When Can Baby Chickens Start Eating Adult Chicken Feed? From Starter to Adult



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I had just finished collecting the eggs from my backyard chicken coop when I noticed the little brood of new chicks cheeping loudly beside the mother hen.

They seemed especially ravenous, frantically pecking around in the dirt and leaf litter searching for any morsels of food.

But as I looked in my feed storage bin, all I had left was a big bag of the standard layer pellets I give to the full-grown hens.

Now usually after collecting eggs, I would scatter a bunch of feed for the whole flock.

But seeing these tiny babies, I started to wonder – would this adult food even be good for chicks so young?

They’re still miniature compared to their mothers, not even fully feathered yet.

I knew from experience that chickens grow incredibly fast at this stage of life too.

I wanted to make sure I was feeding them properly to support their rapid development.

That’s when the questions arose – can baby chickens actually eat the same feed as adults?

Will their little crops and gizzards be able to break down and digest those bigger pellets?

Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the mother hen herself eating feed pellets either.

She seems to mainly forage for natural bugs and scraps on the ground to feed her chicks.

Clearly there must be a reason their dietary needs differ at this baby stage.

As it turns out, their little bodies can’t properly digest large adult feed pellets. Baby chickens require smaller, nutrient-dense starter feeds made just for them.

So not wanting to risk the babies’ health, I decided to hold off on offering them the layer pellets for now.

It was time to do some research to determine exactly what kind of nutrition very young chickens require to thrive:

Those First Few Weeks Are Crucial for Chicks


See, in them first couple weeks is when chicks develop most of their strength and build up their little skeletons.

They need extra protein – I’m talking 25-30% of their diet – to support all that growing. And protein ain’t the only thing!

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Chicks also need extra calcium for strong bones and legs. Their starter feed contains around 1.5% calcium – way more than your average layer feed. Weak legs can be a real problem for chicken if they don’t get enough calcium as chicks.

Not to mention all the important vitamins and minerals. Chick needs tons of vitamin A to keep their eyes healthy as they develop. You also want vitamin D3, E, and other dope antioxidants to keep their growing bodies fighting fit.

And all those nutrients have to be in a form their puny guts can digest. Chick starter is finely ground and balanced specifically for absorption at that early life stage.

Remember how worried you were about keeping them warm? Well their diet is just as crucial for survival those first few weeks. The right nutrients at the right time equals happy, healthy chicks down the road.

Adult Feeds Aren’t As Balanced for Tiny Chickens


I know it seems like layer feed or flock raiser would work fine since that’s what the grownups eat. But those rations are formulated with fully mature hens in mind, my friend.

Protein levels in layer feed usually hover around 16%, which is totally adequate for adults but may leave little chicks still feeling hungry.

And calcium can be as low as 3%, which definitely ain’t enough to build strong skeletons at a young age.

Now most layer feeds provide a balanced set of vitamins and minerals.

But chicks at 2-6 weeks old are going through some major growth spurts that require higher levels to support healthy organ and system development.

Their little tummies also can’t break down nutrients as efficiently as mature chickens. Starter crumbles are finely milled to maximize what those chicks soak up.

So while layer feed is fine as a supplement, relying solely on it means risking abnormalities, weak legs, and other issues down the line. Ain’t nobody got time for sickly chickens!

Alright, So How Do You Feed These Little Nuggets Then?


The gold standard is a good quality chick starter mash or crumble formulated for the first 6 weeks. That guarantees they’re getting exactly what they need nutrient-wise.

If you can only get layer feed, try this – mix about 1 part starter to 3 parts layer chow. You’ll be boosting protein levels along with extra vitamins and minerals.

Offer this specially supplemented feed and clean water at all times in their brooder area. Dump it out daily so it stays fresh. Chicks will eat, drink, and poop a lot those first few weeks!

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Come 6 weeks you can start transitioning them fully to layer feed. Just reduce the starter amount gradually over a 2 week period so their systems can adjust.

Keep Babies Separated For Now

While they’re tiny, I’d also say keep your growing chicks safely apart from the grown chickens. Those big gals mean no harm, but they could accidentally trample or smother the babies without meaning to.

