Organic vs Non-Organic: A Comprehensive Guide to Feeding Your Chickens

Organic vs Non-Organic: A Comprehensive Guide to Feeding Your Chickens

Ever wondered what’s best to feed your clucking companions? You’re not alone. The diet of backyard chickens is a topic that often leaves poultry enthusiasts scratching their heads. It’s a vital aspect of chicken care, impacting everything from egg production to the general health and happiness of your feathered friends.

In this article, we’ll delve into the nutritional needs of chickens, explore the pros and cons of various feed options, and provide practical tips to ensure your flock is getting a balanced diet. So whether you’re a seasoned chicken keeper or a newbie in the coop, stick around. We’ve got the insights you need to keep your chickens clucking contentedly.

Key Takeaways

  • Chickens require six fundamental nutrients for optimum functioning: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water, each playing a specific role in chicken health and productivity.
  • Feeding requirements vary according to a chicken’s life stage, with specific needs for chicks, pullets, and laying or mature hens, influencing the type of feed they should receive.
  • Commercial feeds offer easy, reliable solutions, catering to different life stages and egg-laying capabilities of chickens. These include Starter, Grower, and Layer feed.
  • Organic and Non-Organic feed cater to different quality standards, with the former adhering to stricter regulations and the latter being more affordable.
  • Supplementing chicken diets with kitchen scraps, grains, seeds, greens, and vegetables can significantly boost their health, providing additional essential nutrients.
  • Certain food items, including chocolates, green potatoes, avocados, uncooked beans, and specific plant species, are harmful to chickens and should be avoided.
  • Natural feeding approaches, including free-ranging and a chicken-friendly garden, can contribute significantly to a chicken’s diet, promoting their health and enhancing egg quality.

Understanding Chicken Nutrition

Diving deeper into chicken nutrition, grasp the complexities of their dietary requirements. The diet you provide dramatically influences the health and productivity of your flock.

Essential Nutrients for Chickens

Chickens require various nutrients for optimum functioning, akin to humans. Recognize six fundamental nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water.

  1. Carbohydrates: These are the primary energy source for chickens. Common sources include corn and wheat.
  2. Proteins: Proteins contribute to growth and egg production. Examples include soybean meal and canola meal.
  3. Fats: Providing additional energy, fats improve meal palatability.
  4. Vitamins: Critical for a host of metabolic functions, chickens need a variety of vitamins. A poultry multivitamin can supplement their dietary intake.
  5. Minerals: Elements, like calcium and phosphorus, play crucial roles in chicken health, particularly for bone strength and eggshell formation.
  6. Water: Often overlooked, water is a critical nutrient. In fact, a chicken’s body consists of about 70% water.

Feeding Chickens at Different Life Stages

Feeding requirements differ according to a chicken’s life stage, namely chicks, pullets, and laying or mature hens.

  1. Chicks: From hatching up to 6 weeks old, chicks mainly need a “starter feed,” rich in proteins.
  2. Pullets: Moving from 6 weeks until they begin laying eggs (around 20 weeks), “grower feed” is suitable for pullets.
  3. Laying or Mature Hens: Once they begin laying eggs, hens switch to “layer feed” that is high in calcium for strong eggshells.

Understanding and adhering to their nutritional needs navigates feeding your chickens in a manner that bolsters their health and productivity.

Commercial Feed Options

Commercial Feed Options

In catering to your chickens’ nutritional requirements, commercial feeds offer easy, reliable solutions. They’re formulated to provide a balanced diet, taking into account the different life stages and egg-laying capabilities of your chickens.

Types of Commercial Chicken Feed

Fundamentally, there exist three types of commercial chicken feed: Starter, Grower, and Layer feed.

  • Starter Feed is for chicks up to six weeks old. Rich in proteins, usually about 20-24%, it helps in the rapid growth and development of chicks.
  • Grower Feed caters typically to chickens from 6 to 20 weeks of age. It’s lower in protein (16-18%) than the starter feed and assists with your chicken’s continued growth at this stage.
  • Layer Feed, your final option, is for hens that are 20 weeks old or have started laying eggs. It’s fortified with calcium (3-4%), enhancing eggshell strength and promoting robust egg-laying cycles.

