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What do Chickens Eat and Drink?

It’s often assumed chickens are vegetarians but guess what? They’re actually omnivores and eat a variety of plants and animals.

Chooks have different dietary requirements depending on their age:

  • Chicks need feed with high levels of energy and protein to aid their rapid growth and feather development. They also require feed that’s suited to their small beaks.
  • Once fully feathered, the energy requirements of pullets (hens that are less than a year old) diminish. But you want to maintain a growth rate that’ll lead to the pullet reaching physical maturity at the required age.
  • Adult layer feeds aim to provide a balanced diet that supports consistent egg production, healthy weight and overall condition.

You should try and give your chickens a similar range of nutrients to what they would get in the wild, things like insects, worms, carcasses, seeds and other plant material. This will also encourage their natural foraging behaviours. Your backyard is unlikely to provide everything your chooks need, so commercial chicken feeds are a must for happy and healthy chickens.

Commercial feeds are rich in nutrients, as well as being a convenient way of ensuring your chooks aren’t going hungry. PETstock sells a range of reputable chicken feed brands, including Barastoc, Coprice, Green Valley, Laucke Mills, and Peters.

Shop Chicken Food

The key nutrients for good health and wellbeing

  • Water
  • Energy
  • Protein
  • Fibre
  • Vitamins and minerals
  • Calcium

Kitchen scraps should only be an occasional treat because too much can lead to nutrient dilution, with their lower nutrient content ‘diluting’ the good stuff in commercial feed. And make sure you avoid mouldy or ‘off’ feed or scraps. The toxins in these can be harmful to the health and performance of hens.

Hens are toothless, so they use grit (small, insoluble stones about 3mm in diameter) to grind their feed in the gizzard. Grit is a must when feeding chooks coarse grains like wheat or any other food that needs to be broken down.

Water

Just like you and me, chickens need water to stay hydrated. Cool, fresh and clean water is a must, particularly during the warmer months.

The level of water consumption will depend on the:

  • Chicken’s size
  • Level of egg production
  • Season
  • The type of water dispenser or drinker you’re using

Here’s a water consumption guide to get you started (keeping in mind that, during summer, you should provide at least three times the usual water allowance).

Age Weekly water intake per chicken

1 week

200ml

5 weeks

750ml

10 weeks

1000ml

15 weeks

1100ml

20+ weeks

1500ml

Good water quality should also be a priority. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t give it to your chickens – simple. Their water should be free from chemical contaminants, waterborne parasites and infectious agents. To help keep the water clean, keep it off the ground and away from bird poo.

 

Information sourced from Ridley AgriProducts 2017, The Barastoc Chook Book, 9th edn.