A reader could find a lot of material out there regarding how you should never feed bread to your backyard flock. And while the sentiment behind this opinion is generally good, it might not be exactly accurate.
When it comes to chickens and bread, it’s best to use the cake analogy. A chicken eating a piece of bread is like a human eating a doughnut; it’s not necessarily bad to consume, but rather has little to offer in the way of nutrition.
And with chicks growing as quickly as they do, they need nutrition more than anything else. So while you could feed chicks small pieces of bread without any immediate negative effects, it’s best to limit this as much as possible.
Development for a chick is in high gear and they must have a certain amount of protein in order to stay healthy. For example, the Cornish breed of chicken will go from the weight of an egg to 8+ pounds in around 7 weeks. That’s a phenomenal amount of growth! Having your chicks fill their bellies with bread instead of nutrition is certain to cause health issues.
What Can Baby Chicks Eat Besides Chick Starter?
Unlike mammals that must eventually be weened, chicks eat roughly the same thing as adult chickens. That’s not to say that you should give your chicks adult feed, but rather that the small crumbles in Starter Feed have a great commonality, with regards to ingredients, to the feed you would give to a full grown chicken.
However, like their full-sized counterparts, baby chicks will benefit from eating bugs. Not only will chasing a small grasshopper around the brooder provide them with exercise and fun, but it will also give them a great source of protein.
Should they be quick enough, flies are also acceptable to consume, but I would avoid letting them eat any kind of caterpillars, spiders or worms. Some of these types of insects could be harmful, and with chicks being so small, they don’t have to consume much of something bad to really hurt themselves.
I would also initially avoid giving them any kind of plant based scraps such as blueberries, grapes, ect. These types of treats won’t necessarily be bad for them, but rather will not have the high levels of protein that their growing bodies demand.
Remember, your typical backyard breed of chicken is a long ways from the original Red Junglefowl. Today’s breed offers more (egg production, meat production, plumage, ect) but these advanced characteristics come with a higher nutritional demand.
### Important Note ###
It is absolutely critical that you only give your chicks Starter Feed. Please do not try and ‘save a little’ by cutting corners and giving them something else. This could easily cause long term damage to your chick; even proving to be fatal.
When Can Baby Chicks Eat Scraps?
Giving your young chicks snacks, can be a good thing, especially if you are using this opportunity to teach them the ‘treat call’. And this treat call will prove to be invaluable when your flock gets older and has the opportunity to travel beyond the confines of their run. (Chickens can be very difficult to catch! Having the means to bring them to you is beyond helpful.)
We will start catching small grasshoppers to toss in the brooder for the chicks to play with at around 2 weeks of age. At this age, depending on the breed, their downy fuzz should be well on its way out, being replaced with real feathers.
Things like sliced grapes can be used at around 4 weeks of age, however, remember to use restraint when feeding them. Your chicks will look like miniature versions of their adult selves, but there is still quite of bit of development going on. For this reason, it’s not good to let them fill up on treats, thus ignoring the ‘real’ food that their growing bodies need.
However, after 8 weeks, you should feel confident to give them pretty much anything you would normally give to an adult chicken. At this age, they have attained a good portion of their finished growth. What is most necessary now, is access to quality feed – allowing them to eat as they feel the need.
When Do Baby Chickens Start Eating And Drinking?
Chicks will absorb that last little bit of their egg sac contents, just before hatching. This gives them a good 48 to 72 hours where they can go without food or water. However, there is one notable issue that should be understood when it comes to feeding your new chicks.
If you got your chicks through the mail, then there is no real way of knowing just how long they have been without food or water. Not only is there time spent in the mail, but there is no way of knowing how long they were hatched before shipping.
For this reason, it is advised that you offer your new chicks food and water immediately upon taking them out of the box. They may or may not eat/drink something upon release. But it should definitely be made available for them.
### Important Note ###
If you have done your homework, then you should have come across the ‘beak dipping’ process for new chicks. Baby chicks have to be shown ‘this is food’ and ‘this is water’ – which you can do by briefly dipping their beaks into each. Normally, mama hen teaches them through example as chickens learn by observing other chickens. But if there is no mama hen available, then it is up to you give them this knowledge.
For the record, while the ‘beak dipping’ process is certainly helpful it is not guaranteed. And while they will inevitably find food, dehydration can be a real problem if they don’t figure out ‘this is water’. For that, we use the ‘spoon method’ to ensure that the chicks are getting the vital fluids they have immediate need for.
How Long Do You Keep Chickens On Starter Feed?
Chicks should be on Starter Feed for at least 8 weeks. As mentioned before, these birds can go from the weight of an egg all the way up to 8 pounds in under two months – credit to domesticated breeding. For this reason, they need high levels of protein of around 20 percent.
But this high level of protein is not so crucial as growth slows down. And while your chick is no where near finished growing at 8 weeks, the rate of growth drops considerably.
For our flocks, we generally start mixing in Grower Feed, with a protein level of around 15 percent, with the Starter Feed at around the 10 week mark. This allows for a gradual transition in their diet from the higher levels of protein, down to where it will ultimately be for the rest of their lives.
It’s also worth noting, that your flock will be consuming a large amount material as they forage. And we have found that the more they are able to forage, the more ‘wiggle room’ we have on diet.
Raising chicks can be an incredibly rewarding experience. They are just uber adorable! But they do have very specific needs. And should you neglect to provide for each and everyone of these needs, the results can be fatal. It really pays to do your homework.
For an in-depth look at this, please read: ‘Raising Chickens: 5 Easy Steps For The 1st Timer’