All chickens must have access to clean water and a well-balanced, nutritious diet. Freedom from hunger and thirst provides a chicken’s most basic needs by allowing that chicken to remain in good health and full of energy.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom from Hunger and Thirst. In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your chickens have what they need to be free from hunger and thirst.
All chickens need to be fed a varied and balanced diet. The more variety, the better, as a wide range of foods will help prevent deficiencies and health problems.
Your chickens' diet should include:
Commercial feeds are made up of a combination of grains (such as maize, wheat and barley), as well as some additional proteins and fats. The right commercial feed for you chicken will depend on his/her age, size and also its general health. Young chicks need higher amounts of protein than adults, and chickens that have been bred for meat also have different requirements to chickens that are bred for laying eggs. It is very important that your family provides your chickens with a balanced, nutritious diet to ensure they live long, healthy and happy lives. Speak to your veterinarian or an experienced chicken guardian (owner) about the right diet for your chicken.
Commercial chicken feed is available in different sizes as either pellets, crumbles/grain or mashed. Adult chickens can eat any size of chicken feed (pellets, crumbles or mashed), but chicks need feed that is small enough for their little beaks to eat, so food for chicks is usually in crumble form.
If you have a chicken is pulling out their own feathers, vets usually recommend feeding mashed chicken feed as it means your chicken will spend more time searching for food, and less time pulling out their feathers
To help your chicken be as healthy as possible, there are a few additional foods that you should also provide:
While commercial chicken feed should form the base of your chickens' diet, on its own it’s not a very exciting diet – imagine if you had the exact same meal every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner for your entire life! Like you, your chickens will become very bored. Therefore, it is recommended you add some variety to your chicken’s diet by supplementing the chicken feed with fresh vegetables or a small amount of fruit.
Fresh foods such as vegetables and fruit can provide extra vitamins and minerals that are important for a healthy chicken. Not all vegetables and fruits are safe for chickens, so it is important to check whether the fresh food is safe for your chicken.
Offer your chicken a variety of safe, washed vegetables every day such as silverbeet, kale or lettuce. Fruit is very high in sugar so these should be fed just as an occasional treat for your chicken. Grated carrot or beetroot, peas and corn are also favourites, but remember that too much of anything can sometimes be unhealthy.
Other safe vegetables/ fruits include bok choy, spinach, endive, chickweed, cabbage, nasturtiums, garlic chives, clover, chickweed, turnips, vegetable peels and fruits such as strawberries, watermelon and banana.
However, keep in mind that too much cabbage, turnip or kale can make your chickens eggs taste different!
Always check with an adult before feeding your chickens any food - if they don’t know for sure whether it is safe – don’t feed it to your chickens!
There is more information below in “Poisons” about unsafe foods for chickens.
Water is super important for your chickens. Without water, your chickens will not survive for very long.
Did you know that a hen laying eggs needs twice as much water as a hen that isn’t laying eggs? If the hen doesn’t get enough water, it can impact her eggs and therefore any chicks that she may have. This is why it is so important to provide lots of water sources for your chickens.
Chickens don’t tend to bathe in their water dish like other birds, but feathers and dust can dirty the water dish easily. Fresh, clean water must always be available and replaced daily for your chickens. It is important to check water dishes daily, particularly when the weather is really hot, or really cold. In winter, water dishes may freeze.
Make sure to place your water dish in an area your chicken can get to easily. In the chicken coop, avoid placing the dish underneath perches as it can become contaminated easily with droppings or old food.
Chickens are constantly foraging for food. It's important that you provide lots of opportunities for them to search for their food, as they would in the wild.
Instead of always placing food in a bowl, try and scatter your chickens favourite foods on the ground and watch your chicken search to find it.
By allowing your chickens access out of their chicken coop/house, they are able to search for food all over. Garden plants and weeds are far more interesting for a chicken than a perfectly manicured lawn.
If you have logs or pot plants nearby, move them slightly to expose the creepy crawlies underneath. Your chickens will most likely race over to catch insects as they scurry around!
Chicken are social creatures and should be kept in groups. To avoid any squabbles over food, spread their food out in different areas. Some chickens are greedy and try and steal all the food, or block others from eating it. If you feel that one of your chickens is missing out, feed your chickens separately. It is important to check that all of your chickens are getting enough food.
Chickens are very curious and can sometimes come across toxic foods. Make sure your chickens' environment does not have any toxic items that they might come across. The most common dangerous items for chickens are:
Do not feed: Avocado, celery, chocolate, citrus fruits, garlic, onion, parsnip, parlsey or rhubarb, as these foods can be toxic.
Watch for any changes in how much your chicken is eating or drinking. Eating more or less than normal can be a sign that your chicken is sick.
Another thing to check is your chicken’s droppings. Any changes should be reported to your vet. Keep in mind that certain vegetables can change the colour of the droppings (e.g. beetroot and carrot can give your chicken’s droppings a pink or orange tinge).
For more information about how to know whether your chicken may be ill, check out our freedom from pain, injury and disease section.