Backyard Poultry

What Do Chickens Eat? Plan Your Chicken Feed Program

Flock Management : Flock Health

Flock Management : Layer Nutrition

Patrick Biggs, Ph.D.

Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions

What do chickens eat? Your chickens require certain nutrients each day to start strong, lay strong and stay strong. Choose a complete chick starter feed from day 1 to week 18 and then transition to a complete layer feed when the first egg arrives around week 18.
Just as humans’ nutritional needs change from infancy to adulthood, your backyard chickens require different nutrients as they grow from baby chicks into hens or roosters. But what do chickens eat to thrive and lay plenty of delicious fresh eggs? Map your chicken feed program from the start. Select a complete poultry feed that is formulated specifically for your bird’s age, species or stage of production.
Purina makes it easy to feed your backyard flock. Purina® chicken feeds help your birds start strong as chicks, lay strong and stay strong through seasonal molt. Our complete feeds include all the nutrients your flock needs, in the right balance.
Simply choose a complete Purina® chick starter feed for your chicks when they are one day old to 18 weeks old. Then transition your adult hens to a complete Purina® layer feed when their first eggs arrive around week 18. That’s all your hens need – no need to supplement!
How old is your flock? Scroll down to find the feed that will keep your birds strong and healthy at every age and stage of production.

What to feed baby chicks from day 1 to week 18

Strong chicks grow into healthy hens. Early nutrition is important because baby chicks double their hatch weight in the first week and grow up to seven times their hatch weight in the first month! Start chicks strong by choosing one complete chick starter feed:  
Each of these complete chick starter feeds provides all the nutrients your chicks need, including energy for proper growth; 18 percent protein for skeletal, muscle and feather development; plus, vitamins and minerals for chick health. Purina® Start & Grow® products also include probiotics and prebiotics for healthy digestive and immune systems.
Continue feeding the same chick starter feed from day 1 to week 18. We recommend waiting to introduce treats or scratch to their diet until your birds turn 18 weeks old. If you are feeding a complete chick starter feed, your chicks do not need grit.
If you start chicks on a medicated chick starter feed, keep feeding that same medicated feed until their first egg.
Transition your birds to a layer feed when the first egg appears or at 18 weeks, whichever comes first. In some cases, you can begin the transition to a layer feed at 16 weeks of age if you are combining your new chicks with an older flock. But feeding a layer feed to young birds before 16 weeks can contribute to permanent kidney damage due to the extra calcium in layer feed that young birds don’t need. For more new chick parent instructions, visit our Baby Chick Resource Center.

What to feed laying hens starting at week 18

Most hens will lay their first egg around 18 weeks old; however, some birds may start a little earlier. At 18 weeks or first egg, it’s time to gradually transition to a complete layer feed. The biggest difference between a starter feed and a layer feed is calcium. Hens need roughly 4 grams of calcium per day to form an eggshell; 2 grams of which must come from their layer feed.
Choose a layer feed with the Purina® Oyster Strong® System to help your hens lay strong and stay strong. This unique blend of oyster shell, vitamin D and manganese provides everything required for strong shells and healthy hens.
Which layer feed Oyster Strong® System is right for your flock? Our most popular layer feeds Includes added omega-3 fatty acids for your health Includes 19% protein and black fly soldier fly larvae Certified USDA Organic
No matter the Purina® complete feed you select, gradually transition your laying pullets to the new feed. On the Purina Farm in Missouri, we mix the starter-grower feed and layer feed evenly for four or five days. If your birds are used to eating crumbles, start with a crumble layer feed. The same goes for pellets. Many hens will eat the mixed feed without noticing a difference. When your hens are eating both feeds, you can stop feeding the starter-grower feed and make the complete switch to all layer feed. Most birds will adjust within a couple days, but some can take a couple weeks to fully transition to their new diet.

Deciding between pellets or crumbles? Both forms contain high-quality grains with added vitamins and minerals for a complete and balanced diet. Pellets are a great way to limit feed waste. Crumbles are simply pellets broken into smaller bits, which makes it easier for some birds to eat.
Once hens are laying, you can introduce treats and scratch grains. Be sure to limit treats to no more than 10 percent (about 2 tablespoons per bird, per day), and provide a healthy treat, such as Purina® Farm to Flock® Larvae for Ladies hen treats or Purina® Farm to Flock® Protein Blend for Hens treats. Feeding more than 2 tablespoons per bird, per day, can dilute the essential nutrients provided in their layer feed. If you’re feeding a complete layer feed, laying hens don’t need grit.

What to feed chickens during molt

TextDescription automatically generatedAt around 18 months of age, and then annually thereafter, most chickens go through a molt. This means your chickens are taking a vacation from egg laying to lose and regrow their feathers.
This period typically occurs when days become shorter. Molting is a healthy process usually resulting in a decrease of eggs and a shiny, new set of feathers for the winter.
To help your hens stay strong through molt, follow these steps:
  1. Switch to Purina® Flock Raiser® for more protein and less calcium. The higher protein levels in this feed can help with feather regrowth.
  2. Place a dish of Purina® Oyster Shell as a free-choice supplement need the feeder. The laying hens will eat the calcium they need. Molting chickens will begin eating the supplement as they get closer to laying eggs again.
  3. Once hens start laying eggs again, gradually transition back to a complete layer feed.

What do roosters eat? Feeding your mixed flock

Do you have roosters, ducks or other poultry in your flock? If so, your flock is referred to as a “mixed flock.”
If you have hens and roosters in the same flock, you can feed them separately by using two different feeders. Roosters require higher protein and less calcium than laying hens. Provide your roosters with a separate feeder of Purina® Flock Raiser® feed. To do this, you can either feed roosters in a separate pen or elevate one of the feeders so only the roosters can reach it.
If you’d like one feed for all your adult birds, you can give them all Flock Raiser® feed. Just be sure to offer supplemental oyster shells for calcium in a separate feed for your laying hens.

What to feed ducks and other poultry

Many backyard chicken enthusiasts add new species to their flocks as they get more experienced. If you are considering other poultry, check out these Team Purina articles for tips on how to feed your newest flock members:  
Are you ready to level up your flock with Oyster Strong®? Sign up for the Feed Greatness® Challenge today!