What do Baby Chickens Eat?

We know this is one of the first questions people ask when thinking about becoming backyard chicken farmers. Fear not, as this all-encompassing guide is designed to provide detailed information and tips on raising baby chickens known as chicks, focusing specifically on their dietary needs.

farm girl holding adorable baby chicks

When it comes to raising chicks into healthy and happy chickens, one must adhere to certain rules for proper feeding. A chick’s access to nutritional food isn’t as simple as them pecking into a mountain of chicken feed with their tiny beaks. They need food that caters specifically to their dietary needs. In this guide, we will explore the diet requirements of baby chickens and understand the significance of offering a well-balanced and age-appropriate diet.

Starter Feed: The Choice of Chick Hatcheries and the Foundation for Healthy Growth

Chickens do not nurse off their mother hens. It may seem silly to point that out because they have hard beaks, but you’d be surprised how many people think that they need milk, like a baby goat or horse. I’ve seen mother hens break off a blade of grass and feed it to their little ones on the first day of life. This tells me that their stomachs are ready for “real” food right after birth. While it would be great if we could just feed them grass clippings, we’ve had huge success raising healthy birds by using chicken starter.

Chick starter feed, found in feed stores and other places where animal food is sold, is specially formulated to meet the unique nutritional needs of chicks during their early days. Acting like a chicken’s grit, it aids in digestion and won’t cause stomach upset.

Unlike feeds designed for adult chickens containing whole grains or corn and often found in pellet form, starter feed, is finely ground, resembling crumbles to accommodate the chicks’ small beaks.

Nutritional Components in Starter Feed

  1. Proteins: Chicks require a higher protein intake during their early weeks. This supports the rapid development of muscles and feathers. Starter feeds, typically in a crumble form, contain around 20-22% protein.
  2. Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates in a chick starter feed act as an essential energy source. They provide the fuel needed for chicks’ activities, ensuring these little birds remain lively.
  3. Fats: Fats contribute to overall energy and aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, much like the role of fats in adults or hens. Their inclusion in starter feed supports the nervous system’s development of a chick.
  4. Vitamins and Minerals: Starter feeds are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. These include vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, and phosphorus, which are crucial for bone development and overall health, proving to be as vital as water required for their growth.

Feeding Schedule: Tips on How Often and How Much

baby chicken sitting down at the dinner table

Chicks’ feeding requirements evolve as they grow, akin to the changing dietary needs in our life stages. They should have constant access to starter feed, resembling the tiny crumbles they love to peck during their first week. As they progress, you can gradually introduce a feeding schedule. By the fourth week, chicks can transition to a grower feed with slightly reduced protein content, a common practice in many hatcheries.

Monitoring Chickens’ Appetite and Adjusting Portions

Observing your chicks’ appetite is key to ensuring they receive adequate nutrition. Adjust portions based on their consumption, as you would using the same tips a mother hen would employ for her babies, avoiding overfeeding or underfeeding which can lead to health issues or stunt growth.

You’ll wand to feed about 1 pound of feed per chick per week and then increase the amount as they grow.

Introducing Treats and Supplementary Foods

Starter feed provides essential nutrition, but introducing supplementary foods, like greens, can enhance their diet. This helps familiarize chicks with other food textures and tastes, helping them mature into well-rounded adult chickens.

Safe and Nutritious Treat Options

Treats should be introduced cautiously and in moderation. Don’t give them anything but the starter feed for at least the first two weeks. Some people recommend you wait until they are four weeks old. We have done both and as long as we move forward with caution and measured steps, the chicks do great.


Options include mealworms, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Avoid processed or sugary treats, as they can disrupt the nutritional balance, like offering corn to a flock of hens.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Chick Nutrition

Overfeeding or Underfeeding

Overfeeding can lead to obesity and health problems, while underfeeding can result in malnutrition and stunted growth. Monitoring their intake and adjusting portions is important for your chickens’ health..

Providing Inappropriate Foods

baby chicken guarding a chocolate bar

Chicks are sensitive to certain foods. Avoid offering processed foods high in salt and sugar, much like how we wouldn’t feed a baby a hamburger, we don’t want to give chicks more than their little tummies can handle. If in doubt, wait until the chicks are older for a taste test.

Be sure to check out our guides on foods NEVER to feed your chickens (this goes for chicks too,) and what table scraps are good for chickens.

We hope this has answered your question about what you should feed chicks to help them grow up to be the healthiest egg layers and meaters they can be.

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