Are you new to raising chickens? If so, you might be wondering what is the best way to feed them. There are a few different options, but one of the most popular is chicken scratch.
But what is chicken scratch, and is it really the best option for your flock? Keep reading to find out!
Table of Contents:
What is Chicken Scratch?
Chicken scratch – it’s not just a colloquial term for messy handwriting. It also has to do with feeding chickens!
But what exactly is it – and is it something you should be giving to your flock?
Chicken scratch is a type of chicken feed that is like the dessert to your chickens’ entree (the main course, of course, being regular chicken feed like pellets or mash).
Chicken scratch should be fed out only occasionally and consists of high-calorie treats like corn and grain.
It’s made of high-quality ingredients and is less expensive than bird food. It’s called scratch because your chickens will “scratch” around in the dirt and bedding to find it and snack on it.
Chicken scratch is not a new invention. In fact, back before commercial feed was commonplace, homesteaders used to throw dinner scraps, leftover grain, and old grain to their chickens to supplement their diet from free-ranging and to get rid of unwanted leftovers.
Chickens had to scratch for their dinner!
Commercial chicken feed of today is formulated to give your birds the exact nutrients they need.
It has precise quantities of things like fat, fiber, and protein, along with trace elements like amino acids, ferrous sulfate, copper sulfate, and selenium.
Of course, calcium is a key component of commercial feeds, too, as it helps your chickens lay healthy eggs.
Chicken scratch has none of this and is far less scientific. As mentioned earlier, it can contain a wide blend of ingredients, including wheat, barley, corn, oats, or sunflower seeds.
What is the Difference Between Chicken Feed and Chicken Scratch?
Still confused about how chicken scratch differs from chicken feed? Here are a few key examples.
- Protein – Chicken scratch has less than 10% protein, on average, whole chicken feed can have up to 18% depending on the specific blend.
- Calcium – Chicken scratch does not contain any calcium, for the most part, and if it does, it is in very small quantities. Calcium is present in most chicken feeds at amounts of up to 3%.
- Scratching behaviors – Chicken scratch, as the name implies, is meant to encourage scratching, whole chicken feed is not.
- Formulations – Chicken feed comes in many different forms, including layer, mash, crumble, broiler, egg layer, chick starter, medicated, unmedicated, and so on and so forth. Chicken scratch can have many different ingredients, but is usually only marketed in one way – as chicken scratch!
Whereas chicken feed is a balanced meal with proteins, vegetables, and carbohydrates, chicken scratch is like a big ice cream cone. Delicious – and hits the spot at the right times – but not exactly nutritious.
How Often Should I Feed Chickens Scratch?
There’s no single best answer to this question – it really does depend on your individual flock.
Chicken scratch should be fed as an occasional treat. In fact, you don’t have to feed chicken scratch at all, if you don’t want to.
It does have some valuable nutrients that can help your chickens put on a lot of weight very rapidly, but for the most part, it’s just dense carbohydrates and sugars that will be converted to fat by your chickens.
Now, if you’re trying to help your chickens get through a blustery, cold winter’s night, the extra calories and fat from chicken scratch can be most advantageous.
However, if you want to keep your chickens at a healthy weight, you shouldn’t be feeding it out constantly.
Some people feed their chickens chicken scratch just as they feed them their regular feed – often or even worse, free choice. However, you should not do this.
It is not the same as pellet, crumble, or mash feeds. It has different nutritional properties and is really its own type of food.
Balance is key here. You really should only feed chicken scratch every now and then to prevent your chickens from becoming obese.
When given the choice, chickens will happily munch on chicken scratch instead of their regular chicken feed.
This can not only lead to excess weight gain but can also cause your hens to stop laying or to lay poor-quality eggs. Other health problems may arise, too, like a change in demeanor or feather loss.
Otherwise, as long as you’re not exceeding the recommended limits (which I’ll detail a bit more below), there’s no set amount you should feed.
Some people provide their chickens with chicken scratch on a daily basis, while others do it only on the coldest nights of winter.
How Much Chicken Scratch Should I Feed?
Again, there’s no set in stone here. However, most guidelines recommend that you make no more than 10% of your chickens’ diets composed of scratch grains. The rest of the diet should consist of a formulated feed pellet.
You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if you’re giving your chickens too much chicken scratch.
The most obvious sign is that your chickens are leaving leftover feed and scratch on the ground. It will become moldy, wet, and spoil, quickly attracting rodents and insects.
If you notice any leftover scratch, feed it up immediately, then take note for the next time you feed chicken scratch not to give quite as much.
Since 10% can be hard to gauge, there’s another way to tell how much chicken scratch to give your birds. Give them some chicken scratch, then wait 20 minutes.
If the chickens haven’t cleaned up all the chicken scratch by that point, clean it up yourself and only feed the amount they ate in that 20 minute period the next time you go out to feed them.
This will ensure that your chickens are not gorging themselves on chicken scratch.
When fed in moderation, chicken scratch shouldn’t affect the health or well-being of your hens.
