What Are The Basics Of Feeding And Nutrition For New Chicken Keepers?

what are the basics of feeding and nutrition for new chicken keepers

If you’re a new chicken keeper, understanding the basics of feeding and nutrition is crucial to the health and well-being of your flock. Providing a balanced diet for your chickens is essential for their growth, egg production, and overall vitality. From choosing the right feed to including necessary supplements, this article will guide you through the fundamentals of feeding and nutrition so that you can give your feathered friends the care they deserve.


Water is an essential component of the overall health and well-being of chickens. Just like humans, chickens rely on clean water for hydration and to support their bodily functions. Water is involved in processes such as digestion, nutrient absorption, and temperature regulation. Without access to clean water, chickens can become dehydrated, leading to various health issues. It is crucial for chicken keepers to provide clean and fresh water to their feathered friends at all times.

To ensure that chickens have access to water, it is important to provide them with suitable water containers. These containers should be sturdy, easy to clean, and able to hold an adequate amount of water for the number of chickens in the flock. There are various options available, such as troughs, nipple drinkers, or waterers with cups. Whichever type you choose, make sure to regularly clean and refill the containers to prevent the buildup of bacteria or contaminants.

But how much water do chickens actually need? The water requirements of chickens may vary depending on factors such as age, size, activity level, and environmental conditions. On average, a mature chicken can consume approximately 0.5 to 1 liter (or 1 to 2 pints) of water per day. However, during hot weather or when laying eggs, chickens may require more water to stay properly hydrated. It is always better to provide ample water and monitor the flock to ensure they are adequately hydrated.

When it comes to the watering schedule, chickens should have access to water at all times. Unlike some other animals, chickens do not have a regulated drinking pattern, so they may drink intermittently throughout the day. As a chicken keeper, it is essential to check the water supply regularly and refill it as needed. It is also a good practice to clean the water containers at least once a week to prevent the build-up of algae or other contaminants.


Choosing the right type of chicken feed is crucial for meeting the nutritional needs of your flock. There are several types of chicken feed available, and each serves a specific purpose. The most common types of chicken feed include mash, pellets, crumbles, and scratch grains. Mash is a finely ground feed, while pellets are compressed and easier to handle. Crumbles are a medium grind, and scratch grains consist of a mixture of seeds and grains.

Feeding stages are important to consider when it comes to providing the appropriate nutrition for your chickens. The stages include starter feed, grower feed, and layer feed. Starter feed is specifically formulated for chicks up to 8 weeks old and is high in protein to support their rapid growth. Grower feed is suitable for chickens between 8 to 16 weeks old and provides the necessary nutrients for healthy development. Lastly, layer feed is designed for laying hens and contains higher levels of calcium to support egg production.

The debate between free-range and confined feeding often arises among chicken keepers. Free-range feeding allows chickens to roam and forage freely, consuming a variety of insects, plants, and grains. This can provide a more varied diet and additional nutrients. Confined feeding, on the other hand, involves exclusively providing commercial chicken feed. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and it ultimately depends on the individual preferences and circumstances of the chicken keeper.

Understanding feed labels is crucial for making informed decisions about your chicken’s nutrition. Feed labels contain important information such as the ingredients, nutritional composition, feeding instructions, and any additional additives or medications. Reading and understanding these labels can help you choose the right feed for your flock and ensure they are receiving a balanced diet.

So, how much feed do chickens actually need? The amount of feed required by chickens can vary depending on factors such as age, breed, size, activity level, and weather conditions. On average, a mature chicken may consume around 0.1 to 0.15 pounds of feed per day. However, it is important to monitor the chickens’ weight and condition while adjusting the feed quantity accordingly. Overfeeding can lead to obesity and health problems, while underfeeding can result in malnutrition and reduced egg production.

Basic Nutritional Needs

Chickens, just like any living creature, have specific nutritional needs to maintain optimal health and well-being. Understanding these basic nutritional needs can help ensure that your feathered friends are receiving a balanced diet. Some of the essential nutrients that chickens require include protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Protein is a vital component in a chicken’s diet as it supports various bodily functions, including growth, muscle development, and egg production. High-quality sources of protein for chickens include legumes, soybean meal, fishmeal, and meat and bone meal. It is important to provide a feed with an appropriate protein content for the specific life stage of your chickens.

Carbohydrates are an important energy source for chickens. They provide the fuel needed for physical activity, digestion, and overall metabolism. Carbohydrates can be found in grains such as corn, wheat, and barley. It is essential to provide a balanced amount of carbohydrates to maintain optimal energy levels in your flock.