By selecting the appropriate type for each stage of your chickens’ lives, you ensure balanced nutrition, boosting their health and productivity.

Organic Vs. Non-Organic Feeds

When it comes to quality, you’ve got two choices: Organic and Non-Organic feed.

  • Organic Feeds give assurance that the chickens’ diet is free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, hormones, and antibiotics. They’re derived from plants raised on organic farms, adhering to the strict regulations of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • Non-Organic Feeds, on the other hand, may include GMOs and can be sourced from conventionally grown crops. They’re usually more affordable than their organic counterparts, but don’t adhere strictly to USDA organic farming guidelines.

Deciding between organic and non-organic feed hinges on your specific needs and values, considering respective benefits and drawbacks.

Supplementing Chicken Diets

Supplementing Chicken Diets

Beyond commercial feeds, components expanding a chicken’s diet can make a substantial difference. Supplementing chicken diets effectively boosts their overall health and productivity, offering a potential addition of essential nutrients.

Kitchen Scraps and Leftovers

Your household waste might hold treasures for your chickens. Kitchen scraps and leftovers journey past the compost bin into the poultry run, repurposing waste into nutritious supplements. From fruit and vegetable peels to grains and cooked meat, these items find a second life as part of your flock’s diet. However, avoid offering your chickens any moldy, spoiled food or toxic foods such as onions, chocolate, or avocado, as they can harm your flock.

Grains, Seeds, and Peas

In search of a dense nutritional boost? Look no further than grains, seeds, and peas. Like an edible treasure trove, they harbor a wealth of nutrients that can enrich chicken diets. Take oats, for instance, laden with dietary fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins, or peas bursting with protein and essential minerals. Aside from their nutritional value, feeding grains, seeds, and peas can provide entertainment for chickens through scatter feeding.

Greens and Vegetables for Chickens

Lastly, introducing greens and vegetables into your chicken’s diet paves the way for healthier and happier chickens. From leafy wonders like spinach to cruciferous marvels like broccoli, they’re chock-full of vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants. They provide your chickens with quality nutrients, stimulating digestion and enhancing immune function. So, next time your garden yields a bountiful harvest, remember – a portion of it can serve as a veritable feast for your feathery friends.

What Not to Feed Chickens

While feeding backyard chickens a balanced and varied diet contributes significantly to their overall health, it’s equally crucial to ascertain what items to steer clear from. Inappropriate or harmful foodstuff can pose serious health risks to your flock.

Foods Toxic to Chickens

Chickens showcase a robust digestive system, but certain food items can still take a toll on their health. To start with, refrain from offering them chocolate. It contains theobromine and caffeine – substances toxic to chickens.

Green potatoes and tomatoes contain solanine, a type of glycoalkaloid poison potentially harmful to chickens. Make sure you separate these from the kitchen scraps before feeding them.

Similarly, avocados, particularly the skin and pit, contain persin – a fungicidal toxin that can lead to cardiac distress and, often, fatality in poultry. Poultry digest beans differently than humans, making uncooked or dry beans fatal for chickens due to a toxin named phytohaemagglutinin.

Other items on the list include moldy or rotten food, alcohol, caffeine, salty and sugary foods, and certain plant species like nightshade, foxglove, and rhododendron.

Common Kitchen Waste to Avoid

Common household waste or kitchen scraps can be a source of amusement and nourishment for your backyard chickens. However, not everything in your compost pile suits your chickens.

Keep your flock away from processed foods. Treats like chips or cookies come packed with salts, sugars, and preservatives, which chickens aren’t adapted to digest.

Onions and garlic are debatable items. In large quantities, onions can lead to a condition called hemolytic anemia, causing the red blood cells in chickens to burst. With garlic, while some farmers believe it helps in warding off parasites, others deem it too strong for their chickens’ liking.

Lastly, remember never to give anything to your chickens if you’re uncertain about its safety. When in doubt, it’s best to refrain. After all, your chickens’ health mirrors in the quality of their eggs and the longevity of their life.

