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Is Chicken Scratch Grain Beneficial For Poultry?

Scratch grains are commonly fed as a treat, offering a delightful buffet for your chickens. But scratch grain is controversial, and many are left wondering if it is a valuable nutritional supplement, only a special indulgence, or something you shouldn’t feed at all.

Supplying your birds with the right feed plays a critical role in their well-being and a solid understanding of the nutritional requirements of your chickens is essential to maintaining their overall health. Here, we will take a closer look and try to answer the question of whether chicken scratch grain is beneficial for poultry, helping you to make an informed choice. 

Keep reading to learn:

  • What chicken scratch is
  • At what age you should feed it
  • How it compares to layers pellets
  • What other types of chicken feed are for
  • The advantages of feeding scratch grain
  • To scratch or not to scratch
  • Scratch feeding guidelines
  • Precautions when feeding scratch grain

What is Chicken Scratch Feed?

Chicken scratch, also known as scratch grain or simply scratch, is a specific type of feed that closely resembles birdseed in composition. Scratch grain ingredients can vary widely but typically include a mix of whole grains and seeds such as wheat, barley, corn, oats, sunflower seeds, legumes, millet, and other natural ingredients. While pre-mixed bags of scratch are readily available for your convenience, some poultry keepers choose to create their own mixes. The ingredients are predominantly whole, although in some cases the scratch mix may be crushed into smaller fragments.

At What Age Should You Give Chickens Scratch?

It is imperative that scratch grain be restricted to fully grown adult chickens. Feeding scratch to chicks can cause digestive problems. Young chicks should be fed primarily starter diets during their first few months to ensure they receive the essential nutrients for healthy growth. A good rule of thumb is to judge the readiness for scratch grain by whether starter feed is still part of the chicks‘ diet; if it is, it indicates that they are not ready for the introduction of scratch.

How Does Scratch Grain Compare to Layer Pellets?

Although scratch grains fall under the category of chicken feed, they are different from standard feeds. Unlike traditional feeding methods, scratch grains are not placed in a feeder but are scattered onto the ground. This requires chickens to use their natural foraging instincts to locate and consume the various components of the mix. 

On the other hand, type-specific diets, such as layer pellets, are designed to provide all of the essential nutrients critical to the overall health of your chickens, whether they are raised for meat or for egg production. While scratch grains undoubtedly have some nutritional value, they are considered a treat rather than a complete diet. This is because they are not balanced and don’t contain all of the essential nutrients required for a chicken’s needs.

What are Other Types of Chicken Feed For?

Layer pellets are a common type of feed given to adult hens to promote healthy egg production as it contains a balance of protein and calcium. In addition to layer pellets, there are a variety of scientifically formulated chicken feeds that contribute to a well-balanced nutritional intake. These diets are designed for different stages of a chicken’s life:

Starter/Grower Feed: Specifically designed to support chicks and pullets during their first few months, starter/grower diets are high in protein to promote optimal growth. Often available in mash form, it is characterized by a fine and loose texture that is easier for chicks to digest.

Layer feed: Designed for mature hens, layer diets are rich in calcium to promote the development of strong eggs. It contains a balanced blend of vitamins, minerals, and protein. Typically, layer diets come in pellet form, commonly known as layer pellets.

Broiler Feed: Chickens destined for meat production benefit from protein-rich broiler diets that promote rapid growth. 

Are there any Advantages to Feeding Chickens Scratch Grains?

When used in moderation, scratch grains can improve the well-being of chickens in several ways. The following are notable benefits of incorporating scratch grains into your chickens’ diet:

Dietary variety: Offering a tasty snack such as scratch, adds variety to the chickens’ diet and provides a break from their regular feed. Chickens, being intelligent creatures, benefit from variety in their diet and also from having something to do.

Develop foraging skills: If chickens are not given ample opportunity to roam freely, their ability to forage for food may be limited. By scattering scratch grains throughout their environment, such as in their litter or around a grassy run, chickens will engage in foraging activities that promote mental stimulation.

Training aid: By capitalizing on chickens’ motivation to eat, scratch grains serve as a useful training and confidence-building tool. Hand feeding or using scratch as a motivational treat can help establish positive associations with human presence and facilitate various training routines.

Thermal regulation: During cold nights, offering scratch grains can help chickens maintain a warm body temperature. The increased energy required to digest scratch grains generates additional body heat, providing a comfortable warmth before the chickens settle in for the night.

Should I Feed My Chickens Scratch Grain or Stick to Other Types of Feed? 

While scratch grains offer a number of benefits, it’s important to note that chickens do not inherently require them for optimal health. Think of scratch as a luxury that you can provide your chickens if you choose. Because it is not an essential part of a chicken’s diet, scratch grain should be considered an occasional treat and only make up a small part of the overall feed.

Scratch grains are typically high in carbohydrates, which are quickly metabolized to fat by chickens. While this can be beneficial in certain contexts, it is advisable to refrain from offering large quantities of scratch grains.

Chickens that consume only scratch grains are susceptible to various nutritional imbalances and health problems. These can include selective feeding patterns, protein deficiencies, reduced or poor-quality egg production, and deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals. 

Scratch mixes usually lack the correct amounts of critical components such as protein, calcium, and vitamins that are present in formulated, type-specific diets that are essential to ensure that chickens receive a well-rounded and balanced feed. Therefore, including scratch grain as a treat is consistent with best practices for maintaining the health and nutritional balance of your flock.

