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What should I feed my backyard chickens?

Article ID: 305
Last updated: 21 Mar, 2016
Revision: 29
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Feeding your chickens a complete and balanced diet is essential if they are to stay healthy and lay lots of lovely eggs! Chickens will eat almost anything so to prevent deficiencies and health problems, a wide range of foods should be offered.

A good quality poultry pellet should be the mainstay of their diet. If the poultry pellet is provided in a commercial dispenser this tends to help keep the pellet dry. Grain (such as wheat and corn) can also be scattered within their environment to augment their diet.

In addition to a good quality poultry pellet, a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables can also be given daily. Examples of raw fruits and vegetables that can be fed include: Bok choy, silverbeet, spinach, endive, chickweed, cabbage, vegetable peels and fruit (e.g. banana).

In addition, table foods such as wholemeal rice, rolled oats, cooked pasta, beans, bread and legumes can be offered as well occasionally. If you are unsure about the safety of a particular foodstuff check with your veterinarian and/or experienced chicken owner first.

For birds that are laying large numbers of eggs, an easy and high calcium supplement is dried egg shell ground to a powder and added to their normal feed. Layer pellets are supplemented with calcium as well. Soft or thin shelled eggs may indicate calcium problems in your birds.

Chickens are extremely sociable animals and must be kept in numbers of two or greater. For this reason, feeding chickens is a group exercise. Monitor the chickens to ensure dominant birds are not excluding weaker or younger birds which may need to be fed separately. If you notice any changes in your birds feeding behaviour or appetite please consult with your veterinarian.

Make sure scraps don't contain anything that is high in fat or salt, and avoid feeding anything that is rancid or spoiled.

Provide a constant supply of coarse shell grit and access to earthworms and burrowing insects in leaf litter and compost.

Provide access to garden plants including pulled weeds (beware and avoid any poisonous plants). A weed lawn instead of a monoculture lawn is recommended for free range hens.

Do not feed: Rhubarb, avocado, chocolate, onion, garlic, citrus fruits or lawn mower clippings (as these can become mouldy quickly and mouldy food can make chickens very sick).

Clean water must always be readily available. In winter, ensure that iced waterers are cleared each morning to allow access.

Reference: InnerSouth Veterinary Centre: http://www.innersouthvets.com.au/birds/nutrition-information-sheets/

The NSW DPI has a handy information sheet which provides further details: Small-scale Poultry Feeding.pdf

Check your state/territory Department of Agriculture or equivalent for information about swill feeding laws in your state. In Queensland for example, swill feeding poultry is banned: swill feeding.

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Also listed in
folder Companion animals
folder Companion animals -> Small mammals, birds and exotics -> Birds
folder Companion animals -> Pet Food

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