We Don’t Use Chick Starter: Three Reasons Why

We Don’t Use Chick Starter: Three Reasons Why
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In true rebel farm(ish) girl style, I thought I should let you in on a little secret: We don’t use chick starter at our farm (for chickens or pheasants) and we haven’t for the last four years. Wondering why? Pull up a chair.

(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)

Reasons we don’t use chick starter: the guy at the feed store told us we didn’t need to.

This journey started several years ago. We went to the feed store to grab a few bags of chick starter, but the feed store was low on supply. A gent who worked at the store pulled me aside and said, “You know, you don’t actually have to use starter.”

My heart rate elevated. Here this dude was telling me something different than what I’d read in all the blogs and books I’d used for solid research. How dare he? I filed his advice in my brain…and kept buying starter.

But then I started talking to more people.

Reasons we don’t use chick starter: 50 years ago, chick starter wasn’t a “thing”.

Research online doesn’t give any easy answers about when the practice of feeding chick “starter” began, but I can tell you that the more long time farmers/homesteaders I talk to, the more I get the impression that a good majority of them regard chick starter as more of a “thing” than a nutritional requirement.

It seems to me that as time goes on and research is done, the proper care and feeding of chickens becomes more complicated instead of less so. While working on this piece, I came across several articles that stated chicks should not eat layer food, layers should not eat chick food, and rooster companions to egg-laying hens should be eating a completely different feed of their own.

In a real-life, multi-age, free range flock—the kind we think of when we picture Normal Rockwell-esque farms—I’m not sure how this segregated feeding is even possible.

All I'm saying is that I'm pretty sure Ma Ingalls wasn't sending Pa to the store for different kinds of feed. Click To Tweet

Reasons we don’t use chick starter: when chicks follow Mama Hen around, they eat what she eats.

When our chickens were free range, we would often have a lot of surprise hatches. I did not (and still don’t) separate mama and her babies from the rest of the flock – 99% of the time we’ve seen mama prove she can hold her own. Those little fluffballs follow mama wherever she goes, doing what she does, and eating what she eats.

I have never had a chick die from eating layer feed. Ever. I’ve never had a chick starve from not being able to process layer feed. Ever.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one…

A survey of fellow homesteaders revealed there are many farmish folk who don’t use starter.

One homesteader commented their local feed store doesn’t carry non-medicated starter, so they just opt not to use starter at all.

Another homesteader said she simply doesn’t have the room to store several different kinds of feed, and so her whole flock gets the same kind.

Yet another homesteader commented that the protein difference in the starter and layer crumbles available in her area is a “whopping” 1%, so she figured it was easier to buy the layer feed for everyone and be done.

If you don’t use chick starter…

Some people don’t use chick starter, and worry about the size of the crumbles in adult chicken feed. There is a solution for that! You can grind the adult feed for the chicks using a coffee grinder. (Just make sure you use that grinder only for feed!)

For instance, the game bird grower we buy for our pheasants is pretty large, so we will grind it for the babies for a couple weeks.

Some people argue that you don’t even have to do this, and that the chicks will be just fine pecking at the large crumbles.

Why We Don't Use Chick Starter

If you don’t use chick starter and you’re worried about lower protein by not feeding a chick starter, realize there are many ways you can supplement protein. Try scrambled eggs, meal worms, and other things as a protein boost for all the birds in your flock.

Some folks say that the issue with chicks eating layer feed isn’t the lower protein, it’s actually that the calcium content is too high for chicks to process.

Layer feed can have as much as 3% more calcium than its starter equivalent. A laying hen uses that extra calcium to create strong egg shells. If higher levels of calcium are given to chickens who aren’t laying, some sources suggest it could cause stress as their kidneys work to filter the calcium out. Do with this information what you will.

To suggest that chicks are prone to kidney failure because they get too much calcium suggests I would see chicks keeling over from kidney failure, or growing up to mope around my farm with debilitating health issues.

I haven’t seen it yet, folks.

So, as a rebel farm(ish) girl, I’m just going to point this out: I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t feed starter. I’m telling you that we don’t feed starter.

Take that as you wish.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret: we don't use chick starter at our farm. In this article, I tell you three reasons why.

Subscribe to my Farmish Kind of Life podcast at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, PlayerFM, or other popular podcast players. All episodes of the podcast will also be linked under the podcast tab that you can find way at the top of this post in my menu bar.

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13 thoughts on “We Don’t Use Chick Starter: Three Reasons Why”

  • A great post, thank you! I was just thinking along the same lines. We also choose to mix our own layer feed and not do the pellets. They seem to be doing fine so far except for the hens who can’t keep up with the bigger ones when it comes to getting eggs shells from the compost and have a few chest feathers missing. They free range on about a 1/2 acre and seem to get most of what they need. We use organic hard wheat, organic field peas, Organic rye and organic unhealed oats from Azure. When we bought our premixed organic feed they would leave all the crumbly vitamins and extras and kick them all over their coop so we figured they were not eating it any how and yet we were still paying for it! I have a ‘how to feed chicken book’ from the 40’s on my to do list, should be interesting!