Feeding Guidelines for Scratch Grains

If you’d like to include scratch grains, there are a few key things you should keep in mind. Here’s a closer look at some feeding guidelines to ensure your chickens enjoy the benefits of scratch grains without compromising their overall nutrition:

Frequency: As we’ve already established, scratch should only be fed as an occasional treat rather than a daily staple. Mix things up a bit by also providing other foods such as beneficial fruits and vegetables alongside their balance feed.

You can adapt the frequency according to your chicken’s overall health, the quality of their eggs, and the time of year. 

Watch your chickens’ weight, feather appearance, comb color, and activity levels to determine if they are getting all the nutrients they need.

If the eggshells are too soft then increase layers feed and decrease other types of food, including scratch. Also, ensure you always supplement laying hens with a calcium supplement. This is usually in the form of crushed oyster shells.

During the colder months when most breeds of hen are laying fewer eggs and need more fat to keep them warm, you can increase the frequency and quantity of scratch grain slightly.

Quantity: On average, around a tablespoon per bird is sufficient for a single treat session. Adjust portions accordingly, keeping in mind the additional nutrients provided by their regular feed.

Size and Breed Considerations: Chickens can vary considerably in size, which has a direct influence on their dietary needs. Larger breeds may consume more scratch grains, but moderation remains key to preventing excessive weight gain.

Bantam breeds, being smaller, should be fed proportionately smaller portions. Tailor the amount to suit the size of the bird, ensuring a balanced treat experience for all.

Body Condition: If you observe weight gain or loss, adjust the quantity of scratch grains accordingly; more scratch will increase weight while less will reduce it. Maintaining a healthy body condition is essential for overall well-being.

Seasonal Adjustments: During colder months, when chickens require more energy for warmth, slightly increasing the portions of scratch grain can be beneficial.

Gradual Introductions: If you are introducing scratch grain for the first time or changing the frequency, do so gradually. Abrupt changes may disrupt the birds’ digestive systems. Start with smaller amounts and observe how your flock responds.

Other Things to be Careful About When Feeding Scratch Grains

For the well-being of your chickens, there are some other crucial considerations to keep in mind when feeding scratch grains:

Contaminated Surfaces: Scratch should only be fed from unsoiled surfaces. Sprinkling it onto the ground is fine, providing that it is not heavily soiled with chicken droppings. Feeding in unsanitary conditions can pose health risks to your chickens, potentially leading to the spread of diseases.

Implement good hygiene practices and keep the areas where you will be feeding your chickens as clean as possible.

Unwanted Guests: Scattering any type of feed onto the ground can attract unwanted visitors, such as rats, wild birds, and other animals. These interlopers may not only deplete the intended treat but can introduce disease and disrupt the overall harmony of the coop.

To reduce the number of pests that may be attracted to the scratch grain. Feed the grain during daylight hours to reduce the interest of rats who prefer to feed at dawn and dusk. 

In winter provide wild birds with fat balls that are placed in trees. Small birds feel safer when they are up high and have a better view as they become more vulnerable to attack when on the ground.

Only feed as much scratch grain as your birds will eat in a couple of hours as leftover grain will attract more pests.

Ensure you regularly inspect the coop for signs of pest infestation. If they become problematic invest in a rat-proof dispenser. 

Introducing diverse methods of treat dispensing, such as puzzle feeders or hanging toys not only provides mental stimulation for your chickens but also mitigates the risks associated with ground-level feeding.

These precautions should help to safeguard the health of your chickens and also maintain a hygienic and harmonious coop environment. 


While offering some advantages when fed in moderation, scratch grain should be viewed as a supplement and not as a standalone diet.

Because the composition of scratch grains can vary so widely it will be necessary for you to make an informed decision as to how much to feed and how often. Varieties that are better balanced and provide adequate levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals will undoubtedly be more beneficial to your flock.

Monitor your individual birds carefully to ensure they are receiving enough nutritionally. Egg quality is another good indicator of this.

So, whether your chickens enjoy the occasional forage for scratch grain or revel in a buffet of well-formulated feeds, the key is to provide a stimulating environment and a good level of balanced nutrition.


Is chicken scratch healthy for chickens?

Scratch grains should only be used as a treat and not a staple diet. They can be beneficial for supplementing your chickens’ standard balanced feed, but only feeding scratch is likely to cause nutritional imbalances that could lead to a variety of health issues. These may include poor quality eggs, low egg production, protein, mineral, and vitamin deficiencies.  The main benefits of feeding scratch are to provide interest and variety to your flock’s diet and to encourage natural behavior that can reduce boredom and stress. 

How much chicken scratch is too much?

As a guide, scratch should only make up around 10 to 20% of your chickens’ daily food intake. This will vary depending on the composition of the scratch and how well-balanced it is.

How often can you give chickens scratch?

Because chickens don’t “need” scratch and it is really only a treat you should only feed it in small amounts two to three times weekly. By offering it as a daily food, some members of the flock may start to reject formulated feeds that are better balanced causing health issues.

What is chicken scratch feed for?

Chicken scratch is only fed as a treat. It can help to reduce boredom and encourages natural behavior. During colder months when hens are laying fewer eggs, it can help to maintain condition on your birds.

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