How long do you feed baby chicks starter food

What To Feed Your Chickens From Chicks To Egg-Laying Hens

Fluffy chicks are one of the cutest, most-difficult-to-resist animals on Earth each spring. Your backyard could be the perfect paradise for those wee things to grow up and lay eggs for you and your family to enjoy.

But first, deciding to raise chicks takes more than just buying a few and bringing them home. You’ll need a safe, comfortable coop in place for the new chicks to call home. Plus, it should have a reliable heat source, food and water stations, and plenty of premium chicken (poultry) feed. Before getting started, make sure you have all the necessities for raising backyard chickens.

From there, your new chickens will need to be fed within hours of arrival, and every day going forward. Like all growing things, the right nutrients will help them through every stage of life. Keep in mind, chicks grow fast! With a healthy diet, your chickens will be laying eggs before you know it. As your chicks mature, the types of feed they’ll need will change a couple of times, in just a matter of weeks. Let’s take a look at which feeds are best for your chickens, depending on their age.

The Importance of Age-Appropriate Poultry Feed

Starter Feed For Baby Chicks: 0-8 Weeks Old

From birth through about eight weeks, chickens rapidly change as they go from chicks to pullets. Your baby chicks need starter feed to establish and support their bone health and immunity. A healthful starter feed should be filled with complete proteins, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Your chicks should eat starter feed for the first eight weeks of their life, until they are introduced to grower feed.

Grower Feed For Pullets: 8-16 Weeks Old

At about eight weeks, chicks are now considered pullets. It’s a good idea to transition them to a grower feed focused on healthy development. At this stage, these feeds should have a slightly lower protein content and calcium level (less than 1.25%), but still include omega-3s and other essential nutrients to support digestion and health.

Layer Feed For Hens: 16+ Weeks

Once your pullets have started laying eggs, it’s time to transition these now hens to a higher-calcium and protein-rich layer feed intended to help them lay strong, healthy eggs. All hens lay eggs on their own schedule. Some can lay as early as 16 weeks; some need as long as 32. You can switch to layer feed at 16 weeks, or wait until you find your first egg. If you’re also raising the flock for their meat, you’ll want to look for a feed with a higher protein content to help them develop strong muscles and keep up their energy.

Poultry Scratch & Other Treats

Chick grit, scratches, and similar supplements are designed to aid chicks, pullets, and hens in food digestion. They should be fed like treats and kept to small amounts with the goal of helping your flock engage their natural instincts for scratching and pecking.

IFA Premium Blend Poultry Scratch is a three-way blend of high-quality grains. This healthful blend of cracked corn, whole wheat, and barley encourages natural scratching and pecking while aiding in digestion. A word of caution: Treats are only a small part of a healthy diet. Scratch and other treats should never make up more than 10% of your flocks’ diet.

What nutrients do your chickens need?

A complete diet ensures your chickens have sufficient energy for laying eggs, staying warm in cold climates, or cooling off in the heat of summer. A good quality feed for chickens has a protein content between 16-20% and is enhanced with omega-3s. Additional nutrients should include prebiotics, probiotics, calcium, and magnesium.

Protein helps chickens maintain their energy levels as they continue to grow and lay. Omega-3s are vital for more nutritious eggs. Prebiotics and probiotics boost immune and digestive health, while calcium–which may deplete with daily egg laying–and magnesium are needed for strong shells and bones.

Keep in mind, chickens eat to fill their nutritional requirements. Supplying your flock a nutrient dense feed will result in less waste, and not all feeds provide everything your chickens need.

IFA’s 3-Step Poultry Program

At IFA, we proudly offer a variety of feed for each stage of your chicken’s development. Our 3-step Poultry Program is specifically blended by our nutritionists to meet all of your chicken’s nutrient and energy requirements at the proper time. By doing so, it ensures your chickens grow healthy and productive, while laying the most nutritious eggs.

Step 1: Chick Starter Crumble

Our chick starter is formulated to give your chicks their best start at life with 20% protein, omega-3s like DHA for healthy brain development, and prebiotics and probiotics for improved gut health and immune development. Our All Natural Chick Starter Crumble is hormone and antibiotic free. Feed from birth to 8 weeks of age.

