What To Feed Chicks

The bulk of a chick’s diet should be commercially prepared chick feed. This is different from laying hen pellets. Chick feed is higher in protein and lower in calories.The most important thing to know about the two is that although hens can eat chick feed, chicks should not eat hen feed. This is because laying hen pellets contain calcium, which is essential for the formation of eggs, but will cause kidney disease in growing chicks. So, don’t wait until you get your chicks to purchase the right feed. Sometimes feed stores run out and you don’t want to risk having a boxful of chicks arrive at the post office, and no food for them. Buy a bag, and a galvanized can to store it in. Label it!

galvanized can

Another difference is that chick feed is finely ground into “crumbles”


chick feed crumbles


laying hen pellets

(You can buy adult chicken feed as crumbles. Some people with bantams use it. However, chickens toss feed on the ground and the crumbles turn to dust and becomes inedible. Pellets are less wasteful. Chicks need the smaller size of the crumbles, adults don’t.)

Some feed stores sell only one type of chick feed while others offer a range of options. You can get a special mix for the first few weeks, and then another for the final growth spurt. I simply get one chick feed and offer that for the first four months. Be careful not to buy crumbles meant for solely for broilers, which are chickens that are only meant to live to at most three months of age. You want your laying hens to grow more slowly than the meat birds.

Some chick feed is medicated to control coccidia, which is a protozoa that can cause diarrhea, bleeding and death in chicks. I’ve successfully raised chicks without a coccidiastat, but that was when my coop was on virgin ground. Now that I’ve had birds for years, there are coccidia present, and so medicated feed is prudent. However, this year I’ve bought chicks vaccinated against coccidia. So, I have to be very careful not to feed a medicated ration. Only unvaccinated chicks get the medicated feed. Sometimes it’s obvious what you are buying.


And sometimes it’s not.

blue seal

This company uses the same bag for all of its rations. You have to carefully read the tag, which (frustratingly so) is on the bottom.


Those little fluffy babies look like they’ll “eat like birds” but, they will eat like chickens – a lot! Each chick will eat about 2.5 pounds of feed in their first 6 weeks. I have 25 chicks coming. They’ll finish a 50 pound bag ($18) in just over a month. I’m ready for the ravenous peepers!

But, crumbles are not all that my chicks will be eating. Just like adult hens, chicks also enjoy and benefit from a variety of foods. I’ll be talking about those in a future post.


  1. So will the chicks be getting Gro-gel the first day home?i’ve read a little about it?

  2. I’m sorry if this is a stupid question, but I want to make sure I do my best for my first chicks. If my chicks are only vaccinated for Marek’s, do I feed medicated or unmedicated chick feed?

  3. I’m loving these ” preparing for chicks” posts. I did so much research when we got our chicks last Spring that I thought my head might explode.

  4. Dear Terry, Great idea putting feed in cans that are labeled, now that I have to fill different feeders with different food it can get confusing! Sometimes confusing comes pretty easy for me, LOL. I wanted chicks so bad, couldn’t wait! There was a lot I didn’t know about vaccinations or medicated food. I called the store they said chicks were not vaccinated but they said they started them on medicated food. I bought them 5lbs of medicated food at first but switched over in time to starter grower thanks to HenCam. Their poo was kind of runny at first but they are fine now! :)

  5. Terry,
    I received my feed from an organic feed mill and she recommended I still use the higher protein and work my way down progressively… I’m hoping I haven’t hurt them. Right now they are at 20% protein. The first feed they received was very finely ground, way finer than what you show.

    Thanks for the updates. I gave my chicks a couple dandelions and they weren’t quite sure what to do with them at first. I’ve got a brave bantam barred rock who was the first to check them out. I came back a little later and they were strewn across the brooder.

    Have a blessed Passover!


  6. Everyone loves chick crumb and I end up having to keep my chicks and growers apart from the rest of the flock just to stop all the adults raiding their crumb. Little Monkeys!

  7. We got sold a bag of chicken crumble last time we bought our feed. Of course we did not realize the mistake until the bag was opened and we had fed the hens already. You are so right at how wasteful they are for full-grown birds….Most of it ends up on the ground even though our feeder is raised up a good 6 ins or so. I guess it was a new sales clerk but we will know to double check the tag next time.

    • I should add all the feed bought locally comes in the same plain paper bags with only a small tag on it to tell what it is. Buyer beware…..

  8. I need to raised the feeders for my.hens, my speckled Sussex Gloria love to spread it all over as if she s dishing out ration

  9. I hope you have a blessed Passover too. Very helpful information and taking it to heart. Everything is on the ready for the babies. I’m like an expectant mother. I have one issue that has plagued me from the beginning and haven’t quite got it worked out yet. Couldn’t find it in the FAQ’s so hope you talk about it in one of these posts.
    Pine shavings vs. sand vs. puppy pads with textured paper towels vs. chick feed for the litter. Ups and downs on all of these and can’t make a decision. Hope you will elaborate your expertise. Hope you have a great time in Austin and a safe trip.

  10. Hi Terry!
    When you purchase your chicks do you get them vaccinated for Marek’s disease? I have found out the hard way. I have lost two hens to Marek’s and have a small flock(4) that that has been exposed so I cannot introduce new hens. Thanks for your input!

  11. Oh good because I have two new chicks right now. So here is what I am wondering. When I integrate the new chicks in with my hens, how do I keep them from eating the hen food? I am trying to figure this one out.

    • If you’re mixing them, you’ll have to feed the hens chick feed. You won’t be able to keep the chicks out of the laying hen feed.

  12. Hi there, Terry!
    I have two questions.
    First, I’m planning on order chicks for about May 13th. What would you say is a good number of chicks for a beginner flock? I was planning on 12 chicks.

    Secondly, when will your new chicks be arriving?

  13. Um, Terry, there is a sparrow trapped in the bird house on cam one. I’d send a pic but iPad has limitations.. Please help.

  14. Happy Passover and Easter to everyone! God Bless! My friend came over yesterday and we started on my coop. I have my four post set and floor framed out. Hopefully it will be done soon so my four girls can be outside. :)

  15. Aloha from Hawaii ! What an answer to prayer! Thanks for the suggestion of giving epsom salt baths and a few teaspoons olive oil to sick looking hens. After 2 days, “Hurtle” the hen is eating more and looking spry. We are also giving her several dropper fulls of colloidal silver b/c our local feed and seed is out of antibiotics. Thanks again!