Feed and brood your chicks in a coop section or large dog kennel away from the adults until they’ve grown their feathers in at 6 weeks. Safety first, am I right?

The Importance of Fresh Water for Baby Chicks

Staying hydrated is just as important as their diet for healthy young chickens.

Dehydration can occur fast, so you need to have clean, fresh water available at all times in their brooder area.

I like to use gallon waterers specifically made for chicks – they’re low to the ground so those tiny beaks can reach.

Check the water multiple times a day to refill and remove any debris or litter. Chicks will play in the water as much as drink it!

If you notice damp down or sees chicks huddling – it’s likely a sign they’re thirsty and more frequent water changes are needed.

Grit and oyster shell should also be offered once chicks are a week old to aid digestion and support growing skeletons.

Dissolving electrolytes in their water weekly prevents dehydration from extra exertion in warm weather.

Brooder Setup – How to Keep Babies Comfortable

A brooder gives chicks the warm, safe, comfortable start they need until feathers come in.

I like using large dog kennels or pens to separate the brooder area from coop for safety and control.

Use brooder lamps to maintain 95 degrees F directly under the heat for the first week, then lower it 5 degrees each following week.

Chicks will huddle close when little and spread out as they grow, so make sure the brooder allows natural movement patterns.

Shavings or paper makes for easy cleaning – change it out daily to keep smells fresh for happy chicks.

Sheltered areas also provide relief from direct heat if they get too warm on hot days until fully-feathered.

Monitor brooder temps closely with a thermometer and make adjustments to keep babies cozy but not too hot or cold.

Common Health Issues for Baby Chicks

Even with perfect care, some health problems can still arise.

Watch out for pasted vent or caked poop – can indicate coccidiosis so isolate any sick birds ASAP.

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Nutritional deficiencies show as issues like rickets, curled toes or fractures usually meaning diet adjustments.

Stress makes them prone to respiratory disease, so avoid drafts, overcrowding or other welfare concerns.

Parasites such as lice or mites will cause restlessness, scratching or poor growth requiring treatment.

If issues persist, contact your local ag extension agent or vet right away for medications.

Prevention through proper start care, housing and diet gives chicks strong natural immunity though.

Do Chicks Really Need Heat Once Feathered Out?

By 6 weeks, chicks should have full feathers and be shedding down.

At this stage, supplemental heat isn’t entirely necessary if indoor temps stay around 65-75 F.

I will still provide a heat lamp for comfort on very cold nights or if brooding weak/sick birds.

Chicks are tropical creatures after all – some warmth boosts confidence as they grow into adolescents.

But healthy, fully feathered birds can tolerate cooler weather and will regulate temps on their own.

Just make sure drafts, venting and access to varied ground/roosting spots with or without heat as needed.

By 10 weeks, they’re effectively mini adult chickens heat-wise unless your climate is extremely frigid.

How to Introduce Chicks to Adult Flock

Once fully feathered at 6 weeks, it’s time to welcome babies to the big family.

I like to acclimate slowly by giving small supervised visits to the coop during playtime.

This lets chicks get comfortable with their new home and establish a pecking order stress-free.

Still, house them separately at night for at least another 2 weeks for comfort.

Gradually increase daytime playdates until chicks can stay full-time with no issues arising.

Monitor interactions and remove any bullies picking on smaller birds until all settle together well.

Providing ample space, perches, feeders and waterers avoids competition stress too.

With patience, chicks can smoothly blend into the joy of their forever flock home.

Should You Keep Roosters If Raising Chicks?

If you plan to raise chicks for eggs or meat, the rooster question comes up.

As chicks, having a rooster doesn’t really matter – he won’t breed them young.

But once sexually mature at 5-6 months, any cockerel in the brood will start to crow and mate with hens.

For homeowners, noisy roosters may not be ideal companions either.

So unless you want baby chickens hatching soon after, separating pullets from any cockerels is best.

Many people choose to rehome or process extra roosters, or keep separate flocks.

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