Step 2: Pullet Developer Crumble

Optimized for healthy growing rates in chickens, our All Natural Pullet Developer Crumble has 16% protein. This feed is packed with vitamins and minerals that maintain healthful immunity and bone strength. Use this feed to help your adolescent chickens develop into healthy, laying adults. Feed from 8 weeks until your chickens begin laying.

Step 3: Poultry Layer Mash, Pellets & Crumble

When it comes to our All Natural Poultry Layer Crumble, you’ll get an excellent blend of 18% protein along with added omega-3s, calcium, and magnesium for mature laying hens. This mix provides balanced nutrition that encourages healthy eggs, digestive systems, and immunity.

For a higher protein content to help meet energy requirements, look for IFA Poultry Layer Pellet or Mash 20%. Feed when your chickens begin laying (about 18 weeks).

Additional note: If you keep your flock past their egg laying years, we recommend reverting back to feeding a pullet developer. They will not need the extra calcium that’s present in the layer feed formulas.

Your chickens will begin to molt–lose and replace their feathers–around 18 months and egg production will drop off. During this period, feed your flock with a high protein feed (18-20%). Feathers are made up of protein and a higher protein feed helps ensure they regrow healthy and more quickly. After the molting process is complete, your chickens will begin to lay normally again.


Knowing what to feed your chickens is the first step towards having happy, healthy, and productive flocks throughout their natural egg-laying life. Confidently start your backyard flock of fluffballs this spring with the knowledge that you’re providing the best possible feed for them at every stage of development.

If you have additional questions or need support raising your flock, contact your local IFA. We’ll be happy to help.

Download our brochure on chicken feed, treats and supplements with Healthy Tips and a Chick Supply Checklist


Information for this article was provided by Heidi Wayment, M.S., Nutritionist, Draper IFA Feed; Sandie Shupe, Poultry, Rabbit & Animal Health Manager, Ogden IFA Country Store; Maureen Goodrich, Poultry, Rabbit, Pet & Tack Manager, Logan IFA Country Store; and Jill Singleton, Bagged Feed Category Manager, IFA.


Feeding Chickens at Different Ages

Skip to content Feeding Chickens at Different Ages

Chickens at different stages of development require different feed formulations. Poultry nutritionists formulate feed to ensure that chickens get all the nutrients they need daily in commercially available feeds. Since bagged feed from established, reputable feed companies are a nutritionally balanced food source, anything that is added to the birds’ diet dilutes the nutrient balance they should be getting daily. Even healthy snacks should only be offered rarely, in moderation so as not to tip the balance too far in any direction.

I strongly caution against dabbling in assembling homemade feed blends. Imprecise calculations and the wrong ingredients can affect growth in young chickens, egg production in layers and result in negative, long-term health consequences. “Mixing rations is the most complex aspect of poultry management and isn’t something you should undertake if you’re just starting out.

Ration formulation requires:

  • availability of appropriate feedstuffs
  • analysis of feedstuff composition
  • knowledge of the nutritional needs of chickens
  • ability to mix feed in quantity your flock will use within four weeks.”1  Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Damerow

“The adventure of homemade chicken feed mixing isn’t for the casual flock keeper, though. You need a solid knowledge of poultry nutrition to balance a ration properly and avoid nutritional deficiencies. Feeding unconventional feed ingredients does carry some risk because unexpected problems may happen, such as digestive upset, toxicities, or spoilage.”2 Dr. Julie Gauthier, DVM, MPH, Dipl.ACVPM

The following is intended as a general guideline for feeding commercial feeds to laying hens. The availability of certain feed varies by geographic location, therefore, the manufacturer’s recommendations should always be followed.

STARTER FEED, Day 1 to 18 weeks (Chicks) 

Day-old chicks through 18 weeks old require starter feed, aka starter crumbles, containing 20% protein. Starter feed contains the highest percentage of protein a layer will ever consume, which makes sense given their astronomical rate of growth in the first few months of life.

Starter feed can be purchased in both medicated and unmedicated varieties. Medicated feed contains amprolium, which protects chicks from the progression of coccidiosis, a common and deadly intestinal disease that is spread in fecal matter. Chicks that have received the coccidiosis vaccine should not be fed medicated starter, as the amprolium will render the vaccine useless and the chicks vulnerable to the disease. When purchasing ‘vaccinated’ chicks, it’s important to know which vaccines they received.

