Do Free-Range Chickens Need Feed?

When raising poultry and livestock, the feeding option a farmer settles on will determine whether his/her animals are healthy or not. Overall, it is quite easy to feed chickens. Your options for feeding them are free-ranging and using commercial feeds. Free-ranging means allowing your chickens to roam free and forage rather than restrict them to a coop and raise them on commercial feeds.

Free ranging allows your flock to exercise and build up their muscles while adding more protein to their meat than restricted birds. Free-range chickens have fewer calories and lower fat content, and most consumers believe their meat has a richer taste.

Furthermore, the birds are resistant to disease and pests because they are exposed to more microorganisms, allowing them to build immunity.

When you free-range your chickens, one of the main questions you might have is whether they still need commercial feeds to supplement what they get from foraging. Read on to get the answer to this question.

Natural Diet of Free-Range Chickens

Chickens are omnivores that will eat almost anything when left to free range. Your birds need enzymes, amino acids, trace elements, proteins, and vitamins to thrive. To get these nutrients, the natural diet of a free-range chicken comprises insects, greens, seeds, nuts, and human food.

Insects like grasshoppers, termites, and ants are staples in the diets of free-range chickens. These are rich in proteins. Worms are also healthy protein sources for active chickens.

Free-range chickens will peck at vegetables like cabbage, kale, and spinach, nuts, seeds, and fruits like berries within their reach. These edible plants, seeds, nuts, and fruits give them vitamins and amino acids. Free-range chickens will eat almost all leftover human foods they come across, including cooked pasta, rice, vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, and bread.

However, it is advisable to keep processed and junk foods away from the places your free-range chickens roam in. This is because these foods are hard to digest for them and laden with unhealthy fats and condiments. These might make them sick or affect the quality of their eggs and meat.

The Role of Feed in Free-Range Systems

Commercial feeds still have a role in the diets of free-range chickens. This is because, unlike cows, chickens are not ruminants, and they cannot survive exclusively on what they get when foraging, irrespective of how much time they spend outdoors.

You need supplementary commercial feeds to ensure your flock has all the nutrients it needs. When your hens do not have all the necessary nutrients in their diets, this affects their eggs’ quality and size.

Furthermore, underfed or malnourished chickens, such as those exclusively raised on free-range systems, can become lethargic, be constantly sick and lose their feathers. Supplementary feeds in a free-range system ensure your chickens get enough carbohydrates, minerals, proteins, and the other essential nutrients needed for them to thrive and remain healthy.

The supplementary proteins help chickens grow full, lush feathers and produce quality eggs and meat, while carbohydrates keep the birds active and warm even in winter. Minerals like potassium, phosphorus, and calcium are crucial for forming strong bones and thick, strong eggshells. The immune boosters and vitamins in supplementary feeds protect your flock from harmful infections.

Some poultry keepers feed mealworms to their chickens to supplement insect protein. This is banned in some areas since most mealworms are raised on animal waste and protein. This means your mealworms might have consumed chicken meat. Feeding chicken meat in the dried mealworms to your chickens increases the risk of spreading diseases.

How Much Feed Do Free-Range Chickens Need?

In general, free-range chickens will not eat much. While you cannot overfeed them, do not leave too much feed in their feeders, assuming they will leave what they do not want. Leaving the feed overnight exposes it to microorganisms that can make it harmful to your flock and attract pests like mice.

Feed the chickens at least twice daily, in the morning and evening, and clean up after feeding to keep their coops clean and ensure they get fresh food.

The exact feed amount for your free-range birds will depend on their breed, amount of activity, and time of year, among other aspects. You need time to study your chickens’ feeding habits and know how much they take. Hens, for instance, need about four pounds of feed to produce approximately twelve eggs, but this does not mean you should feed your hen exactly four pounds to get the eggs.

Conversely, chickens need 120g of complete feed per day, but your free-range bird will need less than this. Moreover, in the winter, you need more feed for your free-range chickens because they cannot get much food outdoors and might even be restricted to the coop in harsh winters.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Feeding Free-Range Chicken

While some poultry keepers supplement the feeds of their free-range chickens, others choose not to. Feeding a free-range chicken ensures that the bird gets all the nutrients it needs to remain healthy and deliver its purported benefits.

You can also use the feeds to train your chickens on habits like responding to your call or confining themselves to a specific place in your backyard and lure them back to their coops in the evening.

The main disadvantage of feeding free-range chicken is that this introduces an extra budget to your flock’s care. Though commercial feeds are expensive, you can minimize their wastage by investing in a waste-reducing feeder. This ensures no feed is wasted or spilled so that you cut the cost of supplemental feeds.


Nowadays, chickens are highly productive as breeds have been improved by cross-breeding. The high production needs poultry keepers to keep up with the nutritional demand of their flocks so that the birds remain healthy.

Free ranging allows your chickens to get some of their dietary demands met while foraging. Nonetheless, from the article above, you appreciate that you still need to supplement your bird’s feeds to meet its nutritional demands. With the right commercial feeds and access to healthy foods in a free-ranging environment, poultry keeping will be a profitable venture for you.

avatar James
Hey, I'm James, a hardworking homesteader for more than 30 years. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes from tending my flock. I've raised chickens and ducks for eggs and meat for many years. I also have experience with other poultry too. Learn more

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