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
|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|
|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 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
More on Feeding Chickens
- Best Grass Seed Mix for Chickens – Poultry Pasture Seed Mix
- Feed Your Back Garden Chickens More Greens
- Feeding Chickens – Nutritional Requirements & Sources
- Feeding Chickens Eggshells, Crushed Oyster Shell & Grit
- Feeding Chickens from Chicks to Laying Hens for Backgarden Keepers
- Feeding Chickens on Food Scraps and Waste Food
- Growing & Feeding Sprouted Wheatgrass Fodder to Hens
- Herbs For Hens – A Useful Dietary Supplement
- Pasture Feeding Hens for Better Eggs
- Why we should avoid Soya in Animal & Poultry Feed