When conditions become overcrowded, dirty, wet and warm from the heat source, coccidiosis can thrive with deadly consequences. These types of unhealthy conditions are significantly less likely to occur with pet chickens than they are with commercial poultry operations. Chickens build up a natural immunity to the organisms that cause coccidiosis with or without medicated starter. Allowing chicks to build up an immunity in clean, dry conditions will serve them well when they are ready to head out to the big kid coop and medicated feed helps keep parasite populations that cause coccidiosis in check while they build immunity to them.

Most new chicken-keepers wonder at what age a chick can be given treats. Chicks are tiny and treats will replace a percentage of the nutrition in starter ration that their rapidly-growing bodies require. I recommend no treats at all.


The term grit describes hard materials such as sand, dirt or small stones that aid in digestion. While starter feed and layer crumbles and pellets needs no help being digested, treats, grains and other fibrous foods may require grit to aid in breaking them down. Since chickens have no teeth, fibrous foods are ground with grit in the gizzard, which is a muscle in the digestive tract. Chickens foraging outside will naturally pick up bits of grit from the ground, those that do not forage outside must have grit supplied to them in a dish apart from their feed.

LAYER FEED, 18 weeks

Chicks should be transitioned to layer feed at 18 weeks. Layer feed should not be fed to chickens younger than 18 weeks unless they have begun egg-laying because it contains calcium that can permanently damage the kidneys, reduce lifetime egg production and shorten a bird’s lifespan.

Click here for DIY instructions for this feeder

Layer feed is commonly available in mash, crumbles and pellet forms, all of which describe the size of the feed. Mash is the smallest and pellets, the largest. Layer feed generally contains 16-18% protein and has added calcium, which is necessary for strong bones and creating eggshells.  


While layer feeds contain a fast-release source of calcium, a slow-release source of calcium such as crushed oyster shells should be made available to laying hens in a separate dish, apart from the feed, not mixed into the feed by chicken keepers. All laying hens have different calcium requirements and will consume as much oyster shell as they need. Crushed eggshells alone are not an adequate calcium source of supplemental calcium for laying hens.3

Hens deprived of adequate amounts of dietary calcium will utilize the calcium stored within their own bones to produce eggshells, which is unhealthy for them.


A nutritionally complete layer feed provides all of the nutrients a chicken requires in the correct forms and amounts. Offering snacks, treats, fruits, vegetables, scratch, corn, mealworms, sunflower seeds, or table scraps dilutes the complete nutrition in a balanced feed. Limit snacks and treats, even healthy choices, to no more than 2 tablespoons per bird per day and only rarely. Diluting the nutrition in the hens’ feed can cause many problems, including aggression, obesity, feather picking, egg binding and reduced egg production. Laying hens are better off without any treats/snacks at all.


Chicken scratch is NOT chicken feed. The contents of scratch vary, but it consists primarily of cracked corn and any number of other grains. It’s a source of energy (think: carbs) but is not a good source of vitamins, minerals or protein. “Scratch should be fed sparingly, if at all.” 2 I do not recommend giving chickens scratch at all.

Scratch is NOT chicken feed, it’s junk food.

Given the power and force of chicken math, chickens of mixed age groups often occupy the same living space at any given time, which raises the question of how to feed each properly. This situation isn’t ideal, but it’s not unique either. Feeding an unmedicated starter/grower to a flock of mixed age birds with oyster shell available free-choice (in a separate dish) is the best solution. The additional protein in the starter/grower ration won’t hurt the older birds, but the calcium in layer feed can damage the kidneys of growing birds.


A laying hen’s full-time day job is eating. A free-feed dining option is the best and most common in backyard flocks, one in which chickens eat in small increments at their leisure throughout the day. Chickens have a unique digestive system that can accommodate only a small amount of food at a time in their crops.   Alternatively, with a restricted feeding schedule, chickens are fed at specific intervals during the day. Restricted feeding generally requires the use of several feeders even in a small flock and should not be employed without a good reason for doing so and a clear understanding of the purpose of restricted feeding.

