How To Raise Baby Chicks: Food

In prior installments in this series we covered the following topics relevant to raising baby chicks:

In this article we tackle the subject of nutrition and feed.

Feeding baby chicks isn't particularly difficult. The key is to buy the right type of feed for the age of your chicks as they age.

Feed Me Right & I'll Make Lots of Eggs

Feeding for Baby Birds Aged 0-6 Weeks 

Baby chicks grow rapidly and need lots of protein to grow and develop adult feathers. Buy feed that is described as "Chick Starter." For laying hens and dual purpose breeds, this should have a protein relatively high protein content -- usually 20%.  If your flock is consists of meat birds (Cornish, Cochin etc.) feeds with protein content in the 20-24% range is even better since these breeds gain muscle mass even more rapidly when growing and need the extra protein.

Starter feeds will also always be in the form of crumbles because feed pellets are too large for baby birds. Starter formulas may also contain medications to prevent coccidiosis.  This is a parasitic disease that can kill baby chicks and so many owners seek feeds that can help protect your birds. 
Starter Feed Crumbles From Organic Feed Producer
Modesto Milling Photo Courtesy Modesto Milling
Chicks will also greedily accept vegetable scraps. If you decide to provide these, remember to cut these into small bits. Leafy greens such as lettuce and cabbage are great because they are soft.  Remember that scraps should be given in small quantities because you don't want them to take the place of more nutrient dense starter feed.

Feed For Young Birds Aged 7-20 Weeks

As your birds begin to mature, their nutritional needs change and so its important to adjust their feed formula.  Meat birds require high protein "Grower" formulas to continue to put on muscle mass. These formulas generally have protein content of 18-20%.

However, high protein feeds are less suitable for laying breeds that need less protein and more calcium in their diet. The additional calcium helps them build strong bones before they reach laying age at which point calcium in their diet gets channeled towards the production of eggs.  Grower formulas for egg layers generally have a protein content around 18% and are relatively high in calcium.

Grower formulas sometimes also include medications. Many owners medicate their birds for just the first six weeks and then switch to non-medicated feeds. The choice of medicated versus non-medicated is really a personal one. However, all birds should stop eating medicated feed when they reach adulthood (+20 weeks old).

Feed For Adult Birds Aged +20 Weeks

When hens reach adulthood optimal feed formulas change again, primarily to increase the amount of calcium in their diets.  These formulas are designed to give chickens the nutrition they need to maintain their bodies, grow new feathers and lay plenty of eggs!

Adult Birds Have Different Nutritional Requirements

Don't Forget the Water

All the above mentioned feeds are dry so chickens need plenty of water to properly digest their food.  In fact, water consumption is directly proportional to the amount of dry feed consumed.

Use a dedicated chicken waterer to provide water to baby chicks , not an open water dish or bowl. Baby chicks can drown in a bowl or dish and these are easily contaminated and readily spill water into the brooder.

Works Well In Your Brooder

A BriteTap chicken waterer is particularly helpful in the brooder because it keeps the water fully covered so it can't be contaminated by droppings. Baby chicks also can't drown in the water because it is dispensed through small valves, not an open pan.  To see baby chicks drinking, check out the below video:

Baby Chicks Drinking BriteTap Chicken Waterer from ChickenWaterer on Vimeo.


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