The common answer from chicken keepers when you ask them “what do roosters eat” is that they feed their roosters the same thing as the rest of the flock. This makes sense in backyard settings where the flock members typically vary in breed and size. A backyard flock can have standard size and bantam roosters along with any number of different-sized hens. Feeding all those different birds separately is a task that’s not for the faint of heart. But this one-size-fits-all approach can leave chicken keepers wondering if they’re really feeding the right food to their birds.
Regardless of whether your bird is a hen or rooster, all chickens need basic nutrients to grow and maintain good health. Access to clean water is top of the list. Without water, a chicken can’t live long and even a small lack of water can have consequences such as reduced egg production. In their food rations, chickens need five basic components: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. These components are the backbone of a healthy bird and they provide everything from energy to supporting healthy bodily process along with feather and egg production.
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The Basics of Feeding Chickens
There are cornerstones of feeding chickens correctly. Chickens are omnivores so they enjoy a varied diet. This can be achieved by feeding a good quality, fresh commercial feed and then supplementing for variety which can come in many different ways. Feeding chickens kitchen scraps is fun for both you and your chickens plus it helps to reduce kitchen waste and put it to good use. Scratch grains are also a popular chicken treat. When feeding chickens scraps from the kitchen and scratch grains, remember that they are treats so they should be limited to no more than 10 percent of a chicken’s overall diet. Free ranging allows birds exercise, mental stimulation and access to forage plus insects and small animals. Free ranging does not have limits, in fact, the more the merrier!
When your birds are young and not yet sexually mature, what to feed chickens is easy, there’s no need to worry about feeding different food to roosters and hens. Their nutritional requirements at that age are the same. Once pullets reach egg laying age, they need to switch to a diet that’s higher in calcium to promote strong eggshells and healthy bones. This usually means flock owners will switch from starter/grower type feed to a layer feed.
An Unclear Direction for What Do Roosters Eat
Once your roosters are mature and hopefully being good flock protectors and good citizens with no rooster attacks taking place, then you have a choice to make: to feed your roosters a separate feed or not. Science and research about what do roosters eat and what should roosters eat is unclear and recommendations vary. Sadly, for the noble rooster, this is probably because most roosters end up in the stew pot at a young age and more value is put on the life and longevity of a laying hen, so that’s where all the studies are done.
Here’s what we do know. Too much calcium in young pullets can cause kidney damage. From this fact, it’s often extrapolated that too much calcium in roosters causes kidney damage. There have been studies about the effect of calcium on rooster fertility. Typical layer rations did not affect fertility but the study did not address health concerns. There have been studies on stone formation in the semen ducts of roosters. The stones contained high amounts of calcium but this was not directly linked to diet, in fact, it was associated with viral diseases. In commercial operations, they will feed their roosters separately, but that is done because they are tracking and limiting the food roosters get.
So what are the options for a backyard chicken owner?
- The first and most popular option is to feed every bird in the flock layer feed.
- If you have a rooster bachelor pad or the ability to feed your roosters separately, then you may want to consider not feeding them a layer feed but choosing an all flock/flock raiser type of feed. These feeds are designed for a flock with roosters and other types of poultry. This gives roosters a lower calcium level and higher protein level.
- Last but not least, you can feed your combined flock of roosters and laying hens an all flock/flock raiser feed and then offer calcium free choice. Many people observe that when offering free choice calcium, they’ll see the hens taking what they need but never see the roosters express interest in the calcium.
The unclear science in this area makes it hard to give a firm feed recommendation for what do roosters eat. It’s really a personal choice that each flock owner must make individually. The science is clear on one point, whatever you choose to feed your roosters, make sure it’s a fresh commercial feed supplemented with nutritional, but limited treats and some good free range time along with plenty of fresh water. Those are the keys to a healthy chicken no matter the sex.
In your mixed flock, what do roosters eat? Do you feed them separately? Do you feed them a different commercial ration? Let us know in the comments below.