Sources and further reading

1 Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Damerow, Gail. Storey Publishing, 1995, pg. 49.
2 The Chicken Encyclopedia, Damerow, Gail. Storey Publishing, 2012. pg. 235
3 *Gail Damerow, Backyard Poultry Magazine Volume 9, Number 3 June/July, 2014

Kathy, The Chicken Chick®2021-07-04T14:18:44-04:00

Kathy Shea Mormino

Affectionately known internationally as The Chicken Chick®, Kathy Shea Mormino shares a fun-loving, informative style to raising backyard chickens. ...Read on

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Compound feed "Start" for chickens: composition, preparation, feeding tips

A well-known folk saying “chickens are counted in the fall” appeared for a reason. This is due to the high mortality of young animals in the first days of life. Moreover, the reason for this is not diseases and conditions of detention, but an improperly selected diet. This is the main factor influencing the production of a fresh and strong stock, which in the future can demonstrate high egg production or good weight gain. nine0003


  • Compound feed for chickens - main advantages
  • Description of compound feed "Start"
  • Appropriate age to use Start
  • Compound feed analogues "Start"
  • Formulation and composition
  • Preparation and Feeding Rules
  • Dosage advice
  • Helpful Hints for Breeders
  • nine0026

    Compound feed for chickens - main advantages

    Properly selected nutrition will not only provide the chicks with excellent health in the future, but also increase their productive abilities. It is the diet and its wealth that form the basis of immunity and resistance to various infections, diseases and parasites from the first days.

    Choosing a combined feed, the breeder receives a completely balanced and prepared type of feeding, which includes not only the main grain components, but also a sufficient amount of micro and macro elements, vitamins and other components that contribute to the proper development of the bird and accelerate its growth. nine0003

    Description of compound feed "Start"

    This is one of the best feeds today, it is a benchmark for manufacturers and combines only the best ingredients. It is suitable for young animals from the first day of life and has a beneficial effect on their development. The composition is well digested and perfectly absorbed, suitable for ordinary chickens and broiler chicks.

    Among its advantages are:

    • Composition - well-chosen components with all the necessary additives and biologically active substances. nine0011
    • Feeding scheme - the food is very easy to use, does not require time-consuming kneading and preparation.
    • Savings - portioning and rational use will reduce waste and minimize food costs. Dry mixes do not deteriorate in the feeders, do not turn sour.
    • Growth quality - due to the composition of the feeding significantly improves the quality of weight gain, improves immunity and reduces mortality.
    • Convenience - feed can be easily divided into portions or norms without spending much time. It is not necessary to measure the amount of proteins, minerals and vitamins by grams, it is enough to open a pack of the finished mixture and distribute it among the feeders, observing the required dosage. nine0011
    • Storage - the food lies perfectly at home at room temperature and is unpretentious.
    • Cost - quite adequate prices help poultry owners to significantly reduce the cost of feeding young animals.

    Appropriate age for the start food

    It is this type of compound feed that was popularly called "null" because it is perfect for feeding only hatched babies from the first hours of birth. But there are slight differences in the composition for ordinary chickens and broilers: nine0003

    • Suitable for chicks from 0 to 7 weeks of age (laying hens) but no more.
    • For broilers, two weeks of feeding with this feed is sufficient. It can be used without additional additives or in combination with grass, wet mash, but be sure to provide young animals with unlimited access to water.

    Compound feed analogs "Start"

    Among the competing feeds, you can most often find PC-0, intended for nutrition from 1 to 14 days after birth. PC-5, or "krupka", is also one of the most popular. Also there are "Starter", "Nulevka", the feed of the "Solnyshko" brand has become widely known. nine0003

    Separately, it is worth paying attention to the markings PK-5-3 and PK-5-4, which are suitable for special feeding of weakened or sick chicks. Sometimes they are called prelaunch.

    Formulation and composition

    The main components of the Start feed are wheat and corn, which are supplemented with:

    • limestone and fish meal;
    • salts;
    • soybean meal;
    • vegetable oils; nine0011
    • enzymes;
    • antioxidants
    • and other additives.

    Exchange energy indicator - 305 Kcal.

    The mixture for newborn broilers is slightly different in composition. It has an increased percentage of crude protein, added fiber, and an exchange energy index of 300 Kcal. The composition also includes acids in the form of methionine, lysine, cystine, tryptophan compounds, sodium, calcium and phosphorus. nine0003

    The combination of all components is balanced and selected taking into account the characteristics of age. The content of nutrients, trace elements, minerals allows you to deliver everything you need to the body of the chick, having a good effect on digestion, the formation of the bone skeleton, and a rapid increase in muscles. After using this feed, the chicks improve their egg production and weight, and the body's resistance to various infectious diseases increases.

