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Feeding Schedule for Adult Chickens

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Feeding Schedule for Adult Chickens

Did you know that a 2011 consumer survey conducted by USFRA (U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance) estimated that 72% of U.S. consumers are not familiar with farming or where their food comes from? By raising chickens, you are entering an exciting new world of understanding how our food is produced. The following article will help you understand how to properly feed your chickens for optimal performance. 

Although dietary needs of chickens will change depending upon their age, bear in mind that a varied diet will ensure that they are receiving proper nutrition. The chickens we supply are Leghorns, which are ideal egg layers. In fact, most egg-laying hens in the U.S. egg industry are Leghorns or Leghorn hybrids, which average 280 eggs per year. You might consider raising these chickens for meat, but Leghorns are not an ideal breed for this. Leghorns have been selectively bred for mass egg production, and they are naturally lightweight, slim birds. Chickens raised for meat (broilers) have fat, broad bodies and rapid growth; Cornish Cross is one such example. 

Chicken Lifecycle

We will quickly cover the average lifecycle of a chicken. Depending upon the breed, chickens can live anywhere from three to twelve years; Leghorn chickens, however, have a life expectancy of about six years and will grow to about 4.5–6 lbs. (2–3 kg).

After hatching, a chicken is called a chick, which is a baby chicken covered in soft fluff. The infant stage lasts for about four weeks, in which they grow into young adults. The names of these birds depend on their sex. Young females are called pullets, while young males are called cockerels. This stage lasts for about twelve weeks, whereby the chickens will reach adulthood—pullets grow into hens and cockerels grow into roosters. Leghorn hens will begin producing eggs when they are about twenty weeks old and will lay most efficiently until about eighty-five weeks. 

Chicken Feed Schedule

During their lives, chickens will have different nutritional requirements. Commercial feed is divided into three basic categories:

When raising your chickens “free-range” (defined as those raised outdoors or with access to the outdoors), they will often forage for insects, seeds, and other things to supplement their diet. For simplification, however, this article will ignore free-range and highlight the different feeds based upon the growth stages of your chickens. 

Infants: Chicks

Upon receiving your chicks, you should first give them water and starter feed, which is a protein-dense feed designed to meet the dietary requirements of chicks. Chicks require feed that contains about 20% protein, and most commercial starter chicken feed will be within a range of 16–22%. A chick’s diet will need to be high in protein, so it may be best to avoid fruit and vegetable treats during this period. Chickens can start eating worms and insects immediately, so consider this option to vary the diet of your chicks and increase their protein consumption. Usually, mother hens will teach their chicks how to feed, but since they lack that parentage, that will be up to you! Do not be discouraged if the chicks do not immediately take to some foods offered—they are naturally wary creatures. 

Adolescents: Pullets & Cockerels

After your chicks become pullets and cockerels, you will need to phase out their high protein diet for grower feed. This feed contains a lower protein content (16–18%), which is important in maintaining the health of your chickens. A continued high protein diet at this point can lead to organ failure in chickens. About this time, you may want to begin supplementing the diet of your chickens with table scraps. Chopped vegetable peels, apples, carrots, and cabbage make good dietary additions. 

Adults: Hens & Roosters

Upon reaching adulthood, chickens will require less protein than their younger counterparts. Diet for adult chickens is called finisher feed. This feed has a higher fat content and more minerals to promote improved egg quality. This diet will have the same amount of protein as grower feed, but increased levels of calcium for stronger eggshells. Consider looking for a diet that contains omega-3 fatty acids, as this will provide more nutrient-rich eggs. According to research, the average chicken will require about a half cup of feed (4 oz/125 g). Be aware that egg laying for hens has a higher energy expenditure than normal day-to-day functions, thus your chickens will require more feed. 


Chickens will molt throughout their life. Molting is a normal event, but it will deplete the chicken’s protein levels. Chicks will usually have their first molt about a week after hatching, and another nearly eight weeks after hatching. There will also likely be another molt at about eighteen months of age. During each molt, be sure to feed chickens a high protein diet, as replenishing feathers is energetically costly (feathers consist of nearly 85% protein). You will also find that molting is a seasonal occurrence that happens at the end of summer/beginning of autumn. During molting season, be sure to reduce the stress of your flock by limiting handling, giving them clean water, and avoiding new introductions. 


The time of the year will have a significant impact on the dietary need of your chickens and what they should be fed. Obviously, a balanced diet will ensure your chickens are healthy, but you might need to change feed or include supplements depending upon environmental conditions. For example, chickens will require less fat and more carbohydrates during the warmer summer months. This is contrasted with the winter months, which will require a higher fat-based diet for the chickens to stay warm. Consider providing some fresh greens and live insects for your chickens during winter, since they will likely be unable to forage. Beyond feeding them properly, it is also important to ensure that your chickens have a suitable coop. For those hot summers, coops should have proper shade and adequate airflow for ventilation. In the colder winter months, chickens will require well insulated coops with bedding.

Chickens also have different nutritional requirements at different life stages, notably molting and laying. As mentioned before, chickens will require higher amounts of protein during molting. During laying, chickens require nearly triple the amount of calcium in their diet. Ensure that you are providing the proper care for your chickens during these times. 