  • Love this, and giving some more thought to what my chicks are eating now. I pay extra at the feed store just to buy Non-medicated chick starter, but the layer feed typically doesn’t contain meds so I think I have found a new “thing” Thank you!

  • This is interesting to read Amy, thanks for the info! We have fed our meat bird chicks scrambled eggs along with starter, but we should skip the starter next time.

    I need to get a worm farm going for this coming summer, since we will be doing meat birds again!

  • I also keep baby with mom and they all free range. I just put layer feed in a plastic baggie and use a rolling pin to crush it up. Never had a problem.

  • I have no choice but letting my mama hen dictate what her babies eat. Mama hen does not accept starter neither any pellets mixed in layer. she forages whole day and when it comes to other stuff they only accept eggs and macadamia nuts. I tried sesame seeds, sunflower kernel, brewers yeast, organic wheat, oats etc.
    I read all kind of magic recipes but all wasted.
    Here in Queensland I have to keep them in enclosed yard due to predators. I do take them for a tour outside but watch them closely.

  • Friends of ours only use “grower” feed for their flock as they also have read that excess calcium may be harmful to roosters. Is this the same thing as starter?

    • That depends who you ask and what you’re buying. Our local place has starter AND grower, but I know there are some places that sell starter/grower (as in that’s what is written on the package, which would make one assume they are the same thing). I tried to do a bit of research online for you, but even that came up a little confusing. Our birds in the big red barn have always eaten a layer or “egg maker” mix and we’ve not had issues with it bothering the roosters. 🙂

  • Thanks for this! I mix our own feed and have been wondering what I would do for the babies this year. I didn’t really want to spend $28+ per 50lb sack of starter food. Our whole flock gets a “grower” mix and we have egg shells and calcium out for them free choice. Seems to work so far.

  • Cool, I like your blog. I normally don’t use chick starter either. I just feed everyone layers crumbles and scratch. They’re free range and like to help the pigs out with their food as well. I’ve never had any problems with the health of my chickens. My chicks haven’t gotten sick or died. I have had a few chicks eat a big size pig food pellet and have to wiggle their necks around to get it to move into their stomach. However, with my Serama chicks, I use chick starter. It’s easier for me to not have to grind up the food. But I just feed the chick starter to everyone for the short time I’m using it.

  • I have been feeding layer crumbles (they don’t like pellets) and scratch. I had two surprise hatches and because I have too many predators, I separated mamas and broods into a predator proof enclosure. They got the same feed as everyone else, they are all growing like weeds and I will most likely be butchering 2/3 of them as soon as they start crowing! I am going to try to grow redworms for them this winter as well as sprouting some kind of grain. We have a hard time getting barley and oats doesn’t sprout well. I am trying to figure out what to sprout that the horse can eat as well.

  • Thank you for this! I go natural and put fertile eggs under my broody hens. I have been “chick starter” shamed in the past. Now I am going to post this to Facebook and sit back to raise my chicks naturally.

    I am such a mean chicken mom…they don’t even have a swing!

  • I was asking myself why do I have to feed chick starter . Recently had a broody hen and I gave her a baby chick (no rooster)! Thus began the crazy of how to get the chick to her, where do I put her, where will I put them, to separate or not, what to feed, what to not feed! So my brain fired up along with Google to find the answers. I made it through everything mostly by trial and error, except food! I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to integrate mom and baby into the flock and still feed chick started. Not to mention mom didn’t like started at all. So the other day I turned mom loose with baby just to see what would happen. (After mom and baby had been in thier own separate cage within the roost). Thier scawbbles but after about 8 hours everyone seems to have settled down. Mom and baby are doing fine but the question remained how to feed them from here on out! Google led me to your podcast.my question was way back when how did the oldtimers feed grown chickens and babies. Well the momma chicken does it all of coarse. After watching this mom and baby and how mom would break up the food she was trying to get baby to eat I figured I would just nature run it’s course. But I just had to know if I was doing the right thing. Your podcast made me feel better about my decision to not play momma hen and let her do her job. We are on day two of “free ranging” and real mom is way better than me and I guess I will just have to stop worrying about nature and it’s seemingly perfection! Thanks

  • YES!! To no starter.
    My layers and their chicks are pasture raised.
    The hens have a feeder of whole wheat, one of oyster shell and another of grit.
    Found an article from Manitoba Agriculture on free choice and how chickens can moderate their diet.
    https://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/livestock/production/poultry/choice-feeding-of-small-laying-hen-flocks.html

    And an article from 1945!
    http://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/livestock/production/poultry/poultry-rations-and-feeding-methods.html

    The day olds get scrambled eggs & I grind some of the wheat for the chicks.

    Thanks!

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