If you notice decreased egg production or an overall decline in health, it could be a sign that you’re feeding too much chicken scratch.
Other Tips for Feeding Chicken Scratch
Here are a few more tips you can follow if you choose to give your flock chicken scratch.
Use it to Build Trust
An easy way to help your chickens learn to trust you is to give them chicken scratch. Many people use chicken scratch to train their chickens to eat from their hands! It can also make gathering eggs easier.
Even if you just started feeding chicken scratch, it’s not too late. You can still use chicken scratch to train your chickens and get them comfortable with being handled, even if they are no longer young chicks.
Gets Activity Levels Up
If your chickens have been cooped up inside all winter – or have been inactive due to illness or some other factors – giving them chicken scratch is a great way to encourage them to pep back up and get moving again.
The scratching activity will help them produce body heat – vital in the cold months – and get their digestive systems functioning in a healthy way again.
It can keep your chickens occupied on the coldest, dreariest days of winter when they’re stuck inside the coop, too.
Use it as a Nighttime Snack
Chicken scratch can also be fed to hens just before bedtime. It will help fill them up at night – and they aren’t as likely to eat too much since they’ve already had their fill at the feeders. It can keep them full so they get a better night’s sleep.
Feed Chicken Scratch During Unpleasant Procedures
Need to clip wings? Check your chickens for lice? Treat for parasites? If so, chicken scratch can be used as a reward to entice your chickens when you have to complete these unpleasant treatments.
If you provide your chickens with rewards for being good, they’re more likely to come to you when treatments need to be done in the future.
Use Chicken Scratch to Get Your Birds Inside at Night
I already mentioned that using chicken scratch before bedtime is a great way to keep your chickens full and happy as they hit the roosts.
However, you can also use it to get your birds to go inside, to begin with. Some stubborn chickens may want to roost in trees, under the porch, or in other odd places, rather than going into the coop at night.
Using chicken scratch is a great and easy way to convince your chickens that the coop should be the place they call home.
All you need to do is sprinkle a handful of scratch on the floor of your coop (or use it to lure your chickens out of their alternative hiding spots before bedtime). They’ll go nuts for it – and don’t want to sleep anywhere else.
Have Your Chickens Clean the Coop
You can even use chicken scratch to entice your chickens to clean the coop for you!
If you use the deep litter method for bedding your chickens, in which you only change the bedding once or twice a year, all you need to do is lay down a bit of chicken scratch.
As the chickens hunt for the tasty morsels in the bedding, they’ll turn over the bedding for you.
In the process, they’ll aerate the pile, helping to create a miniature compost system in your coop that requires virtually no work on your part.
Come spring – or whenever you choose to clean the coop – you’ll be rewarded with super-nutritious compost that you can use as soil or as fertilizer in your garden. Genius!
Know When to Avoid It
Whole chicken scratch is a fixture around most backyard chicken coops, there are some situations in which you might want to pass on the scratch.
One is if your chickens are allowed dot-free range all of the time. They’ll already know how to forage on their own and should be able to find their own healthy treats.
If you’re on a budget, know that chicken scratch isn’t really necessary, either – you can make your own or let your chickens free range for their treats, as I just mentioned.
Of course, you should always pass on chicken scratch if you suspect your chickens aren’t getting enough (or the right) nutrients from their regular diet, too.
Chicken scratch should not be fed to newly hatched chicks or young pullets, either, as it can upset their sensitive digestive systems.
Where to Buy Chicken Scratch
You can usually buy chicken scratch wherever you purchase your regular chicken feed. You can buy it in bulk or just a small bag at a time.
You can also make your own chicken scratch at home, an option that might be appealing to homesteaders who wish to save money.
It will also give you more control over the ingredients in the chicken scratch. Many commercial blends contain things like additives, artificial flavorings, and even GMOs.
Make your own chicken scratch and you can avoid these!
You can easily make your own mix by combining equal parts of ingredients like cracked corn, oats, wheat, barley, split peas, and sunflower seeds.
Mix these by hand until they are evenly distributed, then store in an airtight container until you’re ready to use the mix. Keep the mixture dry and well-ventilated and check it often for signs of spoilage.
You can even make a homemade chicken scratch mixture if you just have a few of these ingredients – you don’t need to have all of them in border to make a delicious, filling, and nitrous chicken scratch treat for your flock!
If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can even throw in things like peanuts, dried cranberries, raisins, or pumpkin seeds.
Feeding Chicken Scratch: An Occasional Treat for Your Backyard Flock
Are you a homesteader who is looking for a way to provide your chickens with some extra nutrition? If so, then you may want to try giving them chicken scratch.
Chicken scratch is a type of feed that is made up of cracked corn, wheat, and sunflower seeds.
It is a great source of protein, fiber, and other nutrients that your chickens need. Not only will it help keep them healthy, but it will also help keep them happy.
So if you are looking for a way to give your chickens a treat, chicken scratch is the way to go.
Just remember that chicken scratch is best in moderation – to keep your flock healthy, don’t overdo it, and only provide chicken scratch as an occasional treat.
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).