Considering Age Differences When Feeding Your Flock

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If you’re a chicken owner who plans to raise chicks, young pullets, and laying hen’s side-by-side, you’ll need to know how to do so while ensuring all of your chickens receive the proper nutrition for their age. Feeding chickens of different ages, while confusing at first, is fairly simple when you follow a few important guidelines.

  • If possible, try to isolate hens with chicks from the rest of the flock. Chicks will have different dietary needs than other chickens. Ideally, chicks should be fed an 18 to 20% protein starter ration[1] while laying hens should eat layer feed. The two different feeds are formulated to provide each age group with the best nutrition possible.

On the other hand, if you need to keep your entire flock in the same coop, you’ll want to address the basic nutritional needs of the flock as a whole – without providing too much or too little vitamins and minerals for particular age groups.Oyster_Shell_front

  • When feeding different age groups, I recommend throwing a grower ration to your entire flock. A grower ration will meet 100% of the dietary needs of chicks and pullets, and most of the dietary needs of layers.
  • When feeding growing chickens with laying hens, you will want to provide an additional calcium supplement. While most commercial layer feeds have enough calcium for an egg-producing hen’s, grower rations do not.

Egg production requires calcium, and a hen will either draw the calcium from her diet or, if her diet is insufficient, from her own body. Layer feeds are formulated with extra calcium to meet a laying hen’s dietary needs.

You can provide a calcium supplement such as Manna Pro Oyster Shell in a separate dish so your hens can peck at it freely to meet their calcium needs.

  • Avoid providing a layer ration to your entire flock and do not feed a layer ration to chickens under 18 weeks old.

While layer feed contains the optimal nutrition for a laying hen, it also contains much more calcium than a growing chicken needs. The extra calcium can cause permanent damage to a young chicken’s kidneys and can lead to skeletal problems.[2]

  • Another consideration when feeding chickens of different ages is making sure there are enough feed stations for your whole flock, and those stations are age-appropriate. Every flock will have a pecking order, and depending on the flock dynamics, it’s possible young chicks will have a difficult time getting to their food. Making food and water available in multiple places in the coop will help avoid this problem.[3]
  • Given chicks cannot yet fly, it’s important to provide feed an inch or so above the floor of the coop, making sure to use a feeder that you can hang. It’s best to provide feed above ground level in order to reduce spillage and foreign matter in the feed.
  • If given the opportunity, chicks will dirty their feed and water with dirt, manure, and dust kicked up from their scratching. The real issue is this mess can clog the waterer, making it difficult to provide clean drinking water at all times. If possible, feed and water stations should be cleaned daily.

These simple guidelines are the key to making sure your flock gets the nutrition it needs during optimal times – an essential part of building a healthy, happy, growing flock.

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[1] Cooperative Extension University of California, Feeding Chickens, accessed July 25, 2015,  

[2] Utah State University Cooperative Extension. Principles of Feeding Small Flocks of Chickens at Home, accessed July 25, 2015. 

[3] University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment. How Much Will My Chickens Eat?, accessed July 27, 2015.


Maat van Uitert

Maat van Uitert

Maat van Uitert is a professional writer and homesteader from Missouri where she keeps chickens and other poultry, goats, pigs and horses. Her homestead blog, FrugalChicken, focuses on cooking, livestock care (particularly chickens), and living naturally. Maat is also author of 2 books: Chicken Nutrition, Raising Your Hen From Chick To Layer and Cheese Making For Beginners.

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