How to Feed Chickens Corn and Scratch Grains
Reading Time: 4 minutes
When I first started keeping chickens, I felt that feeding scratch grains was necessary. I don’t remember where I heard this, but I fed scratch grains with corn daily.
A short year later, I learned how to feed chickens corn and scratch grains. The fact is, your chickens will survive without it. If you must offer it, provide a minimal amount. Scratch grains and corn are supplemental and should never replace a balanced diet.
There is quite a stir among chicken keepers regarding whether chickens should consume corn during the summer months. I think the answer is going to shock a few individuals, but that’s okay. How we feed our flock has evolved since our great-grandparents raised backyard poultry.
What to Feed Chickens
Much like humans, chickens need a balanced diet. Science tells us that laying hens need to consume between 15% to 18% of protein daily to stay on top of egg production.
Chickens that free-range 100% of the time receive this protein by consuming an endless amount of greens, bugs, and table scraps throughout the day. In comparison, backyard chickens acquire their appropriate protein by consuming layer feed, kitchen scraps, and during supervised free-range time.
Layer feed can be expensive, especially if an organic, no-soy feed is being offered. Some chicken keepers use scratch grains and corn as supplemental chicken feed to reduce layer feed costs. Offering scratch grains is not detrimental to a chicken’s overall health as long as the amount is regulated, meaning no more than 10% of a chicken’s feed should consist of scratch grains and corn.
Offering Scratch Grains
Scratch grains to chickens is like dessert to humans. Poultry tend to consume scratch grains and corn before a high-quality layer pellet. You can purchase scratch grains with or without corn, and you can choose between a whole grain or cracked grain option. Both the scratch grains and corn (whole kernel or cracked) are available as organic and no-soy options.
Offering scratch grains encourage chickens to scratch, hence, the term scratch grains. There are times when you need to encourage your flock to get up and scratch. For example, during the coldest winter months. Flock members tend to huddle close together and not hurry to leave the roost. Grains tossed onto the coop floor encourage poultry to get moving to generate body heat. Not to mention, offering scratch grains as a boredom buster reduces pecking issues when the flock refuses to leave the coop due to heavy snow.
Feeding Chickens Corn
Feeding chickens corn is somewhat of a controversial topic. Especially when it is offered during the summer months. Let me assure you, offering corn during both winter and summer months is okay, and no harm will come to a flock that consumes corn throughout the year.
Much like scratch grains, provide corn in moderation. Chickens that consume too much corn can become obese. Obesity in chickens leads to health complications; for example, heart attack and a reduction in egg production.
Rumor has it that corn for chickens, regardless of whether it is dried, fresh, or frozen, causes a chicken’s body temperature to rise and overheat during summer months.
Rest assured, this is not true.
Think about it like this: corn is a high-calorie food and, when consumed in large quantities, turns into fat. It’s fat that causes the body to overheat. This applies to humans as well as chickens.
Trust me, a few cobs of fresh corn throughout the week are not going to cause your chickens to overheat and die. You will become quite popular among the flock.
During the winter months, especially in extremely cold climates, offering a small amount of corn nightly helps add fat to the body, hence keeping them warmer throughout the night. Again, only a small amount is needed.
How to Feed Corn and Scratch Grains as a Treat Item
The health and egg production of your flock depends on offering grains in moderation. In truth, it’s best to make your flock work for these items.
Working for the Treat
Toss a few handfuls onto land in which you’d like them to work. For example, under hanging rabbit cages, in an area that needs to be clear, or in the coop to turn the bedding.
Freezing grains and corn in ice is a great way to keep yourself and your chickens entertained. It’s humorous to watch a flock of chickens trying to break through ice to consume a snack. As humorous as it is, remember: chickens do not need to consume ice water in order to stay cool.
Suet Cakes for Chickens
A suet cake is a great treat item and often used to entertain bored chickens. This treat can be made for chickens of all ages. Suet cakes are made with corn, scratch grains, black oil sunflower seeds, unsalted nuts, and even dried fruit. The items are held together with natural fat such as lard, tallow, coconut oil, and even meat drippings (remember, chickens are omnivores). Once the fat hardens, the homemade suet cakes can be hung or added to an empty feed bowl. This treat will keep them entertained for hours!
In keeping with the rule, everything in moderation, your chicken flock will appreciate the scratch grains and corn treats you provide.
Originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.