Do Your Chickens Need Supplements?

Do Your Chickens Need Supplements?

By Tiffany Towne, Nutrena Poultry Expert

A stroll down the poultry aisle in your favorite feed store may display more options for chicken supplements than you knew existed. It can be confusing, overwhelming and difficult to know what’s right for your flock. Don’t panic. A good layer feed provides almost everything your chickens need for a balanced diet: protein, the correct balance of vitamins and minerals, and sufficient energy for their life stage. However, there are three additional supplements that your layer feed does not provide that you should consider.

Supplemental Calcium

This is most often in the form of oyster shell, and it should be offered to help restore calcium depletion caused by laying eggs. An eggshell is made of 97 percent calcium carbonate, which the hen must provide as the egg is forming in the reproductive tract. In fact, laying hens require three times the calcium of non-laying hens. So even though you may be feeding a balanced layer feed, some hens require additional calcium. Not having enough calcium readily available in her system can cause a hen to produce eggs with weak shells and can even cause other problems like weakened bones.

When to offer: Begin feeding oyster shell free choice in a separate container from the regular feed at 16 weeks.


Grit, in the simplest terms, is tiny pebbles that the chicken ingests along with food. Since chickens don’t have teeth, they can’t chew their food into small pieces. Instead, the grit works in the gizzard to grind up the food into tiny particles that can be absorbed in the digestive tract. Without grit, your birds can end up with digestive issues like impacted crops.

Free-range chickens may be able to find enough grit-type material that they don’t need it supplemented; however, like the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Grit is relatively cheap to purchase and is readily available in all areas of the country. A small amount of grit will last your flock a substantial amount of time when offered free choice in a separate container from their normal ration.

When to offer: Provide grit as soon as your birds are eating anything other than a pellet or crumble feed. Around six weeks you may want to begin adding treats to the flock’s diet. At that point, grit becomes essential to help digest any fibrous pieces like grains, grass, etc. For supplemental calcium and grit, a simple rule to remember is, “When in doubt, put it out!” Your birds will take what their bodies require.

Scratch Grains And Treats

When it comes to treats, balance is key. Your chickens will love getting treats occasionally, or even on a daily basis, but it’s important to limit the amount given. Scratch grains are typically made of two or more grains mixed together. When scattered on the floor of the coop or run, they provide a fun snack that encourages a chicken’s natural instinct to forage (or scratch) for food. But scratch grains should only make up about 10 percent of the total diet (or about the amount your flock will clean up in 15 minutes). While they provide a nice snack that birds love to eat, they do not include any vitamins or minerals and therefore are not a balanced addition to the diet, which is why they must be fed on a limited basis. Overfeeding scratch grains and other treats can cause an unbalanced diet that does not include enough protein or the correct amount of vitamins and minerals for production. This can result in decreased egg production, feather picking and other issues.

When to offer: Scratch grains and other treats are most often started when birds leave the brooder around six to eight weeks.

Remember, a good layer feed is the foundation to a healthy flock. Adding supplemental calcium, grit, scratch grains and treats will help make sure your birds are at their very best.

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