There are multiple types of commercial food marketed for chickens of different stages of life and different breeds, and many of them provide complete nutrition for chickens without any antibiotics, hormones, or animal byproducts. Sadly, some foods are designed specifically with exploitation in mind, such as “broiler” food (often called “meatbird”) which is formulated to encourage rapid growth and weight gain and should never be used in a sanctuary setting. Complete diet foods typically come in pellet, crumble, or mash form and are preferable to mixed grains as they prevent chickens from picking and choosing (and missing out on essential nutrients). Going forward, we’ll refer to this complete diet food as “primary food”- this should be the bulk of a chicken’s diet. Many sanctuaries choose between “layer” food and “maintenance” food depending on the needs of the individuals in their care.Chickens bred for egg production or “ornamental” hens who are actively laying should be eating “layer” food, because the food is specially formulated to make up for the high nutritional deficit created by egg laying. There are many high quality complete diet “layer” foods on the market, including organic varieties. One popular brand among sanctuaries is Layena. If you are feeding hens who are no longer laying due to age or who have been implanted, you may need to adjust their diet since they will no longer need the additional calcium that actively laying hens require. Roosters also do not typically need the extra calcium that “layer” food provides, though many sanctuary roosters end up eating “layer” food if they are living with actively laying hens. Some recommended options for non-large breed chickens who are not laying include Roudybush Low Fat Maintenance, Purina Game Bird Maintenance Chow, or an “All Flock” food. Roudybush is a high quality food, but is expensive, so may not be an option for everyone. If choosing an “All Flock” food, be aware that different brands have very different formulations, so always be sure to look at nutritional analysis before deciding on a food.Chicks and growing chickens have different nutritional needs than mature birds and should be fed accordingly.
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