Fats play a critical role in a chicken’s diet as they provide a concentrated source of energy and help support various bodily functions. Sources of dietary fat include vegetable oils, animal fats, and fish oils. However, it is important to provide fats in moderation, as excessive consumption can lead to obesity and health issues.

Vitamins and minerals are essential for the overall health and well-being of chickens. They are involved in various bodily processes, including immune function, bone development, and reproduction. Commercial chicken feeds are often supplemented with vitamins and minerals to ensure that chickens receive the necessary nutrients. However, for free-range chickens or those on homemade diets, additional sources of vitamins and minerals may need to be provided.

Different life stages of chickens may have varying nutritional needs. For example, chicks have significantly higher protein requirements compared to adult chickens. As they mature, their nutritional needs change, and the feed should be adjusted accordingly. It is important to educate yourself about the nutritional requirements of each life stage to provide your chickens with the proper nutrition they need to thrive.

Feeding Chicks

Feeding chicks requires special attention and consideration to ensure their healthy growth and development. During the first few weeks of their lives, chicks should be provided with a specialized feed known as chick starter feed. This feed is specifically formulated to meet the high protein requirements of growing chicks and facilitate their rapid growth.

The feeding frequency for chicks varies depending on their age. During the first week of life, chicks should have access to feed at all times. This is because they have a high metabolic rate and require a constant supply of nutrients for growth. As they grow older, feeding frequency can be gradually reduced to three to four times a day until they reach 8 weeks of age.

Introducing treats to chicks should be done with caution. While treats can be a fun addition to their diet, it is important not to overdo it. High-quality chick feed should make up the majority of their diet to ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients for healthy development. Treats should be given sparingly and should be appropriate for their age, such as small pieces of vegetables or fruits.

Transitioning to grower feed is an important step in the feeding journey of chicks. Around 8 weeks of age, chicks can be switched to a grower feed specifically formulated to meet their changing nutritional needs. Grower feed typically has a slightly lower protein content compared to chick starter feed but still provides the necessary nutrients for continued growth and development.

Feeding Adult Chickens

Once your chicks reach maturity, their nutritional needs change, and it’s time to transition them to a different type of feed. Layer feed is specifically formulated for adult chickens that are producing eggs. This feed contains higher levels of calcium to support healthy eggshell formation. Layer feed usually comes in the form of pellets or crumbles, making it easy for chickens to consume.

The feeding frequency for adult chickens can be adjusted based on their individual needs and preferences. Some chicken keepers prefer to provide feed once or twice a day, while others may offer feed on an ad libitum basis, meaning the feed is available at all times. It is important to monitor the chickens’ weight and condition while adjusting the feed quantity accordingly to prevent obesity or malnutrition.

Supplementing calcium for laying hens is crucial to ensure the health and strength of their eggshells. Layer feed contains added calcium, but some chicken keepers may choose to provide additional calcium sources, such as crushed oyster shells or eggshells. These calcium supplements can be offered free-choice to allow the chickens to consume them as needed.

Introducing treats to adult chickens can be an enjoyable and enriching experience for both the chickens and the chicken keeper. Treats can be used as rewards or as a way to provide additional nutrients. It is important to choose treats that are appropriate for chickens and avoid feeding them foods that may be harmful, such as chocolate or avocado. Treats should be given in moderation to prevent nutritional imbalances.

Winter feeding considerations are essential to ensure that your chickens are getting the proper nutrition during colder months. During winter, chickens may require additional calories to maintain their body temperature. Providing extra portions of high-quality feed, such as cracked corn or black oil sunflower seeds, can help meet their increased energy needs. Additionally, it is important to ensure that the water supply does not freeze and to help prevent frostbite by providing appropriate shelter and insulation.

Feeding Roosters

Roosters have specific nutritional needs that differ from those of hens. Special attention should be given to ensure that roosters receive the proper nutrition to support their health and vitality. It is important to provide an appropriate feed that meets their nutritional requirements.

Roosters can be fed a balanced diet consisting of a high-quality poultry feed formulated for meat birds or a general-purpose feed. These feeds typically have a lower protein content compared to layer feed but still provide the necessary nutrients for roosters. It is important to choose feeds that are appropriate for their specific needs and life stage.

The feeding frequency for roosters is similar to that of adult chickens. Most roosters can be fed once or twice a day, depending on their individual requirements and preferences. It is important to monitor their weight and condition while adjusting the feed quantity as needed.

