What Do Baby Chicks Eat? From Birth To The Laying Stage

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what do baby chicks eat

What do baby chicks eat? Baby chicks can be taken home the day after they’re born.

But, during their very first day, they should be left alone in their nest or incubator – food isn’t a priority.

After this, until 8 weeks of age, they need a protein rich chick-specific food.

Let’s find out what this means.

What Do Baby Chicks Eat in the Wild?

In the wild, baby chicks would be guided by their mother hen. This means, after day 1, they will eat anything she shows them they should eat.

This usually involves lots of foraging.

The mother hen will be with her chicks constantly. But, unlike her, we can’t always be around to ensure chicks are eating a range of foods.

So, most people choose something a little easier for their own baby chickens. What do baby chicks eat when they’re kept as pets?

what do baby chicks eat

What Do Newborn Baby Chicks Eat?

Baby chicks are allowed to go to their new homes relatively early compared to other pets.

They can be taken after just one day! So what do baby chicks eat on that first day?

Actually, baby chicks should not be disturbed on their very first day, whether they’ve hatched in a nest or in an incubator.

Newborn chicks are sustained on their first day by the yolk sack of the egg they have hatched from.

This will provide all of the nutrients and other goodness they need on their very first day.

So, if baby chicks have hatched at home, don’t worry about feeding them anything on their first day. It’s best to leave them alone.

What Can Baby Chicks Eat After the First Day?

We know it’s best to leave chicks alone on their very first day. But, once this passes, baby chicks will need a higher level of care and attention.

You can take a look at our complete guide to baby chicks for more information on general care. But, for now, what do baby chicks eat after day 1?

Nowadays, feeding chickens is easier than ever. You can find chicken feed specifically for baby chicks in most pet stores and online.

Commercial chicken feed is designed to have the exact balance of nutrients that chickens will need at every stage in life.

Baby chicks, from 1 day old to around 8 weeks, need a food that is commercially sold as ‘chicken crumb’ or ‘chicken mash’.

Of course, they will also need constant access to fresh water every day alongside this. 

Chicken Mash

Chicken mash has a very different nutritional balance to chicken food designed for adults.

Baby chicks have a lot of growing to do over quite a short time. So, their food needs to support this and offer everything they need to grow into healthy adults.

The main difference between chicken mash and adult chicken feed is the protein levels.

Chicken mash has higher levels of protein, usually around 18 – 20%. It also has slightly higher levels of oils or fats than adult feed.

Chicken crumb also has smaller pieces of food than adult chicken feed. So it is easier for chicks to eat.

But, it still contains the ever-important grit which helps chickens to digest their food.

Transitioning to Growers Food

Somewhere between 6 and 8 weeks, chicks will move on from chicken mash to growers feed. This stage lasts from around 9 weeks to around 20 weeks of age, when they start to lay.

Growers feed has less protein than chicken mash, reducing to around 16%. However, it still has the same level of oils and fats, fiber, and ash.

When transitioning, change your chick’s food gradually rather than all at once. Changing their diet suddenly can lead to digestive issues and upset stomachs.

Over the course of a week, gradually reduce the amount of chicken mash and replace it with growers feed.

You should use this gradual changing method later in your chicken’s life when changing their food to suit their laying stage. Food at this point in life will have lower levels of oils and fats, but increased amounts of ash and fiber.

Can I Make My Own Chicken Mash?

Commercial foods offer a pretty simple answer to the question: what do baby chicks eat. But, is it possible to make our own baby chicken food?

It is definitely possible to make your own chicken crumb. In fact, before the 1980s, most people just fed backyard chickens with scraps and grains.

But, it can be tricky to achieve the right balance of nutrients when you’re making your own chicken food.

Store-bought commercial foods will offer the right balance of nutrients for each stage of life. So, they’re definitely the easiest way to feed your baby chicken throughout their life.

If you’re going to make your own chicken mash, speak to your vet to ensure you’re offering everything you should be.

And bear in mind that in some regions, it’s now illegal to feed backyard chickens table scraps – so check the law where you are!

What do Baby Chicks Eat for a Treat?

Baby chicks that are being given a commercial chicken mash will be getting everything they need in terms of nutrients.

So, technically, their diets don’t need to be supplemented with any treats.

Because treats don’t add any nutritional value, chicks shouldn’t be given too many, just like adult hens.

If you’re going to offer your chicks a treat, just make sure you aren’t giving them too many. And, make sure they are eating their normal food too.

Offering treats alongside their regular food, or before their normal food can lead to chicks leaving their chicken mash.

If chicks stop eating their regular food in favor of treats, there’s no guarantee they’re getting the nutritional balance they need. This could lead to deficiencies and potential health and growth issues.

What Do Baby Chicks Eat Summary

Whether you’re choosing to make your own baby chick food, or you’re just opting for a well known commercial brand, it’s important to make sure your chicks are getting the right nutritional balance.

Until 8 weeks old, their protein levels should be between 18 and 20% to support their period of growth. Their feed should also include some form of chicken grit.

Many commercial foods are marketed for specific age groups to make things easier. But, if you’re ever unsure, the best person to speak to is your vet.

What Do You Use?

Do you use a commercial chicken food or do you make your own chicken mash for your chicks?

If you have any more questions about what do baby chicks eat, leave them in the comments!

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