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What Do Baby Chicks Eat?

First time raising chicks? Or maybe it's just been awhile and you need a refresher of what baby chicks eat? Here are some guidelines for feeding chicks from hatch to laying age.

Baby chicks are like any other babies and need lots of nutrients, vitamins and minerals to help them grow up to be strong and healthy.

This simple chart gives you the guidelines you need to ensure you're feeding your babies correctly.

What Do Baby Chicks Eat?

Starter Feed

Hatch to 8 Weeks Old

Your chicks will see their biggest growth spurt during this critical time. Chick starter feed has the highest levels of protein of any feed (other than meat bird feed!) to help support this rapid growth. You'll be looking for a feed that's 18-20% protein.

The calcium levels in starter feed are relatively low (usually under 1.5%) because the chicks only need it to grow strong bones, not to produce eggshells.... yet.

Starter feed is available in both medicated or non-medicated formulations and should be offered 24/7 to your chicks while they're in the brooder along with fresh room temperature water.

Chicks of all ages will not over eat their feed. They will only eat just enough to get the nutrients and energy they need  for the day. A baby chick will eat about 3/4 to one pound of feed a week for the first 8 weeks of its life. 

That's the equivalent to about 1 to 2 ounces of feed per day. And be sure that chicks have plenty of clean water at all times. They'll drink about three times more than they eat.

Starter/Grower Feed

8 Weeks  to 18 Weeks Old

Although your chicks' growth will slow down quite a bit during this next period, they still need a balanced feed to continue to fill out and mature properly. 

The protein level in the grower feed will drop from the level in the chick feed, down to 15-16%, while the calcium levels remain constant at less than 1.5%.

They'll eat about a pound of feed a week at this point, and as they get closer to 18 weeks, they'll likely be eating closer to a pound and a half per chicken per week.

Layer Feed

18 Weeks Old+

As your chicks, now considered pullets, begin to approach laying age, they will need to start stockpiling extra calcium in their bodies that will be use to create strong eggshells. 

Anytime within this age range, it's alright to switch them to layer feed when your last bag of grower feed runs out. 

Layer feed contains similar protein levels (15-16%) as grower feed, but far greater amounts of calcium than either starter or grower feed. Layer feed should contain 3-5%  calcium - the amount that laying hens need to make strong eggshells. 

Feeding layer feed to young-ish hens before they are approaching laying age can lead to an excess of calcium in their bodies and kidney issues later in life. So wait on the layer feed until they're almost ready to start laying.

Each chicken will be eating about 1/2 cup of feed per day, or a pound and a half  to a pound and 3/4 a week at this point.

What Else Do Chicks Eat?

There are a few other things that I recommend when it comes to feeding baby chicks. I do recommend limiting treats or anything other than the starter feed for the first two weeks, but if you can get your chicks out on grass right from the start, they'll love nibbling on grass and weeds, and scratching in the dirt for bug larvae and worms.

I also like to offer my baby chicks chopped herbs and weeds, especially dandelion greens, right from day one.  Be sure that they also have grit to help them digest the greens. A small dish of coarse dirt is sufficient when they're very small.


Can Chicks Have Treats?

As I mentioned, I do try to limit my chicks treats for the first two weeks. After that, they will love a variety of healthy treats including leafy greens, sliced cucumbers, watermelon and other grains, fruits and vegetables.

Breakfast of Champion Chicks

I also recommend adding a few supplements and additions to my chick feed right from the start - at hatch or day old, depending on when I get the chicks (and add the same to their adult feed as well):

  • Brewers Yeast with Garlic (as mentioned before, ducks need more niacin than chickens)
  • Poultry Probiotics
  • Organic Sea Kelp
  • Rolled Oats

For more details on the benefits of the various supplements and additions, read HERE.

Choosing a good-quality chicken feed for your chickens is one of the most important things you can do for them. Feeding them the correct feed during each stage of their life is the second most important.

If you're not sure which type of feed you should be feeding, check the bag tag or label for the protein and calcium levels.

My girls are Blue Seal girls and live long, happy lives while laying us delicious, fresh eggs eating all stages of Blue Seal Home Fresh Feeds

Visit their website for more information about their entire poultry feed line - both organic and conventional.

Fresh Eggs Daily Natural Poultry Feed Supplements

Available from

Available from

photo credit: Breezy Photography

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Further Reading:
Quick Reference Feed Guide
How Much Feed Does a Chicken Eat?

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