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Feeding Methods for Chickens

There is no right method for getting the chickens fed. Do what works for you and your birds. Auburn University Extension Poultry Specialist Joe Hess says chickens only eat when they need to.

"Chickens are nibblers. They eat about every four-hours, and that's kind of their mode of action," says Hess. "They like to get up and eat, go do something else, and then eat a little more, do something else. So they're by nature, eating a little bit at a time. For birds that aren't likely to get very overweight, free choice is the best way to go."

Most people have a feeder in a covered area which is accessible at all times.  If there are laying hens, or the chickens are looking for grit, there should be a calcium source in a smaller feeder.

Some chickens are better off with restricted feeding, offering food only twice-per-day. Heavier breeds tend to pig-out and might gain extra weight if their diet isn't managed. However, Hess says this is a time-consuming method and he worries about the owner's ability to correctly judge how much to feed. If it's not right, the birds will establish a pecking order, which could also lead to cannibalism.

"If you feed too little, the greedy birds will eat all the feed and the less greedy birds won't get any feed," says Hess. "And that's kind of the problem you get into with restricted feeding, that it's not restricted evenly across all of your birds, and your smaller birds will get proportionally less than they need. That's why it's almost better to over-feed a little bit in those situations so that everybody gets enough feed."

Even if your chickens are on pasture, Hess advises offering them complete feed as well as a limestone source for at least a portion of the day.  If their diet isn't balanced, they could suffer from nutritional diseases.

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