Are Scratch Grains Good for Chickens?

Whether you’re new to raising chickens or have a dedicated flock, you’re likely aware of all the food options you could buy for your birds. When choosing feeds and treats to give your chickens, you want to ensure you’re picking products that are good for them. A popular, yet debatable, feed is scratch grains. These can benefit your flock, though large servings can cause health issues. Understanding what you’re feeding your chickens is essential to raising healthy birds.

Learn when and how to introduce chicken scratch to properly support your flock’s diet.

What Is Chicken Scratch?

Chicken scratch, also called scratch grains, is a type of chicken feed closely resembling bird seed. Scratch grains’ ingredients can vary widely, though they often include various whole grains and seeds like wheat, barley, corn, oats, sunflower seeds, legume, millet, and other natural ingredients. While the scratch mixture is available in premixed bags for convenience, some chicken owners prefer to mix their own. The ingredients are typically whole, though sometimes you can find scratch blend crushed into smaller pieces.

What Age Can Chickens Eat Scratch?

Only feed scratch grains to fully grown, adult chickens. If you feed scratch to your chicks, they likely won’t be able to digest it properly. Chicks should eat starter feed for the first couple of months of their lives to ensure they’re getting proper nutrients to help them grow. A good rule of thumb is if you’re still feeding your chicks starter feed, they likely aren’t ready for scratch yet.

Scratch Grains vs. Layer Pellets

While scratch grains are a category of chicken food, it differs from standard feed. Instead of putting scratch grains into a feeder, you’ll typically toss them in the bedding or on the ground so chickens have to use their feet to forage for bits of the mixture. Additionally, regular feed, like layer pellets, provides the necessary nutrients to keep chickens healthy, whether you’re raising them for meat or egg laying. While scratch grains contain some nutritional value, they are more of a treat than a balanced diet.

Layer pellets are a common type of feed fed to grown chickens to help encourage healthy egg laying. Here are a few other scientifically formulated chicken feeds you may give your flock daily for balanced nutrition.

  • Starter/grower feed: Starter/grower feed supports chicks and pullets during their first several months of life. This feed is protein-rich to stimulate growth. The combination of starter and grower feed is also often available separately, with grower feed tailored to transition chicks to layers. Starter feed typically comes in mash form, which is fine and loose, making it easier for chicks to digest.
  • Layer feed: Most mature chickens eat layer feed formulated to ensure they’re laying healthy eggs. This calcium-rich feed ensures strong eggs and includes a balance of vitamins, minerals, and protein. Since layer feed is for adult chickens, it often comes in pellet form — otherwise known as layer pellets.
  • Broiler feed: Chickens raised for meat production rather than egg production should eat protein-dense broiler feed, which helps them grow quickly.



Benefits of Scratch Grains for Chickens

When fed in moderation, scratch grains can benefit chickens in several ways. Consider the following advantages of feeding your chickens scratch.

  • Adds variety to their diet: Your chickens will love getting a tasty snack like scratch grains, which differs from their regular feed. Chickens are intelligent birds, and need variety in their lives. Occasionally offering scratch is an excellent way to provide them with some excitement.
  • Encourages foraging skills: Unless your chickens have free range for all or most of the day, they may have limited opportunities to forage for their food. Tossing some scratch grains in their bedding or a grassy run allows them to practice foraging for their treat rather than getting it out of a feeder, which is enriching.
  • Can be helpful in training: Chickens are very food-motivated, so scratch can be a beneficial tool for training them and gaining their trust. For example, you may offer scratch out of your hand to get your chickens used to your presence and to associate you with food. You can also use scratch as a motivational treat to teach your chickens to return to their coop at night until they learn to do so on their own.
  • Provides a boost of heat: You can offer scratch grains to your chickens to help them maintain a warm body temperature on cold nights. Scratch grains require more energy to digest, which generates more body heat and will warm up your chickens before they settle in for the night.

Do Chickens Need Scratch Grains? How Often Should I Give My Chickens Scratch?

While scratch grains offer several benefits, chickens don’t necessarily need to eat them to be healthy. Scratch grains are more of a luxury you can give your chickens if you wish. Since they’re not an essential part of a chicken’s diet, scratch grains are only an occasional treat, and should make up a small percentage of what you feed your chicken. While it contains some nutrients, scratch is not a meal replacement, and you should only use it in a healthy balance with your flock’s primary feed source.

Scratch grains are typically high in carbohydrates, which chickens quickly convert to fat. While this may be desirable in some circumstances, best practices advise against giving chickens large quantities of scratch. Using scratch grains as a treat to supplement your primary feed is vital to a chicken’s health.

Chickens who solely eat scratch will experience several nutritional imbalances and health issues, including selective eating, protein deficits, decreased/low-quality egg production, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Scratch mixes lack the necessary protein, calcium, and vitamins that standard feeds contain to ensure chickens get well-rounded meals, which is why it’s best as a treat.


Feed Your Chickens Organic Scratch Grains From Nature’s Best

As part of your family, your flock needs high-quality feeds and grains to thrive. Nature’s Best Organic Feeds offers premium organic poultry products, including organic scratch grains. As a non-GMO project-verified company, we strive to provide nutritious poultry products with full transparency. With 75 years in business, we provide the quality feeds your chickens need to thrive.

Explore our selection of organic poultry feeds and contact us for more information. To purchase our scratch grains for your flock, find a store near you.