Chicken Feed 101: Behind the Basics


Chicken diets are formulated to provide chickens with nutrients to live, grow, and produce eggs. Chickens need more than just vegetation and table scraps! In fact, certain table scraps don’t offer a lot of nutrients and can even interfere with the absorption of nutrients chickens really need.

To make sure chickens have a balanced, nutrient-dense diet, feed is formulated with six major components in mind:


  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fat
  • Water
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins

Proteins are made up of amino acids. You may have heard amino acids called “the building blocks of life.” In other words, they’re pretty important. Your hens need protein to make tissues like muscle, eggs, skin and feathers. For example, the amino acid cysteine helps hens make healthy feathers. If they don’t get enough of it, their feathers begin to fray and curl.

Carbohydrates and fats provide energy to your hens. Just like people and other pets, chickens need energy to perform everyday activities. For chickens, that means things like foraging and laying eggs. Fats also provide energy and can help with absorption of vitamins.

Healthy chickens eat to their energy requirements, which means they’ll adjust how much they eat based on how much energy they burn. The amount of energy they burn changes based on whether they are laying eggs, if they are molting, what the temperature outside is, and other factors.


Water is essential to life, and chickens typically drink two times more than they eat. So, if they are eating half a pound of feed, they will drink one pound of water. Providing a continuous and clean source of water is required to maintain egg production and growth.

Vitamins and minerals play an essential role within the body. They support tissue formation, enzyme activity, and blood cells, to name a few. Minerals like calcium, phosphorus, chlorine, sodium, magnesium and potassium are important for eggshell and bone formation. Vitamins are divided into two groups: fat soluble vitamins and water soluble vitamins. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are all essential. They need to be absorbed with dietary fat and can be stored in our hens’ body fat. Water soluble vitamins are readily absorbed and can’t be stored in our hens’ bodies. All water-soluble vitamins are essential except Vitamin C, which hens can make on their own.

Different ingredients provide different components that chickens need:

Protein Carbohydrates Fat
Corn X X
Soybeans X X
Barley X
Oats X
Wheat X X
Peas X  X