What to Feed Chicks
One of my favorite parts of keeping chickens is feeding them! I love branching outside of the box and coming up with creative ways to feed my girls, especially in the most natural and homemade ways possible. Our hens eat a wide variety of foods along with their regular feed like kitchen scraps, sprouted grains, fresh and dried herbs, yogurt, homemade suet, hardboiled eggs, and more. Sounds fun, right?
But what do chicks eat? Their diet differs a bit from a mature hen’s. They still have to eat special chick starter feed and grit, but for the first handful of weeks of life they are too young to try treats or other supplements. In this post I will share with exactly what we feed our chicks and when we begin adding treats into their diets as well as when and what to begin feeding older hens.
What’s In The Feed?
When you first bring your chicks home, they will need to be fed a special type of feed called Chick Starter. There are several different companies and mills that produce feeds for chicks making the entire decision making process overwhelming. For me, we purchase feed for our chickens at a local mill that creates three basic feeds (Chick Starter, Grower, and Layer). These are all fed based on the age of the chicken, much like feeding a puppy/dog, and differ based on protein and calcium content. Newly hatched chicks need more protein than an older hen but less calcium as they are not laying eggs yet. It is crucial to feed your birds the correct feed for the appropriate age or they could become unhealthy. It is best to know the hatch date of your chickens when purchasing to determine when they are ready to switch over to the next type of feed.
Chick Starter is a mix of crumbled grains that are small enough for their tiny beaks to ingest and filled with about 20-25% protein to help them grow fast and strong. This is really all they need for the first six weeks, though you can feed them a few treats at around 3 to 4 weeks old if you would like to. We will get into that below.
If you plan on trying your best to prevent illness, injury, and disease among your flock one of the best places to start is by feeding them supplements. You can begin using these as soon as your chicks arrive home and are in the brooder. These supplements aid mostly in digestive health and can benefit your flock in other ways including a boost in energy, stress relief, immune health, nervous system, and more.
Chick Grit. From the time they are allowed to forage for food other than their feed, you should be giving your chickens grit. This is simply coarse sand or gravel which helps your chickens digest the food that gets stuck in their crop. If you plan to feed your birds lots of fresh greens, they will definitely need some grit! Grit comes in two sizes: chick and adult. You'll want to give the right size to your chicks at the appropriate age. In the coop, place this option in a supplemental feeder available at all times. They will eat it as necessary.
Apple Cider Vinegar. This can be a great addition to your flock's water to help them digest their food properly and keep a healthy gut. I like to add some ACV to their water once or twice a week, and they don't really seem to notice. The solution is 1 tablespoon ACV to 1 gallon of water. Probiotics are good for everyone! You'll want to make sure that the apple cider vinegar you give them is of the raw variety with the mother.
Diatomaceous Earth. Personally, I do not use this as a dietary supplement, but more as a coop protector and as an addition to their dust bath. If they eat it, well, it won't kill them. Diatomaceous Earth, or DE, is a powder made with fossils of ancient aquatic animals. It is a natural bug repellant that literally tears apart the exoskeleton of insects. This is very useful to sprinkle about the coop to keep mites, spiders, flies, and more out. Some people believe that it is good for the coop to ingest to keep any parasites away. Others think this stuff is terrible! If anything, it's best for them to dust their feathers with it to prevent mites from getting on their skin! If you are feeding them DE, use 1 tablespoon of DE to every 3 cups of feed.
Yogurt. Another controversial treat, natural, unflavored yogurt is filled with probiotics that can benefit your flock. Plus, it's pretty funny to watch a chicken eat a bowl of yogurt! Chickens can eat all dairy products. They are omnivores!
Garlic. Try putting whole garlic cloves in their water! It works as a natural dewormer, keeps insects away, and decreases cholesterol in eggs.
Seeds. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cucumber seeds, squash seeds, and more! They have many vitamins inside as well as help to act as a dewormer for your flock. Healthy poos are a good thing!
Electrolytes. Add some electrolyte powder, like Sav-A-Chick to their drinking water on exceptionally hot days. Chickens don't do well in humid, hot weather, and might need a pick me up. It's also a smart idea to give this to them when they are molting, injured, or ill.
Can Chicks Eat Treats?
Sure they can! I usually start offering a limited amount of treats at around 3-4 weeks of age to play it safe. For the most part, I try to look at what chicks would be doing if it were a mother hen caring for them instead of me. In real life, chicks would be foraging around outside with mama, munching on insects and grass and dirt and whatever else they could find. They would not be limited to the feed I am providing for them. Just make sure if you start giving them any type of food other than their Chick Starter that you will have to provide them with Chick Grit so that they can digest their food. If you would like a list of foods that you should NOT feed chickens, click here!
Here are the two treats that I give my chicks until they graduate from the brooder:
Hard Boiled or Scrambled Eggs. A great protein boost and wonderful for their little bodies that need extra supplies of it! It may seem weird to feed chickens their own eggs, but don’t worry - it’s totally something that most backyard chicken keepers do.
Herbs. My favorite! As a gardener, I love snipping fresh herbs for the girls on my way to check the coop. Our chickens love sampling fresh basil, lavender, and lemon balm. Herbs are great for building up the immune system, calming their nerves, and keeping insects away from the coop. There's really nothing a good bunch of fresh or dried herbs can't do! You can sprinkle dried herbs inside of the nesting boxes or place fresh ones around the floor. We actually sell a dried herbal nesting box mix to help promote egg laying!
Feeding chicks is such fun and can be a great way to get to know your flock and what they enjoy! I love placing a bowl of hard boiled eggs all smashed up or herbs and seeing which chick decides to sample first. This can sometimes be an indicator of who your head hen is! She tests new foods for the flock first to make sure they are safe. What do you love to feed your chicks? I’d love to hear all about your favorite treats or brand of feed!