One of my favorite things about raising chickens is how low maintenance and low cost they are. Once your coop and run are built and you get a few other items, chickens require much less care and money than dogs, cats, or any other household animal. Except maybe fish.
Chickens have pretty simple physical needs: food, water, and dirt. You also need some vessels.
There are two main foods to give your chickens (and a few snacks):
- Starter crumbles
- Layer pellets
Starter crumbles are, well, crumbled chicken food. They are broken in small pieces so little chicks can swallow them. They are also formulated with the right mix of protein, minerals, and other vitamins to get those babies off to a good start. I recommend the Nutrena NatureWise.
How long chickens eat crumbles: Birth to ~ 6 weeks.
Pellets are just bigger chunks that are formulated for adolescent and adult chickens. There are a few mixes with different levels of protein, minerals, and nutrients, but I like Nutrena Country Layer 16% Pellets.
How long chickens eat pellets: 6 weeks through the rest of their lives.
There are lots of feeding vessels, but you only need two:
- Chick feeder – It’s essentially a little trough with a cap that has holes for the chicks to poke their heads through. Use this as long as they are on crumbles. There are plastic and metal ones. Either works fine. McMurray Hatchery has a great selection.
- “Bucket” feeder – A cylinder with a pan hanging underneath. Pour the food in the top and the feeder doles out the pellets as the chickens need them. We hang ours from the ceiling of our coop, a few inches off the ground. This keeps the chickens from scratching dirt into the feed. Again, check out McMurray.
If you feed your birds nothing but crumbles, pellets, and water, they will be fine. However, your eggs won’t be as rich and nutritious as they could be. Also, your chickens just won’t be as happy. That’s where snacks come in …
Chickens, like people, love their treats. And chickens will eat just about anything. They are amazing recyclers, turning your kitchen scraps into eggs. You can give them about any vegetable material from your kitchen. They especially love bread (chickens are extreme carb-a-holics).
Tip: Letting kids feed chickens little pieces of bread and other veggies is a great way to introduce children to homesteading and caring for livestock.
Chickens will eat meat, but don’t give it to them. It’s greasy, will stink if it sits in the sun, and isn’t the best for your bird’s bellies.
Chickens need a constant supply of fresh water. Constant. Chickens don’t drink in big gulps all at one time like dogs and horses. They take little sips all day long. If they don’t have water available at all times, they can quickly dehydrate.
There are lots of waterer designs out there, but our favorite is a stainless automatic bowl. Just hook up the hose and walk away. This is also great if you need to leave your chickens alone for a few days.
You’ve probably seen a sparrow or other small bird bathing in a puddle or bird bath, splashing water all over itself. Chickens do the same thing, just with dirt. It’s called dust bathing, and it’s crucial to their health.
Dust bathing helps your chickens keep pests like mites and lice off their skin naturally. Many times, this saves you having to treat them with medicines to prevent those pests.
Dust bathing is strange the first time you see it, so here is what it looks like. First, they will dig a hole in a soft patch of bare ground, a few inches deep. Then they lay down on their side in the hole and use their beak to scratch dirt toward them. Then the funny part. The chicken will scratch with one leg and flap its wings to throw dirt in the air. The dirt falls on them and settles between their feathers. They do this repeatedly for a while, then stand up, shake the dirt off, and go on their way.
Here’s a quick video of mine bathing:
So if you see your chickens keeled over and flailing around, don’t be alarmed. They’re probably just taking a bath.
Chickens need to dust bath. That means you must have some soft dirt for them to use. If you don’t have that kind of dirt in your chicken yard, put a kiddie pool in their coop and fill it with play sand from the hardware store.
That’s About It
I told you they were easy.
P.S. – Wanna read more about chickens? Pop over to our Chickens page!