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Should Chickens Have Food And Water At Night?

Poor Ethel never gets it right!

It can be tough at first, knowing how to care for your flock. These busy little creatures always seem to be so happy. So how am I to know, exactly, what to do? Are my birds too hot or too cold? Are they hungry or thirsty?

With regards to eating and drinking, once a chicken understands ‘this is food’ – ‘this is water’, they will eat and drink as the mood hits them. So long as there is food and water available, all should be fine.

It’s not unusual for me to peek out the window and see the girls taking a snack at pretty much anytime during the day. But what about at night, when I can’t see them?

Once a chicken settles in for the night, the only thing on their mind is sleep. Chickens will not leave the roost for a midnight snack. Nor do they get up and stumble to the waterer because they’re thirsty. In other words, once they’re on that roost, food and water is irrelevant as it is lights out until morning.

And there is a reason for this behavior.

As it turns out, chickens can not see very well in the dark. And unlike a child who can be frightened of the ‘closet monster’, chickens have an extensive list of very real monsters that want nothing more than to eat a sleeping chicken. Staying put on their roost (place of safety) makes perfect sense to a bird that can’ see.

### Important Note ###

When raising chicks in a brooder, I tend to leave the food and waterer in and available 24 hours a day as they are not on the same schedule as the outdoor chickens. It’s not unusual for one of those fuzzy chicks to fall asleep directly under the heat lamp, only to wake up a little while later and decide that they need a drink. And as small as they are, it’s a good idea to be proactive with regards to being hydrated.

Outdoor chicks, however, are different. Mama hen will handle the chicks schedule. Just make sure that food and water is ready for when everyone gets out of the nest first thing in the morning. Chickens can stress out very easily.

Should Chickens Be Fed Indoors Or Outdoors?

This is another one of those debates that is sure to get you kicked off the Christmas card list if you have the ‘wrong’ opinion. In reality, both methods will work, but… since I’m the one writing the article, I will give my opinion as to which one is the best – LOL

I will provide my flock with food indoors and outdoors all year round. And if the weather is particularly hot, I will provide water both indoors and outdoors as well. That being said, my flock’s primary source of food and water is outdoors. And here is why I do this.

  • Messy Eaters – Chickens are messy eaters. It’s not really their fault considering that they don’t have hands to pick food up with. But nothing is more frustrating than seeing the feed you paid for spilled all over the ground and wasted…except maybe having to clean up said spilled feed and throw it away. If the spilled chicken feed is outside on the ground, then there is a chance that one of your chickens might eat it (at least that what I tell myself). There is no chance of them eating it, if it’s in the trash can.
  • Outdoor life – It is my personal choice to have my flock outdoors and active as much as I possibly can. Obviously, this a decision that every flock owner will make for themselves, but for me – I like them scratching at the dirt and pecking at bugs. Having the food and waterer outdoors is just another little encouragement for my birds to ‘get out’ first thing in the morning.

Now that I’ve explained why I prefer to feed the birds outdoors, here is why I keep a small amount of food inside the coop.

Living in a northern latitude, sunrise comes at a different time every day. For my alarm clock, that’s not a problem. For chickens that get up with the sun, that can be difficult for me to navigate.

My schedule is fixed. In other words, there are days I get up and the sun has been up for half an hour and then there are days where the sun comes up after I’m already going. For these early mornings that the sun beats me out of bed, I make sure that the birds have something to snack on while they are waiting for me to let them out of the coop.

Can Chicken Food Get Wet?

Hanging Chicken Feeder and Waterer outdoors and out of the rain

Chickens eat some weird stuff. It can really make you gag if you think about it too much. (I’m not even going to tell you about how chickens get those grubs out of the cow patties!) However, there are some things you should know about chicken feed and what happens when it gets wet.

Chicken feed is essentially dried and compressed material. If those little pellets or crumbles come in contact with water, they will absorb the fluid and essentially become mush – think soggy cereal.

While I have heard of flock owners saying that their chickens love mush, I’ve never seen any of my birds get excited about it. Point of fact, I have seen them go around the feeder to get to the dry stuff. To each their own, I suppose.

Honestly, I do not think there is any reason to discount wet chicken feed, so long as it’s fresh. If, however, it’s not fresh ‘mush’ then you should probably get rid of it. And this is for a couple of reasons.

  • Mold – Wet chicken feed will grow mold very quickly. I can’t tell you what type of mold it grows, but I really don’t want my birds eating it.
  • Hard when dried out – Underneath my outdoor feeder is a layer of chicken feed hard-pan. As the birds eat, they do spill a little on the ground. This feed will break down and loose shape as it gets wet – either with the dew or the rain – and it will harden again as it dries out. Consequently, I will go out a couple times a summer with my shovel and break this layer up in order to remove it. Should this process of hardening happen inside of your chicken feeder, then the birds are not going to be able to get any feed out.

Can Chicken Feed Go Bad?

With the potential for mold on wet chicken feed, it would be normal to worry about the quality and the state of what you are feeding your flock.

It’s been my experience, that if stored in a cool dry place, chicken feed will last quite a while. There really shouldn’t be any cause for concern if your small flock takes more than a few months to finish a 50lb bag of feed.

If you are worried, then give it the smell test. If it has a fermented smell, then you might want to think about replacing it. However, if it doesn’t smell spoiled and hasn’t lost shape, then you should have confidence feeding it to your flock. After all, if they don’t like, they won’t eat and that will be your answer.

Will Wildlife Eat My Chicken’s Feed?

This is where the indoor feeder crowd really makes their argument. Any feed that is inside the coop will not only have protection against the rain, but against other potential freeloaders as well.

While it’s been my experience that most wildlife would rather eat the chicken than the chicken feed, there are some outdoor animals that will want to share what you’re giving your flock.

On the more disgusting side, critters like mice, rats and even opossums will find the chicken feed to be edible. Personally, I haven’t found mice to be an issue as much as rats. Mice are small enough that a chicken will try to catch and eat it. Rats, however, are a little too big and maybe a little too smart for the chicken to deal with.

On the more fun side, small birds like sparrows will dine at the feeder. This is especially enjoyable to watch as the chickens love chasing the sparrows away. Sparrows might not be big, but they are quick and persistent, which seems to make it an even match.

Will Wildlife Steal My Chickens Water?

For our flock, the waterer has proven to be much more of an issue than the feeder. When it gets really hot, the wildlife can be problematic to deal with.

The summer before last, I spent quite a bit of time trying to thwart woodchucks. I think they could smell the water and being thirsty, they’d break into the run and go for the waterer. Unfortunately, the waterer isn’t built for woodchucks and the only way they could get something to drink was to spill it all out. This meant my chickens, who were also suffering from the heat, weren’t able to drink anything.

This summer, though, my problem came at night. A raccoon was climbing in every night and spilling the water in order to quench its thirst.

Tail end of a raccoon breaking into the chicken run

For the record, I don’t mind lending a helping hand to nature. However, I have a responsibility to protect my flock. And raccoons and chickens are not a good combination.

It’s a really good idea for those raising chickens to not do ANYTHING that would encourage local wildlife to visit. Wildlife will generally see your chicken as a source of food and they will work very hard to get at your bird. Also, wildlife can carry disease and you don’t want your flock sharing water as say a sick raccoon. The best way you can protect your flock is by discouraging wildlife from visiting.