Introducing New Food to Your Flock:
Tips for Picky Eaters
While many chickens will eat practically anything you offer them, it’s actually common for chickens to be seemingly picky.
Unlike humans, dogs and cats, chickens rely less on taste, and more on sight with their taste buds at the very back of their mouth. So, before they can taste something, they've already committed to swallowing it.
It’s normal to have at least a few fussy eaters, especially in larger flocks.
Folks with fussy chickens report that their feather babies react as if they’re scared of whatever is being offered to them, whether it’s a grasshopper or some spinach.
This seems to happen more often with younger birds, but it can also happen with older birds as well. The reasons why can vary from personality traits to what they’re used to.
**Don’t miss this! While you may have chickens that eat practically anything, we still recommend gradually introducing and transitioning your feather babies properly to any new foods and feeds.
This is especially important for new feed. Although feeds are designed and formulated for chickens, no two brands or recipes are alike. They will have differences, even if they’re subtle. The differences may affect your chickens’ behavioral responses, as well as the response of their digestive system (poop happens!).
If you switch or change your own diet (even if it’s something as little as cutting out coffee in the mornings), you are going to experience emotional and physical changes and adjustments. This is the same for chickens and their foods.
Whether you have fussy eaters, or want to switch their feeds, here are some tips on introducing new feed and snacks.
Tip 1: Evaluate Your Flock’s Food:
One of the first things to consider if you have some picky chickens is to evaluate their food. What are they eating? Are you providing them with a quality, nutritionally-balanced feed? Do they have opportunities to access healthy snacks that they may find naturally if they were to forage like insects and plants?
Domesticated backyard chickens need a quality, well-balanced feed with the proper proteins, vitamins, and nutrients, like Grubbly Layer Feed.
**Don’t miss this! There are plenty of backyard chicken parents who notice that their chickens will only eat scratch, and leave their regular feed behind.
Well, as it turns out, many of these chicken parents are mixing scratch into their flock's feed on a regular basis. Unfortunately, scratch is not a balanced feed. It’s more like a treat or a light snack to be fed sparingly. Feeding too much scratch will alter the nutritional balance of a regular feed.
It’s similar to humans enjoying a granola bar with every meal on a daily basis. A granola bar can provide energy, but it’s not a replacement for a nutritionally-balanced meal.
Plus, not all granola bars are alike. Some are filled with sugars and fats, while others are slightly more healthy, but still not meant as a daily meal supplement or replacement. And if you feed that to your children daily, they will prefer the sweetness of the bars over vegetables. Chickens are no different when it comes to scratch and their feeds. Like children, chickens do not always choose the healthy option, so we must help our flock to get the best nutrition they can get.
Another question to ask yourself: If you have a picky chicken, is this a new behavior?
Freshness: If it’s a new behavior, then evaluate the freshness of your feed. Is it stale? They may not like the stale feed. Stale feed will also have lost some of its nutritional quality.
Feeding Patterns: Have you also changed the way you feed? Have you been giving them leftovers or more scratch? Too many treats?
Those questions are important to ask ourselves when we’re faced with fussy eaters.
Tip 2: Give it Time
If you are offering them something new that they’ve never seen or eaten before, then just give it a little time.
Think of it this way: if you come across a food you’ve never seen or heard of before, wouldn’t you look at it a little speculatively before you try it?
Most chickens fall in love with healthy snacks like Grubblies at first peck. However, sometimes, there are chickens who are a bit more wary, and they approach them with great caution.
Be patient with your fluffy ones, especially with new feed and healthy snacks so that they have the opportunity to adapt to a new food that will help their overall health.
If they don’t start eating it within a few minutes, they may get there within a few hours. Some more cautious chickens may need 3-7 days to get used to new foods.
Once your chickens go nuts for a healthy snack like Grubblies, you’ll have them following you everywhere (including back to the coop safely). Plus, this nutrient-rich snack is essential to help your flock's feathers when molting.
Tip 3: Mix it Up!
One way to let your picky eaters know that their new snacks are safe and delicious is to offer it with other delicious treats or snacks.
Here are some ideas for introducing Grubblies:
- Mix Grubblies with some scratch.
- Scramble some eggs and sprinkle with Grubblies.
- Sprinkle Grubblies on some watermelon, or their favorite fruit.
Toss a handful (or two, or three) into their regular feed.
You can use this same concept for introducing other foods. If your chickens have never had kale before, we suggest chopping it up and sprinkling it on their food or other snacks, as you would with Grubblies.
Then over time, you can offer them larger pieces and an entire bunch. It’s really fun watching them tap into their inner dinosaur and rip apart large leaves of kale!
Tip 4: Switching Feeds
If you are switching feeds to improve the health of your flock, you will need to have a little more patience than you would when just introducing a new snack or food group.
We do not recommend a rapid, sudden "cold turkey" switch. Instead, you’ll want to introduce your new feed gradually, increasing the amount of new feed while decreasing the amount of your former feed.
*The key is to do it slowly for the most success, for both your chickens’ digestive health, and for their acceptance of the new food.
When switching to Grubbly Layer Feed, gradually introduce the feed.
Chicken expert Anne of @realhensofoc and author of The Beginner’s Guide to Raising Backyard Chickens: How to Raise a Happy Backyard Flock recommends the following schedule when switching feeds.
Days 1-3: 90% former feed, 10% new feed
Days 4-6: 75% former feed, 25% new feed
Days 7-9: 50% former feed, 50% new feed
Days 10-12: 25% former feed, 75% new feed
Days 13-14: 10% former feed, 90% new feed
Going forward after Day 14: 100% new feed
Tip 5: Monitor Your Flock
Monitor your feathered family. This last tip is not just a tip for the introduction and transition of new foods. It’s a tip that we recommend all of the time.
Observe your chickens’ behaviors and eating habits. Observe and monitor their health and their eggs. And yes, monitor their poop.
It’s important to have a baseline of their behaviors and health so that you know if they are healthy and if any changes you make to their food and environment are making an impact on them. Their age and genetics can also have an impact.
Even if you feed them a high quality well-balanced feed, you may have a hen that will still lay soft shells. Her genetic code may need more calcium, or may not process calcium as efficiently as her sisters. This is why a constant monitoring and observation of their behaviors and health is important. Then, you can introduce healthy snacks like grubs, which have 50x more calcium than mealworms to help your chicken who is laying soft eggshells.
Monitoring them can also save you money. When your chickens are eating “empty calories”, they’ll need more and more of it as their bodies desire more nutrients.
With a higher quality feed, you may also notice that there is more food leftover. If your flock is eating well with all their nutritional needs met, they will eat less. So, you’ll notice that all of your Grubbly Layer Feed goodness will last longer (and will give you more "cluck for your buck"). You'll see the benefits in their energy, feathers, and eggs.