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There’s a lot of different types of chickens you can raise, and they each have their peculiar traits and dietary needs. Caring for an egg-laying hen is probably going to be a different experience than raising a broiler.
There’s also chicken breeds that grow faster and some that grow slower, and there are some that absolutely need more open space than others. There are also chickens that are perfectly content to plop themselves down by a feeding trough and chow down all day.
10 Different Types Of Chicken Feed
To accommodate the different growth stages and breed-specific nuances that each chicken will have, there are roughly 10 different types of chicken feed that you can use.
Here’s a closer look at each of these different types of chicken feed.
Starter Chicken Feed
Starter chicken feed is generally used on a new batch of baby chicks. It includes special nutrients that are important for speeding up and maintaining healthy growth during their earlier weeks. It can also come in a medicated form, but there will be more on that later.
You’ll want to feed starter feed to your baby chicks until they’re roughly 18 weeks old. Numbers like this usually aren’t terribly hard or fast, so you could ask around your local friend group and even do some research into the specific breed you’re dealing with to get an idea of how flexible this date can be.
Starter feed is usually fortified with probiotics, which are different from antibiotics. Probiotic foods are designed to promote healthy bacteria in the chicken’s digestive tract, and antibiotics are generally used to treat bacterial infections.
Probiotics aren’t absolutely essential for the entire lifespan of the chicken, but probiotics are particularly important for young meat birds. Having healthy gut bacteria early on will allow the chicks to absorb food more efficiently later on. This can make them grow faster and save you money.
Recommended Starter Feed: Naturally Free Organic Starter Chick Feed
Grower Chicken Feed
As the name suggests, grower feed is for chickens in an intermediate stage of growth. They won’t be baby chicks anymore, but they might not be fully-fledged chickens yet. Grower feed might have just a little less protein, and it might not need to have as many vitamins either.
Grower feed is generally considered appropriate for most adolescent chickens. With that said, you might want to look into a specialized blend if you’re raising broiler chickens.
You should also keep a careful eye on your egg-laying hens if you have them. They’re not going to need food that is fortified with calcium when they’re still adolescents, but you’ll want to give them layer feed once they start popping out eggs.
Recommended Grower Feed: Prairies Choice Non-GMO Backyard Grower Chicken Feed
Chicken Feed For Egg Layers
Feed for egg-laying chickens is generally fortified with extra calcium so the eggs aren’t too thin. You’ll notice if your chickens are suffering from a nutrient deficiency if you see that the shells are translucent, soft, thin, or very easily cracked.
Deformities like bumps don’t necessarily imply a nutrient deficiency. A surprising number of oddities can be ultimately traced back to a stressed bird, but thin shells in particular signal a calcium deficiency.
In addition, layer feed will tend to be a little bit higher in its protein content than all-purpose feed. It will still be lower than starter or grower feed though. Your hens will need the extra protein so they can keep laying eggs quickly.
It’s important to note that layer feed shouldn’t be fed to chickens that aren’t laying eggs. Over time, the fortified food can cause vitamin buildups. This can have negative health effects on your chickens.
Recommended Egg Layer Feed: Manna Pro Layer Pellets
We can look at scratch, mash, crumble, and pellets as one larger category of chicken feed because they generally describe the stage of processing that the feed is in. Feed pellets are tiny seed-shaped bits of ground chicken food. The shape and consistency has quite a few advantages that make pellets a favorite of many chicken farmers.
Feed pellets are made with a tool that compresses feed mash. This hardens the pellets so they can hold their shape. This makes it so you can throw it on the ground and your chickens will still be able to eat it right up. If there’s a chance of food spillage, not as much will go to waste. Chickens can still eat wet food that’s fallen on the ground, but there will be a larger portion that ends up uneaten.
Pellets are also advantageous because they’re easy to store. Bags of feed pellets tend to last longer because they’re dry, which makes them a little less prone to mold. Just make sure to store your chicken feed in a cold and dry place.
If you live in an area where it stays below freezing over the winter, you can count on your feed lasting throughout the entire season as long as you leave it in the cold and it doesn’t get wet or eaten by wild animals.
Recommended Chicken Pellet Feed: Manna Pro Layer Pellets
Chicken crumble is an even more processed form of feed mash. Pellets are taken and run through a device that breaks pellets into smaller chunks. It may seem like this step is a waste of energy since the feed is pulverized, compacted, and then crumbled again. However, each stage of the process gives manufacturers an opportunity to add nutrients to the feed.