Avoiding aggression through feeding practices is crucial when it comes to keeping roosters. Some roosters may exhibit aggressive behaviors, especially towards other roosters or humans. Providing adequate feed and space can help minimize aggressive behavior. Ensuring that each rooster has access to its own feeding area and sufficient resources can reduce competition and aggression.

Common Nutritional Issues

Feather pecking and nutrition are closely related, and nutritional imbalances can contribute to this behavioral issue. Feather picking among chickens can be a sign of nutrient deficiencies or imbalances, such as protein or mineral deficiencies. Ensuring that your chickens have a balanced and varied diet can help prevent feather pecking and promote overall feather health.

Obesity and overfeeding are common issues that can arise when chickens are given unrestricted access to feed or are overfed. Obesity can lead to various health issues, such as reduced egg production, joint problems, and reduced overall vitality. It is important to monitor the chickens’ weight and adjust the feed quantity accordingly to prevent obesity.

Malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies can occur when chickens are not provided with a balanced diet or when their nutritional needs are not met. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to various health problems, such as poor growth, reduced egg production, weakened immune system, and reproductive issues. Understanding the specific nutritional needs of your chickens and providing a properly balanced diet can help prevent malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies.

Identifying and resolving nutritional issues is crucial for maintaining the health and well-being of your chickens. Regular monitoring of their weight, behavior, and overall condition can help identify any potential nutritional issues. If you suspect a problem, consulting with a veterinarian or avian nutritionist can provide guidance on resolving the issue and ensuring that your chickens receive the proper nutrition they need.

Feeding Tips and Best Practices

Maintaining a consistent feeding routine is important for chickens as they thrive on consistency and regularity. Feeding at the same time each day and providing a consistent amount of feed can help establish a routine for the flock. This routine can contribute to their overall well-being and minimize any potential issues related to feeding.

The importance of balanced nutrition cannot be overstated. Providing a balanced diet that meets their specific nutritional needs is crucial for the health and vitality of chickens. This includes offering a variety of high-quality feeds and supplements to ensure that they receive all the necessary nutrients.

Providing access to grit is essential for chickens, as it aids in the digestion of their food. Grit consists of small particles, usually made of stone or gravel, that chickens consume and store in their gizzards. The grit helps break down the food, particularly grains and plant matter, as chickens lack teeth to chew their food. Ensure that grit is readily available to your chickens to support proper digestion.

Monitoring feed consumption can provide valuable insights into the health and well-being of your flock. By observing their eating patterns, you can identify potential issues early on. Changes in feed consumption, such as a sudden decrease or increase, may indicate underlying health problems or nutritional imbalances. Regularly monitoring feed consumption can contribute to the overall health management of your flock.

Using feeders and drinkers effectively is key to providing a clean and accessible food and water supply. Feeders should be positioned at an appropriate height to facilitate easy access for chickens without causing spillage or contamination. Similarly, water containers should be regularly cleaned and refilled to ensure that chickens have access to clean and fresh water at all times.

Feeding in Different Seasons

Feeding chickens in different seasons requires some adjustments to account for the varying needs and challenges that arise. Hot weather can pose a risk of heat stress for chickens, so it is important to modify their feed accordingly. During hot weather, chickens may reduce their feed intake, so providing cooling measures such as shade and fresh water can help prevent dehydration and maintain their health.

Cold weather also requires special considerations when it comes to feeding chickens. In cold temperatures, chickens may require additional calories to maintain their body temperature. Providing extra portions of high-energy feed, such as grains or seeds, can assist in meeting their increased energy needs. It is also important to ensure that the water supply does not freeze and to provide sufficient shelter and protection against harsh weather conditions.

Feeding during molting season is crucial for supporting the regrowth of feathers. During molting, chickens go through a natural shedding and regrowth process of their feathers. This process requires additional protein to support feather development. Supplementing their diet with higher-protein feeds or offering additional protein-rich treats can help support healthy feather regrowth.

Seasonal variations in nutritional needs should also be taken into account. Different seasons can affect the nutrient requirements of chickens, such as increased energy needs during colder months or higher water consumption during hot weather. It is important to adjust the feed quantity and composition accordingly to meet their changing needs and maintain optimal health throughout the year.


Feeding and nutrition are vital aspects of raising healthy and happy chickens. Providing clean water and suitable containers, selecting the appropriate feed for each life stage, and understanding the basic nutritional needs of chickens are key factors in their overall health and well-being. Monitoring their feed consumption, maintaining a consistent feeding routine, and addressing any nutritional issues that arise are essential practices for chicken keepers. By following these tips and best practices, you can ensure that your feathered friends receive the proper nutrition they need to thrive throughout their lives.