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What grains do chickens like the most?

Chickens are omnivores and will eat a wide variety of grains. However, some grains are more nutritious for chickens than others. When raising backyard chickens, it’s important to feed them a balanced diet with their nutritional needs in mind. This article explores the most popular grains for chickens and how they benefit chicken health and egg production.

The Most Popular Grains for Chickens

Here are some of the most commonly fed grains for backyard chickens:

  • Corn – One of the most popular grains, corn is high in energy. Chickens enjoy eating different forms of corn like cracked corn, whole corn kernels, and corn meal.
  • Wheat – Usually provided in the form of wheat berries, wheat is high in protein and carbohydrates. It’s a great source of nutrition for chickens.
  • Oats – High in protein and fiber, oats are commonly fed to chickens as oatmeal or oat groats.
  • Barley – Barley is high in energy and contains vitamin B complexes that are beneficial for chickens.
  • Millet – This small, round grain is high in protein, B vitamins, and minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium.
  • Sorghum – Sorghum grains are small and round and provide protein, fat, and fiber for chickens.

These grains provide a balance of energy, protein, and other nutrients chickens need. Many chicken feed mixes contain a combination of these grains. However, chickens also enjoy variety in their diet. Supplementing commercial feed with a rotating selection of the grains above can give chickens added nutrition.

Benefits of Grains for Chicken Nutrition

Feeding chickens a proper diet is critical for their health and productivity. Here are some of the main nutritional benefits grains provide:

  • Energy – Grains are a source of carbohydrates that get converted into energy. Corn, wheat, and barley are especially high in carbohydrates.
  • Protein – Protein is essential for muscle growth, egg production, and body maintenance. Oats, millet, and sorghum provide higher amounts of protein.
  • Amino acids – Grains supply amino acids for building and repairing tissues. Methionine, an amino acid crucial for egg production, is found in corn and barley.
  • Fatty acids – Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid chickens need for health. Corn and wheat supply linoleic acid.
  • Fiber – Fiber aids digestion in chickens. Oats and sorghum contain higher fiber levels.
  • Minerals and vitamins – Grains provide B vitamins, as well as minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc.

Getting the right balance of nutrients allows chickens to thrive and lay eggs consistently. Mixing several grain types together helps provide complete nutrition.

The Most Nutritious Grains for Chickens

While all grains provide nutritional value, some grains contain higher levels of certain nutrients chickens need most:


Protein is essential for chickens at all life stages for growth and egg production. About 15-20% of a chicken’s diet should come from protein. Here are some of the grains highest in protein:

  • Oats – 12-15% protein
  • Wheat – 12-15% protein
  • Millet – 12-13% protein
  • Barley – 10-12% protein

These grains can be fed whole or ground into meal to provide concentrated sources of protein.


Methionine is an amino acid chickens cannot synthesize on their own. It’s required for metabolism and egg production. The grains highest in methionine are:

  • Corn
  • Barley
  • Wheat

Corn, barley, or wheat bran can help ensure chickens get enough methionine in their diet.

Linoleic acid

Linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid that helps chickens produce egg yolks high in unsaturated fats. The top sources of linoleic acid are:

  • Corn
  • Wheat bran
  • Barley

Including corn or wheat bran in the diet helps chickens get the linoleic acid their bodies cannot produce.


Laying hens have high calcium needs for developing eggshells. Some grains are naturally higher in calcium:

  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Sorghum

These grains can help complement calcium from oyster shells or layer feed.

Grains to Avoid Feeding Chickens

While most grains are fine for chickens, there are a couple grains that should be limited or avoided:

  • Raw soybeans – Raw soybeans contain factors that can inhibit absorption of nutrients. It’s best to avoid feeding chickens untreated, raw soybeans.
  • Raw beans – Raw kidney beans, lima beans, and others contain phytohemagglutinin, which can be toxic to chickens. Cook beans before feeding to chickens.
  • Sprouted grains – Sprouted grains are harder for chickens to digest. It’s better to feed unsprouted, cooked grains.

As long as precaution is taken with the grains above, chickens can enjoy most grains as part of their regular diet.

The Best Ways to Feed Grains to Chickens

Here are some tips on feeding grains to chickens:

  • Mix or rotate multiple grain types to encourage balanced nutrition.
  • Grind grains into smaller pieces for easier digestion.
  • Cook or soak tough grains like beans, barley, and corn to improve digestibility.
  • Prevent waste by scattering grain over a wide area or using feeders.
  • Store grain in sealed, rodent-proof containers away from moisture.
  • Avoid feeding moldy, spoiled, or contaminated grains.

With proper storage and preparation, grains make a nutritious addition to any backyard flock’s menu. Chickens enjoy the variety they provide.

How Much Grain to Feed Chickens

The amount of grain chickens need depends on factors like:

  • Age – Younger chickens need more protein from grains for growth. Laying hens need more calories for egg production.
  • Weather – Chickens eat more in cold temperatures to generate body heat.
  • Free-ranging – Chickens that forage get a portion of their diet from pasture.
  • Commercial feed – Grain intake can be reduced if chickens get concentrate feed.