For reasons like this, chicken crumble tends to be a popular form of starter feed. Ultimately you should be more concerned with the nutritional content of the feed. You may be faced with a more specific circumstance, like a chicken that faces difficulties with eating, that make one type of feed better than another.
It’s also important to pay attention to the type of feeder that you use. If you’re using an automatic gravity-fed feeder, you should pay attention to how the feed flows through it. Certain shapes and consistencies might not be very compatible with the device that you’re using.
Recommended Crumble Chicken Feed: Manna Pro Organic Starter Crumble
Chicken mash is a combination of protein, supplements, and scratch. Combined, they make the powdery precursor to pellets. Mash is a good choice for baby chicks for many of the same reasons that crumble is.
Because it includes pulverized grains along with nutritional supplements, it can have more specialized formulas. For example, mash can be fortified with calcium, and it can also be fortified with extra protein. Its smaller size also makes it easier for baby chicks to digest.
Mash might be undesirable for some chicken farmers because of its powdery texture. More of it may go to waste if it falls on the ground, and some chickens might not be as keen to eat the feed if it’s smaller than a pellet. It shines in certain situations, but it’s not quite a solution for every circumstance.
Recommended Chicken Mash: Morning Bird 16% Laying Mash
Chicken scratch is the least processed form of chicken feed behind raw grains. A bag of it will just contain crushed grains. It’s usually not quite as powdery as mash, but it’s not as firm as pellets either. This consistency might make it seem like a good choice for adolescent chickens, but it has some downsides that make it a sub-optimal choice for this.
Because chicken scratch lies at such an early stage in processing, it usually doesn’t contain nutritional supplements that are important in other chicken feeds.
It also likely won’t be medicated, so you’ll usually need to look elsewhere if you’re trying to get a worm problem under control. Most likely, you’ll need to give your chickens an entirely different product. You may also need to supplement their diet with other foods that can make up for the deficiencies in chicken scratch.
Recommended Chicken Scratch: Little Farmer Products Premium Chicken Scratch Mix
Medicated and Non-medicated Chicken Feed
It’s important to be acutely aware of whether or not you’re giving medicated feed to your chickens. While medicated feed can just be given to large quantity of your chickens at a time, it’s safer for you and your flock if some care is taken here.
Depending on the issue that’s being medicated, you may want to take special precautions. If you give medicated feed to your layer chickens, you should make sure that you’re paying attention to the egg withdrawal period. The egg withdrawal period tells you how long you should wait before eating any eggs that that chicken lays.
The active ingredients in medicated feed can be passed from the chicken to the egg, and the active ingredients also aren’t very healthy for humans to consume. This means that prolonged exposure to this can cause a medication buildup in the human that might not have even seen the feed to begin with. I can’t imagine very many people getting excited about having a load of parasite medication in their system.
Recommended Medicated Chicken Feed: Not Recommended
Fermented Chicken Feed
Fermented chicken feed is unique in that it’s a more natural way to aid the digestion system of your chickens, and it allows them to intake nutrients more efficiently.
Because fermented feed is easier to digest, a lot of chicken owners say it can help you save money on your weekly feed bill. This may involve learning how to ferment your own chicken feed, but the learning process is worth it for some owners.
Usually, chicken feed is fermented at home, so it may be difficult to buy it online or at a store. It’s best if you treat fermented feed as an all-purpose chicken feed. It may be more difficult to track the total nutrition value that your chickens are getting. If you’re feeding it to your egg-laying hens, you may want to keep an eye on the quality of their eggs and their overall health.
Recommended Fermented Chicken Starter: Scratch and Peck Feeds Ferment Starter Kit for Chickens and Ducks
As the name suggests, broiler feed is for broiler chickens. You have the option of getting broiler starter feed and a more general broiler feed. You can expect the starter feed to have a higher protein concentration that lands at around 23 percent. Broiler finisher feed usually contains some source of omega-3 fatty acid to promote healthy growth.
If you’re buying broiler feed, there’s a few things to keep an eye on. For example, broiler starter feed might automatically contain medication. This is to prevent a few common diseases that baby broilers face due to their rather extreme physiology. You’ll also want to make sure that you’re not accidentally giving your grown broilers medicated feed when you’re getting ready to slaughter them.