    Start feed contains no antibiotics and their derivatives, GMOs, no special growth and weight gain stimulants. Production is carried out in accordance with established standards (according to GOST 18221 - 99), only environmentally friendly products and natural ingredients are used.

    The release form is small crumbs or grains, which are packed in bags of the required weight of 25 kg. When purchasing compound feed, it is necessary to familiarize yourself with the composition so as not to purchase a low-quality product filled with artificial additives and synthetic hormones, which have a bad effect on the overall development of chicks and can contribute to the appearance of hormonal and behavioral abnormalities. nine0003

    Rules for preparation and feeding

    In fact, Start feed is a complete nutritional composition for both newly born chicks and grown chickens a few days old. It is completely ready and does not require adjustments and additions.

    Every breeder must remember that there must be water in the drinkers at all times. It is important to provide chickens with unlimited access to it.

    There is always an instruction on the package, which lists the basic rules of feeding, and lists the daily allowances, so it will be most correct to familiarize yourself with the recommendations and strictly follow them in the future. The daily rate is usually divided into several doses. For example, in the first 5 days, the chicks should eat at least 6, but not more than 8 times a day, after which this amount is reduced to 3–4. Ten-day-old chicks need 3 feedings per day. nine0003

    Compound feed is given both in dry form and soaked with the use of broth, whey, yogurt, which should be slightly warmed up, since chickens eat warm food more willingly.

    In the future, the owners should remember that it is impossible to drastically change the type of food, it must be introduced gradually, changing the dosage, since the chicks are very sensitive and may react negatively to the changes taking place.

    Dosage advice

    The correct calculation must be made from the first day. After birth and until the seventh day, 10-20 grams per chick is enough. The second week involves increasing the dose to 20-40 grams. From 14 to 21 days, the volume is increased to 60 grams, from 21 to 28 - up to 80 grams. From the 28th to the 35th day, the total daily weight per head can be from 115 g, and for broilers it can reach up to 170 g. nine0003

    It is important to constantly monitor the nutritional behavioral factors of the chicks and clearly understand what they require. If the food is eaten quickly, and nothing remains in the feeder for 20-30 minutes (maximum), it is necessary to increase the daily dose, even despite the recommendations of the manufacturers. In no case should starvation be allowed, otherwise it will have a bad effect not only on growth, but also on the general health of the livestock.

    Helpful tips for breeders

    The main indicator when choosing a food base is the future purpose of the chick - it will be grown for eggs or for meat. Therefore, the breed plays an important role and orients the owner to the presence of certain components in the composition. Egg-laying chickens need a large amount of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and for meat chickens, protein is a priority, which covers all the needs of rapidly developing babies. nine0003

    Another nuance for future laying hens is the absence of hormonal supplements in the mixture aimed at accelerating growth.

    In the first days, it is necessary to add a weak solution of potassium permanganate to the drinkers, which will help improve digestive functions, neutralize possible poisoning, improve digestibility and help prevent diseases such as salmonellosis or pullorosis.

    An additional feeder can be installed where calcined sand and crushed shells will be poured so that the chicks can consume natural minerals for the development of a healthy bone apparatus. nine0003

    At the age of 3 weeks, the chicks can be let out for walks - for a start for a short period, gradually increasing it. This will not only help strengthen the immune system, but also teach the chickens to be more independent. It is very important to prevent hypothermia in the early days so that the chicks do not catch a cold.

    For a change, from the 5th day of life, you can sometimes add protein products such as cottage cheese, buttermilk and whey to the diet, into which you can cut greens, carrots, nettles, cabbage leaves. In some cases, herbs are added to enrich nutrition - wood lice, plantain, sedge. From fruits, preference is given to apples, sometimes garden berries. Among vegetables, zucchini, boiled potatoes, pumpkin are especially popular. Leftovers from the table in the form of cereals, peelings, fish giblets with the addition of salt and ground eggshells can also be given to chickens, but the main thing is that the products are not spoiled. nine0003

    Each chicken owner chooses the most suitable and economical option for himself: feed chickens only with natural ingredients or dry food. Compound feed today has gained great popularity among breeders and is quite in demand in the modern market, so you should choose the right manufacturer and be sure to take into account all the recommendations of specialists.

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    Advantages of our feeds

    • Precise balance of elements necessary for animal growth

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