Helping Families Produce and Source Food at Scale

Helping Families Produce and Source Food at Scale

Helping Families Produce and Source Food at Scale

What to Feed Chickens: A Comprehensive Guide for Organic and Non-GMO Diets

Raising chickens, whether for egg production or meat, is a rewarding endeavor. However, providing your chickens with the proper diet to ensure they're healthy and productive can be challenging, especially if you want to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and stick to organic ingredients. Luckily, with a little knowledge and preparation, you can feed your chickens with nutritious and readily available ingredients.

Understanding Chicken Nutrition

Before we delve into the specifics of what to feed chickens, it's important to understand the basics of chicken nutrition. Chickens require a balanced diet, which includes protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. They also need a constant supply of fresh, clean water.

Proteins are essential for growth and egg production, while carbohydrates provide the energy chickens need to function. Fats also offer energy, as well as essential fatty acids. Vitamins and minerals are crucial for a variety of bodily functions, including bone development and immune system health.

Feeding Chicks (0-6 Weeks)

The first six weeks of a chick's life are crucial for growth and development. During this phase, chicks require a "starter" feed with a protein content of around 20-24%. It's essential to choose a non-GMO, organic starter feed.

Some readily available sources of protein include organic soybeans, peas, and lentils. Carbohydrate needs can be met with organic grains like corn, wheat, or oats. To ensure the chicks receive essential vitamins and minerals, consider adding finely chopped organic vegetables and greens like spinach or kale to their diet.

Keep in mind, grit (tiny rocks or pebbles that aid in digestion) should be made available once chicks start eating anything other than starter feed.

Grit can be purchased from your local feed store. Or you can harvest your own. Here is a fun video that explains it.

Feeding Growing Chickens (6-20 Weeks)

Once chickens reach six weeks, they transition from chicks to pullets (young hens) or cockerels (young roosters). During this phase, you can switch to a "grower" feed. The protein content should decrease slightly to around 15-18%. Organic, non-GMO grower feeds are available, or you can create your own mix using the same ingredients as before but in different proportions.

Continue providing grit and fresh water. At this stage, chickens can also eat larger vegetable pieces, fruits, and can start foraging for bugs and worms if they have access to the outdoors.

Feeding Laying Hens

When hens start laying eggs, usually around 20 weeks, they require extra calcium for strong eggshells. You can switch to a "layer" feed with a protein content of around 16-18% and higher calcium content. Alternatively, you can supplement their diet with oyster shell or crushed eggshells.

Hens will continue to enjoy a variety of organic fruits, vegetables, and grains, as well as foraging. Just remember, treats and foraging should only make up about 10-15% of a hen's diet.

Feeding Meat Chickens (Broilers)

Meat chickens, or broilers, have different dietary requirements. They are typically fed a higher protein diet to promote rapid growth. Start with a 20-24% protein starter feed for the first few weeks, then transition to a finisher feed with around 18-20% protein until they reach the desired weight.

Despite their different dietary needs, broilers can also benefit from the addition of organic fruits and vegetables, grains, and opportunities for foraging. 

Additional Tips for Feeding Chickens

1. Avoid processed foods: Processed foods often contain additives and preservatives that can harm chickens.

2. Kitchen scraps are treats, not meals: While chickens will happily gobble up your kitchen scraps, these should only supplement their diet, not form the bulk of it.

3. Consider fermenting feed: Fermenting chicken feed can increase its nutritional content and improve digestion. It's as simple as adding water to the feed and letting it sit for a few days.

4. Rotate fruits and vegetables: Offering a variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure your chickens get a broad spectrum of nutrients.

Feeding your chickens an organic and non-GMO diet that's age-appropriate can keep them healthy and productive. Remember that their dietary needs will change as they grow, and adjust their feed accordingly. With proper care, you'll have happy chickens that provide fresh eggs or nutritious meat for your family.