medicated chicken feed. Some chicken feed is medicated, some is not. The medication that is in medicated feed is a coccidiostat. Young chicks are subject to developing coccidiosis from bacteria. The medication in the feed helps to prevent infections while the young chick’s immune system is still developing. You can purchase non-medicated feed. If you choose to purchase non-medicated feed, you’ll want to keep a closer eye on your chicks to make sure that they aren’t developing infections.

Organic feeds are made with ingredients that are free of chemicals, pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and any other additives that aren’t natural. There is much controversy surrounding the organic/non-organic debate and I won’t go into whether it’s justified or not. If you want the peace of mind in purchasing and feeding organic feed, be prepared to pay a higher price tag. Organic ingredients require more human labor and therefore come at a higher cost.

Scratch grains, treats and supplements are also readily available for chickens. These things should be used sparingly and are not a replacement for the proper diet of a chicken.  Make sure that your chickens always have access to grit for proper digestion. If they don’t, provide them with a bowl of oyster shell that they can freely eat to provide grit. Feed treats and scratch grains after they have eaten their normal feed so that they don’t spoil their appetite for their feed.

Dive into chicken feed more at

Shelby DeVore is an agricultural enthusiast that enjoys writing about gardening, raising livestock and simple living. You can read her most recent posts on or follow Farminence on Pinterest and Twitter. Read all of Shelby’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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