The ultimate guide to feeding baby chicks.
Feeding baby chicks:
Feeding baby chicks properly with the correct feed is important. Baby chicks die quickly from hunger and may grow slowly and become unthrifty if improperly fed.
Below: Young birds eating chick starter feed or crumb.
Though baby chickens are born with the same instincts as their parents, they are too young to peck their way to a solid nutrition.
A mother hen will pick up pieces of feed, seeds, worms, bugs, etc. for her chicks and drop them in front of the chick to show them what is food and you can use the same process to demonstrate to your chicks what is food.
What should I feed my chicks?
Chicks should be fed a steady supply of quality chick starter feed, sometimes also called chick crumb or chick mash for feeding wet. Buy the right quantity of feed for the number of chicks you are keeping so as it doesn't get old and stale.
Below: This is what chick crumb looks like. Mash has more of a flaky texture.
It is best if you make a trip to your local chicken feed store and pick up some chick starter feed and make sure you leave plenty of it out for your baby chicks to munch on throughout the day.
You can also give your chicks a little scrambled egg. In my grandfathers day, all chicks were raised on grated cooked egg.
Feed should be 95% of what they eat and treats no more than 5% otherwise you run the risk of upsetting the nutrient balance.
Should you feed baby chicks medicated or non-medicated feed?
The idea behind medicated chick feed is to keep Coccidiosis at bay until the bird has built up immunity. Artificially reared chicks should be fed a medicated chick crumb for at least the first 4 weeks of life to prevent this awful condition.
Coccidiosis is an intestinal disease caused by one of six different species a microscopic parasitic protozoa which attaches to the intestinal lining of a chicken.
Some are harmless and others life threatening, each living in a specific area of the gut.
They damage the tissue causing bleeding, hence the bloody poop, and prevent birds from absorbing nutrients.
Chickens of all ages can become infected but most vulnerable are chicks under six months because they haven’t built immunity against it.
Read more about Coccidiosis and how to treat it.
How often do you feed baby chicks?
Ideally you should have chick feed readily available on tap for the chicks to eat. Allowing chicks to get hungry could lead to them overeating dry chick crumb when you do feed and that could cause crop issues.
Below: Feed and water should be always on tap and fresh.
They also get noisy and start trying to fly out of the brooder if they get hungry so chicks are best fed all the time.
How much do chicks eat every day?
Day old chicks will only eat a few grams a day initially but as they start to grow they begin to eat quite a lot. Food should always be available as growing chicks do not get fat.
Below: Growing chicks on proper feed do not get fat.
The amount of food a chick needs will go from 5 to 10 grams a day to 100 to 150 grams a day by the time they are fully grown.
Grit for chicks:
Chicks can be given grit but not shell. It is not necessary to train chicks to eat grit as it is instinctive behaviour.
How long do you feed chick starter?
I feed chick starter crumb for at least 6 and normally 8 weeks before I begin to switch to a grower ration. It is also fine to let a hen brooding chicks to eat chick crumb or growers, the same as the chicks, It won't do her any harm at all.
Is Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) good for chicks?
No. You do not need to give ACV or apple cider vinegar to chicks. Keep it for fully grown chickens and limit it's use to once a week at most.
What can you feed chicks in an emergency if you have no chick crumb?
There are a few things you can give to chicks if you have run out of chick ration or feed. Remember to cut it up finely though so they can eat it easily.
These are not to be fed for long periods of time, they are just to tide you over until you can get to the animal feeds store to get proper feed.
- Scrambled egg. Cooked through with a knob of butter just like you would do for yourself.
- Chopped cooked green peas. Peas are a good combination of protein and carbohydrate.
- Insects, worms or wood louse (woodchucks).
- Chopped sunflower seed hearts. Must be husked and out of the shells.
- Canola seed. Or oil seed rape in some countries.
- Rolled oats put through a blender to chop them up small.
- If you are really desperate soak some scratch in water and chop in a blender and feed that.
- Cooked rice. This is really a last resort as it is mostly starch with no where near enough protein.
Never use laying feed as the calcium in it is not good for young chicks. Also avoid pulses and beans as these contain digestive inhibitors and are not good feed for young chicks.
Treats for baby chicks and young chickens:
It is fun to treat your chickens and baby chicks are no exception. Introducing new foods to the brooder often causes masses of excitement and rushing around among the chicks.
It is best to give small amounts of treats and opt for protein rich morsels if you can.
You can give fresh live insects to chicks, a small earthworm is a good start. Single cooked peas or sweetcorn kernels. A dandelion leaf or flower is also a good choice.
Shelled sunflower seeds are a favourite of mine for treating my chickens as they are protein and calorie rich.
What can chicks eat besides starter feed?
Apart from scrambled eggs and worm and insect treats I would not substitute anything for chick starter.
A quality feed-stuffs bought from a reputable supplier will have all the nutrition that chicks need to grow. If you start messing around with the balance you could end up with all sorts of issues a bit further down the line.
Can chicks eat grass and greens?
Yes, no problem. I go so far as sprout seeds and put them in for the chicks to feed on the greens.
The same rule applies when adding different feeds to the diet, never more than 5% of the diet and you will be fine. Avoid spinach and rhubarb leaves as they contains Oxalic acid which can cause digestive issues.
Below: Here some of the hens are showing the chicks how tasty the herb garden was.
Hens that raise chicks naturally will eat grass and greens and encourage their babies to do the same.
Cut a square of turf from the garden, or grow one, and bring it in for them, it will help keep them amused and help prepare them for outdoor life.
Can you overfeed chicks?
No. If you are feeding your baby chicks the proper diet they will eat as much as they need to. Chicks fed a chick ration will not over feed as they grow so fast.
Underfeeding is much more of a worry with growing chickens.
At what age can chicks get scraps?
I would say not before 12 weeks, they still have a lot of growing to do. Human food scraps are not that good for chickens and often contains way too much salt and sugar.