On average, chickens will consume about 0.25 lbs of grain per day. This equates to:

  • Chicks under 12 weeks: 1-2 ounces of grain per day
  • Laying hens: 1/4-1/2 lb of grain per day
  • Meat birds: 1/2-3/4 lb of grain per day

Track how much your flock eats and adjust amounts accordingly. Provide enough to complement commercial feed but avoid overfeeding.

Setting Up a Grain Feeder for Chickens

To successfully feed grain to chickens, a well-designed feeder is a must. Here are tips for setting up a grain feeder:

  • Position feeders in a sheltered area or coop to keep grain dry.
  • Elevate feeders on stands to prevent waste and contamination.
  • Use feeders with rounded edges that allow chickens to eat comfortably.
  • Provide at least 1 foot of feeder space per 3-4 chickens.
  • Consider chick-sized feeders with narrow openings when feeding chicks.
  • Clean and disinfect feeders regularly to prevent mold and bacteria.

Setting up proper feeders will encourage chickens to eat grain efficiently and avoid health issues.

Types of Grain Feeders

Here are some common styles of grain feeders:

  • Trough feeders – Long open troughs allow multiple chickens to access.
  • Tube feeders – Enclosed tubes dispense grain as chickens eat from holes.
  • Tray feeders – Durable pans or trays that attach to fencing or coops.
  • Hanging feeders – Bags or buckets that hang from the ceiling.

Try different feeder types to find the best fit for your flock and coop setup.

Chickens’ Favorite Grains

Chickens are motivated to eat by a combination of taste, nutrition, and variety. Here are some of the grains chickens seem to love the most:


A long-time chicken favorite, corn is appealing for its sweet taste and high energy content. Chickens will eagerly eat up cracked corn or whole kernel corn. Scattering corn across the coop or yard provides entertainment and exercise for chickens as they scratch and peck to find it.


Wheat is another top choice for chickens. The protein boost supports egg production. Chicken love pecking at wheat berries or shredded wheat. Sprouted wheat can be used to add greenery and variety to their diet too.


Whole oats or oat groats have a sweet, nutty flavor chickens love. Their small size makes them easy and satisfying for chickens to eat. The high fiber and protein in oats supports healthy digestion and growth.


Barley’s nutty flavor and crunchy texture makes it appetizing for chickens. Chickens enjoy pecking the kernels out of heads of barley. Pearl barley cooked until plump can also be served warm in winter for comfort food.


While not a grain, mealworms are a favorite treat of most chickens. Chickens will excitedly come running at the sight or sound of mealworms. These protein and fat-packed morsels offer a healthy supplement to their diet.

Observe which grains your flock gravitates towards and increase those in your feed mix. This will encourage chickens to eat well and make the most of their feed.

The Best Treats for Chickens

In addition to their regular grain diet, chickens deserve some tasty treats now and then. Here are healthy treats chickens go crazy for:

Scratch Mix

This fun mix contains grains and seeds like cracked corn, barley, oats, millet, and sunflower seeds. Scattering a scoop over the run gives chickens stimulating variety.

Fresh Greens

Chickens relish fresh greens like spinach, kale, lettuce, or grass clippings. These provide hydration and important vitamins.


Chopped apples, watermelon, berries, and melons satisfy chickens’ sweet tooth. Fruit gives antioxidant vitamins.

Garden Goodies

Chickens will peck at vegetable scraps, including carrots, broccoli, squash, and sweet potatoes. These add flavor and nutrients.


Live mealworms, crickets, grubs and other bugs provide protein and enrichment. Chickens naturally forage for insects.

Treats should make up no more than 10% of a chicken’s diet. In moderation, they provide excitement and benefits.

Common Questions about Feeding Grain to Chickens

Is grain enough for chickens?

Grains alone do not provide complete nutrition for chickens. Grains need to be supplemented with protein, vitamins, and calcium sources for a balanced diet. Commercial layer feed contains grain plus these added nutrients chickens need.

Should chickens have unlimited grain?

Allowing chickens to free-feed on grain often leads to selective eating, overweight chickens, and nutrient deficiencies. It’s better to feed a measured amount 1-2 times per day so their full diet is balanced.

How much protein do chickens need from grains?

Chicken feeds should contain 16-18% protein. About 1/4 of this can come from grain if a mix of higher protein grains like wheat, oats, and millet are used. The rest is supplied by the feed mix.

Should grain be sprouted before feeding?

Sprouting makes grains harder for chickens to digest. Cooked, non-sprouted grains are recommended. Soaking can help soften grains to improve digestion.

Can chickens eat old or stale grain?

Avoid feeding chickens moldy, stale, or insect-infested grains. But whole grains like corn, wheat, sorghum can be safely fed 9-12 months or longer after harvest if stored properly.


Chickens enjoy a variety of grains that provide energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Corn, wheat, and oats rate among their favorites. Mixing a balanced blend of nutrient-dense grains supports chicken health and productivity. Treats like scratch mixes, fresh greens, and mealworms also delight chickens. With proper amounts and high-quality grains, backyard chicken flocks will benefit from this natural feed source.