Feeding Chickens Naturally

As one navigates the art of backyard poultry care, a natural approach to feeding emerges as a compelling choice. Not only does it bolster their health, but it also contributes to better egg quality. Besides kitchen scraps and grains, free-ranging and a chicken-friendly garden give your birds access to diet variety and stimulation.

The Benefits of Free Ranging

Free range constitutes a significant factor in natural feeding. Birds kept cage-free tend to exhibit superior health and productivity. Free-ranging chickens scour your yard for bugs, slugs, seeds, and plants. These small creatures and greens enrich their diet with essential nutrients, notably protein and calcium. For example, an earthworm adds an excellent protein source for your chickens to peck at with relish.

Moreover, free-ranging promotes exercise. The act of foraging serves as a mental stimulation, keeping your birds active and reducing the likelihood of behavioral problems that arise from boredom such as feather pecking or egg eating. Just remember, feeding your chickens doesn’t always mean a trip to the feed store—sometimes, it’s as simple as opening the coop door.

Creating a Chicken-Friendly Garden

A chicken-friendly garden serves as an extension of your natural feeding regime. Indeed, incorporating certain plants not only beautifies your garden, but it also contributes valuable nutrients to your chicken’s diet. For instance, marigolds are known to contain lutein, a compound that enhances egg yolk color, while sunflowers grow seeds that make for nutrient-packed treats.

Be cautious and deliberate about choosing plants—it’s vital to ensure they’re non-toxic to your chickens. Some species, like rhubarb and nightshade, can be lethal if ingested. Plan accordingly, and your chicken-friendly garden can guarantee a steady supply of nutritious greens for your chickens, lending another dimension to the concept of feeding chickens naturally.

Understanding the differences between organic and non-organic chicken feed is crucial for poultry health. Organic feed, regulated to exclude synthetic additives and GMOs, provides a healthier diet for chickens, as discussed by Fly Grubs. For a deeper exploration of these differences, Kalmbach Feeds provides insights into how these feed types impact chicken health and egg quality.


Feeding your chickens isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. It’s about understanding their nutritional needs, considering their life stage, and choosing between commercial feeds. You’ve learned the differences between Organic and Non-Organic feeds and how USDA regulations come into play. But remember, it’s not just about what you’re feeding them, but also how you’re feeding them. Free-ranging is a natural approach that offers numerous benefits like essential nutrients, exercise, and mental stimulation. A chicken-friendly garden can be a game-changer, offering additional nutrients and boosting egg quality. However, it’s crucial to stay vigilant and keep toxic plants at bay. So, armed with this knowledge, you’re now ready to make informed decisions about your chicken’s diet. Happy chicken raising!

Choosing between organic and non-organic feed for your chickens depends on several factors, including health benefits and environmental impact. According to FlyGrubs, organic feed is subject to stringent regulations and must contain organically cultivated grains, ensuring the absence of synthetic pesticides and GMOs. Additionally, Kalmbach Feeds highlights that organic feed is ideal if you’re concerned about pesticide use, whereas non-GMO feed is also a good option if avoiding genetically modified organisms is a priority.

What are the essential nutrients backyard chickens need?

Backyard chickens require several essential nutrients including proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates in balanced proportions. The specific nutrient needs vary with the life stage of the chickens.

What are Organic and Non-Organic feeds for chickens?

Organic and Non-Organic feeds differ mainly in their ingredients and production regulations. Organic feed components must be grown without synthetic pesticides and using sustainable farming practices following USDA regulations.

How can free-ranging benefit chickens?

Free-ranging allows chickens to forage for bugs, seeds, and plants, which provide essential nutrients like protein and calcium. Additionally, it promotes physical activity and mental stimulation, helping prevent behavioral issues.

What is a chicken-friendly garden and how can it benefit chickens?

A chicken-friendly garden incorporates plants that offer additional nutritional benefits to chickens and improve egg quality. It requires careful selection to avoid toxic plants like rhubarb and nightshade.