Backyard flocks are growing in popularity as people take control of their personal food supply, but it's important to remember that the nutritional requirements of a broiler chicken are very different from what a layer needs to thrive. To optimize your flock's health, growth and performance, it must be fed with not only its intended purpose in mind, but also calculating factors such as breed, age and season.
Feed comes in several forms: mash, which is a complete food in a finely-ground form; pellets, where the nutrition is evenly distributed; scratch, which is meant to supplement pasturing but does not provide for all of the chicken's nutritional needs; and crumble, which is an adult food that is harmful to a baby chick's digestion.
Only feed as much as a chicken can consume in 10 minutes, but feed them twice a day. This cuts back on waste and spoilage.
A broiler will generally eat 2 lbs. of food for every 1 lb. of weight gain.
There are two types of birds for a broiler flock: heritage breeds, such as the Barred Rock, Delaware or Wyandottes; or commercial hybrids, such as the Cornish Cross. They will generally eat the same quantity of feed, but heritage chickens will need to eat for a longer number of weeks due to their less-efficient feed conversion. Commercial crosses will need to have their feed restricted, or else their bodies cannot keep up with their rate of growth.
A heritage flock will eat a 20 percent protein feed for the first eight weeks.
For commercial-type birds, it is best to start them on 24 percent protein feed for the first two weeks of life, then transition to a 20 percent protein grower ration for the next two weeks of life and finish them with an 18 percent protein feed until they reach market weight, generally at eight or nine weeks.
Without sufficient water, the chicken will not eat properly. One gallon of water is sufficient for a dozen chickens. In summer months, this must be increased to two gallons of water for every 12 chickens.
While commercial hybrids do not forage, heritage birds do. If your flock is permitted to forage for food, their feed may be supplemented by bugs, worms, caterpillars, seeds and other extras that they discover. They may eat more or less of their feed depending on the seasonal availability of their forage.