Feeding Chickens – Nutritional Requirements & Sources

Chicken Nutrients If you’re feeding chickens on an alternative to commercially produced feedstuffs, then you will need to know what their nutritional requirements are and what foods to give them to provide for those needs.

The main ingredients in the hen’s diet are carbohydrates to provide fuel and protein to build and repair muscle plus the production of eggs, of course. In addition, the laying hen requires a lot of calcium for producing egg-shells as well as bone.

Finally, just like all animals, poultry need a wide selection of vitamins, micro-nutrients and minerals. These can be provided as an additive product for feed as in commercial pellets or mash, or naturally through a diet incorporating a diverse selection of foodstuffs.

The Required Nutrients & Sources

Nutrient Sources
Carbohydrates Wheat, barley, oats, maize, millet, potatoes
Protein Soya, peas, beans, peas, maize, sunflowers, barley, oats, wheat, grass meal, clover, lucerne (Alfalfa), dried yeast, insects, invertebrates, meat from small mammals (like mice), fish, fishmeal
Lysine Soya, beans, lentils, meat, fishmeal
Methionine Soya, fishmeal, beans
Tryptophan Soya, Oats, fishmeal, sunflower seeds
Fats (Oils) Sunflower seeds, linseed and other vegetable oils
Omega 3 Lucerne (Alfalfa), flax seed, clover
Phosphorus Lucerne (Alfalfa), grassmeal, oats, dandelions, dried yeast
Sodium Chloride salt
Linoleic acid Maize, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils
Vitamin A Grass and grassmeal, maize, kale and brassicas, carrots, nettles
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Most cereals, beans, peas, dried yeast
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) Grass and grassmeal, dried yeast, soya
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) Wheat and other cereals, dried yeast, fishmeal, peas, sunflower seeds
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid) Dried yeast, molasses, grassmeal, comfrey, maize, brassicas, legumes, soya, cereals
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) Soya, wheat, dried yeast, potatoes, sunflower seeds, fishmeal, spinach
Vitamin B12 (Cobalmin) Comfrey, calcified seaweed, fishmeal
Vitamin D Sunshine, wheat, maize and other cereals, fishmeal, oily fish
Vitamin E Maize, wheat, grass, grassmeal, kale and brassicas, lettuce, sunflower seeds, spinach
Vitamin H (Biotin) Maize, yeast, lucerne (Alfalfa), grass and grassmeal
Vitamin K Lucerne (Alfalfa), grass and grassmeal, kale and brassicas
Choline Soya, wheat, rice, spinach, beets, fishmeal, brassicas, broccoli, Swiss chard, asparagus
Folic acid Wheat, grass, chicory, chickweed, parsley, dandelions, nettles, lentils, beans, broccoli, spinach, turnip greens, okra, Brussels sprouts, asparagus
Manganese Dried yeast, molasses, lucerne (Alfalfa), wheat, maize, millet, oats, flax seeds, beans, spinach
Iron Nettles, parsley, chicory, chickweed, dandelions, sunflower seeds, spinach, beans, lentils, swiss chard, turnip greens
Zinc Dried yeast, lucerne, molasses, maize, wheat, sunflowers, soya, spinach, beans
Copper Cereals, beans, soil, turnip greens, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, Asparagus, broccoli
Potassium Molasses, lucerne (Alfalfa), maize, wheat, soya, sunflowers, potato, dried yeast, beans, spinach,
Cobalt Oats, broccoli, spinach
Selenium Green vegetables, dried yeast, maize, lucerne (Alfalfa), beans, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, Broccoli, Cabbage, Spinach
Magnesium Oats, beans, soya, grass and green foods, spinach, Good King Henry
Iodine Seaweeds, beans, potatoes, strawberries
Yolk colour enhancers Grass and grassmeal, maize, green vegetables, pot marigold petals

Notes to Nutritional Requirements & Sources

Potatoes should be cooked and are assumed to have their skins.

Meat & Fish

Meat and fish scraps were commonly fed to hens, providing protein and a number of trace nutrients. Nowadays this is does not happen and the feeding of scraps that could have been in contact with meat products is illegal in the UK even for domestic pet chickens.

This is a health measure aimed at preventing salmonella developing from meat past its best.

Free ranging chickens will happily eat meat on occasion as they will kill and eat mice etc. I presume the ‘meat’ from maggots, earthworms etc. contains the same trace elements as beef. I cannot find an analysis though!

I’m not sure of the legality of feeding hens cat or dog food although I know a lot of home keepers give the occasional bowl of cat or dog food to perk up birds suffering a loss of condition. In fact I have known hens learn how to use a cat flap and deprive the cats of their meal!

Dairy Products

Dairy products supply a number of vitamins and trace elements but chickens lack the enzymes to digest milk sugars properly so they can cause digestive upset. Accordingly dairy products have been left off the list above.
Surprisingly feeding milk and sour milk to chickens was very common in the past. Perhaps they didn’t realise that was the cause of the resulting digestive upsets.


Soya is popular in commercial animal feeds because it supplies protein and a number of trace elements cheaply. There is also an effect with soya in that it promotes more efficient digestion of cereals.

There are, however, good reasons not to use soya in animal feeds which I cover here: Soya in Animal & Poultry Feed

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