Table Scraps

To ensure a balanced diet for your chickens, you may choose to include food waste. Food waste Food waste is high in nutrients and minerals and includes fruit and vegetable scraps; avoid fatty, salty foods. Other foods that chickens enjoy are cucurbits, such as cucumber, pumpkin, and squash, although these are best used in moderation as treats. Be sure to avoid feeding them too much waste, as this is considered a treat, with some comparing it to candy for chickens. Too many treats can upset the metabolism of your flock, which can lead to obesity and to diminished egg production. Therefore, it is suggested to balance the chicken’s diet with 10% scraps and 90% complete feed. 

Chickens love pumpkin.  Watch this video that shows how much chickens love pumpkins:

chickens love pumpkins

Fermented Chicken Feed

An alternative to commercial chicken feed is using fermented grains. Fermented grains contain probiotics that aid in digestion and can improve egg quality. Research indicates that fermented feed improved the intestinal health of chickens and formed a natural barrier against pathogens such as Salmonella. Additionally, while egg production of chickens fed fermented feed was no different to those reared on dry diet, egg quality did appear to improve. However, the same research also suggested that fermented feed rapidly became less attractive to the tested birds, resulting in more aggressive behavior and poorer plumage than those given dry feed. If you consider this, be sure to have other feed ready.

Insect Feed

Using insects as feed and treats for your chickens is a good way of ensuring they meet their nutritional requirements and keep a balanced diet. Chickens absolutely love insects as treats, and some people even use insects to train their chickens or keep them active. The best insects to feed your chickens are mealworms, black soldier flies, and crickets. 


Chickens love mealworms, Tenebrio molitor (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae), both fresh and dried, and are safe for use in poultry production. Mealworms are high in protein (30% live, 50% dried) and are good supplements for chickens during molting season, laying, or when sick. You can also use mealworms to your advantage to keep your chickens busy and change their own bedding. By tossing a small handful into your coop, chickens will turn over the ground and scour every inch to find their treats. Be aware that mealworms are a treat and their high protein content can lead to kidney issues. For each chicken, one beak-full once or twice a week is enough and ensure that this does not exceed 10% of their diet. Be sure to observe your chickens and respond accordingly. 

Mealworms will eventually pupate and turn into adults at about ten weeks. Adults of this species are darkling beetles, which is a catch-all term for beetles in the family Tenebrionidae. Chickens will eat the adults, but it is not recommended as insects with hardened exoskeletons are more difficult to digest. 

Please be aware that the mealworms we sell are T. molitor not Alphitobius diaperinus (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae). Alphitobius diaperinus is a major pest of poultry barns and chicken coops. The adult form of A. diaperinus, also a darkling beetle, is known to serve as a reservoir for Salmonella and Escherichia, which can transmit disease when eaten. 

Additionally, chickens will also devour superworms.  Here's a video of them hunting down superworms:

chickens love superworms

Black Soldier Flies

The larvae of black soldier flies, Hermetia illucens (Diptera: Stratiomyidae), are a good substitute for mealworms. They are also packed in protein, but contain more than double the calcium, making them ideal treats for your egg-laying hens. Just like mealworms, you can toss a handful into the coop and watch the chickens turn over every inch. Because of their high protein content, black soldier fly larvae should be given as a treat. Much like the mealworms, a single beak-full once or twice a week for each chicken is sufficient. 

Black soldier fly larvae will eventually pupate and turn into adults at three to five weeks. Adults of this species are flies, but they are not pests, nor do they carry any communicable diseases. In fact, black soldier flies are efficient decomposers of food waste. Research has even shown that they can consume polystyrene and other plastics. 


House crickets make great feeder insects for chickens. They have high protein levels and contain high amounts of digestible amino acids. Unlike mealworms and black soldier flies, all life stages of this insect can be eaten. Crickets are hemimetabolous, meaning that they do not pupate; juveniles look like smaller versions of the adults. Because all stages of this insect will hop away, tossing crickets into your coop makes a great way of keeping your chickens active. A sufficient number of crickets for each chicken is a single beak-full once or twice weekly. 

Here's a video that shows how much chickens love chasing crickets:

chickens love crickets

Chicks as Reptile Feed

If you are planning on raising chicken to feed to your reptilian pet, you may use them as food immediately. Contrary to popular belief, day-old-chicks (DOCs) are a suitable prey item for reptiles, such as snakes. Research on palatability of DOCs for snakes found that they are a viable alternative to rodents. If you are interested in purchasing live chicks, please visit our snake feeding guide for more information. 

Chicks, mice, or rats - which is best

Here's our guide comparing the nutritional benefits of chicks, mice, and rats:https://www.thecritterdepot.com/blogs/news/day-old-chicks-vs-mice-vs-rats-nutritional-guide

When raising chicks, keep them in a large container with ample heat. Feed them in the same manner as described above. Although your goal is likely not to grow them to maturity, keeping your chicks fed is important for their health and nutritional content. Because chickens are fast growing animals, they will get bigger before you realize it. Although this means larger, fuller meals for your reptile, do not forget that chickens can fight back. Always research how large of a chicken is right for your reptile. 


There are some bloggers that discuss their avoidance to commercial chicken feed by only using scraps and allowing them to forage. Until you are sufficiently comfortable with raising chickens and gained experience, we recommend using a commercial feed and supplementing their diet with the above-mentioned treats.

Article Author

Colin Bonser, Entomology PhD

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