Scatter feeding chickens

A flock of chickens being scatter fed with corn

Table of Contents

What is scatter feeding?

Scatter feeding is the action of throwing or spreading grain based scratch feeds for chickens over a large area of ground to keep them entertained and simulate how they would find food under natural conditions.

Below: A flock of chickens being scatter fed with corn.

Scattering the food can help teach chickens, especially young artificially raised chickens, to scratch and scavenge for food in the grass and feed them at the same time.

Keep quantities low so as all the feed is eaten before roosting time and none is left to go mouldy.

Is scattering feed good for chickens?

In my opinion, yes, scattering some of the scratch feed is good for chickens. It probably depends on your circumstances to some extent. Scattering feed in a muddy area is going to be of little benefit for example.

Below: Scatter feeding some windfall apples.

If your chickens are used to being given a little scratch every afternoon at the same time it makes it easy to get them back in the home run and to have a look at them moving around so as you can inspect them visually to make sure they are all in good condition.

For me it encourages hens to forage for their food with the added advantage that dominant flock mates don't get the chance to chase submissive chickens away from the grain which is something that often happens with a feeder.

Should you scatter feed for your chickens?

As with most things there are two schools of thought. Those who say that chickens will scratch and feed without being taught and that scattering food is a wasteful practice and those of us who think that anything that enriches a chickens life is worth it and chickens are very good at finding the grains you have thrown about for them.

The reality is that I am not going to tell you to scatter feed or not, I am going to tell you that I do it and my chickens like it and seem at their happiest pottering about on the grass in the sunshine hunting down morsels.

Preventing wastage while scatter feeding chickens:

If you try to scatter feed pellets or mash or you give too much food it may be wasted. Only scatter small amounts of poultry corn or scratch grains and not too late in the day. The hens should be able to find and eat it all within the hour.

  1. Only use full grains and seeds while scatter feeding.
  2. Only give an ounce or so per bird.
  3. Feed earlier in the day.

Why scatter feed chickens?

Scatter feeding allows chickens to indulge in natural behaviours like scratching and hunting in the undergrowth as they would do if they were wild. This is good for the chickens mental health and well being and may lead to them finding beneficial wild foods as well.

Scattering the chicken feed helps to spread the food around the area which means that any bullied chickens that might normally be pushed of the feeders by dominant birds get their share of the food.

Below: Scatter feeding encourages the flock to spread out so submissive chickens get a good feed as well.

What foods are best scatter fed?

Mixed poultry corn or whole grain scratch foods are the best foods to scatter about for chickens to forage for.

Pellets or mash should be provided in a feeder as they are not good scratch foods and will get wasted or lost in the wet.

List of food that are good to scatter feed:

  1. Whole wheat.
  2. Mixed poultry corn.
  3. Sunflower or safflower seeds.
  4. Sprouted grains
  5. Scraps.
  6. Windfall fruit.

If you sprout seeds for your chickens these are another good type to scatter.

If you feed scraps then these can be spread around as well.

How to scatter feed your flock:

Take around 1 ounce of grains per chicken and throw it across the area you would like them to forage in.

Ideally you should aim to spread the scratch as wide as you can so as the birds are kept entertained.

Advantages of scatter feeding:

  • Mimics and encourages natural behaviours.
  • Keeps chickens entertained.
  • Allows submissive flock mates to get a good feed.

Disadvantages to scatter feeding:

  • Feed left lying on the ground can attract vermin.
  • Grains lying in damp soil can spoil or grow moulds.

For more on feeding scratch to chickens.