When you buy chicks from a hatchery or farm supply store like Tractor Supply Company (TSC), they usually come with instructions that tell you to feed them a specific type of commercial feed. These feeds are formulated to provide all the necessary nutrients that chicks need to grow healthy and strong. They usually come in pellet or crumble form and contain a balanced mix of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
What Makes Chicks from Hatcheries Different?
First, let’s address the misconception that chicks from hatcheries can’t eat anything that doesn’t come out of a bag. This notion may stem from the fact that hatcheries sell commercial chick feed, which is specifically formulated to provide chicks with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. While it’s true that chicks need a balanced diet to stay healthy, they can also eat a wide variety of other foods.
The difference between chicks raised by a hen in the yard and those from hatcheries is their early experiences. Chicks raised by a hen learn to forage from their mother, and they have the opportunity to peck at various foods in their environment. In contrast, chicks from hatcheries are typically raised in a brooder, which is a controlled environment that lacks the diversity of natural food sources found on a farm.
The benefits of commercial feed
Feeding chicks with commercial feed has several benefits. First, it ensures that the chicks receive all the necessary nutrients they need to grow into healthy adult chickens. If you don’t feed them the right kind of food, they may not grow properly or could even die. Second, commercial feed is convenient and easy to store. You can buy it in bulk and keep it in a dry, cool place until you need it. Third, it’s consistent. You know exactly what’s in the feed and how much of each nutrient your chicks are getting.
Raising chicks with a mother hen in the yard
Raising chicks with a hen has several benefits. First, it mimics the natural environment in which chickens evolved, allowing them to develop their instincts and behaviors. For example, chicks raised by a hen learn to scratch and peck for food, dust bathe, and roost. They also learn to recognize and respond to the calls of their mother, which helps them stay safe and find food.
Second, raising chicks with a hen can help reduce stress and anxiety in both the chicks and the mother hen. Chicks that are raised in a brooder may feel isolated and anxious, which can lead to health problems and poor growth. In contrast, chicks that are raised with a mother hen have a constant source of comfort and protection, which can help them feel secure and content.
Finally, raising chicks with a hen can help reduce the workload for the chicken keeper. A mother hen will take care of her chicks’ needs, including keeping them warm, showing them where to find food and water, and protecting them from predators. This can free up time and energy for the chicken keeper to focus on other tasks.
The benefits of a diverse diet
This early exposure to a variety of foods can help the chicks develop a diverse gut microbiome, which can improve their overall health and immunity. Additionally, it can be more cost-effective to let your chickens forage for some of their food. If you have a backyard or access to a large area where your chickens can roam, they can find much of their own food.
What can chicks eat besides commercial feed?
Chicks raised with a mother hen on the yard can eat practically anything they come across. This includes insects, worms, seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables. However, if you’re raising chicks without a mother hen or in a controlled environment like a brooder, you need to be careful about what you feed them. Some common foods that are safe for chicks to eat include:
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Yogurt (plain, unsweetened)
- Oatmeal (cooked)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (cut into small pieces)
- Whole-grain bread (soaked in water)
Avoid feeding chicks anything that is high in salt, sugar, or fat, as well as anything that is toxic to chickens, such as avocado, chocolate, and caffeine.
In summary, chicks from hatcheries can eat more than just commercial feed, but it’s important to make sure they get all the nutrients they need to grow healthy and strong. Raising chicks with a mother hen on the yard can provide them with a diverse diet and help improve their health and immunity. If you’re raising chicks without a mother hen, make sure to feed them a balanced diet and avoid foods that are high in salt, sugar, or fat, as well as anything that is toxic to chickens.