Chickens are among the most independent animals to keep and are perfectly capable of finding food themselves—if it’s around. Still, like any captive animal, they need regular feeding to both survive and thrive. In general, a chicken can go for no more than 4–5 days without their regular food, as they’ll be quite malnourished after this point.

Chickens are self-sufficient, but even though they will always find worms or insects to eat if they are free to forage, they still need a healthy, balanced diet to thrive and live long and healthy lives. A lack of proper nutrition can lead to poor health and reduced egg production.

Of course, there are times when you may be away from home or unable to feed your chickens for some reason. Let’s take a look at how a lack of regular feed will affect your chickens and how you can avoid this.

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How Much Food Do Chickens Need Per Day?

You may have noticed free-range chickens constantly scratching and foraging throughout the day, and this is largely due to their fast metabolism. Chickens use a great deal of energy because they are always digesting food, foraging, and devoting calories to egg-laying, so they can eat a surprising amount of food considering their size.

The amount of food that a chicken consumes per day will depend on a few factors, like their age, breed, activity, whether they are foraging, and whether they are laying. In general, though, an adult chicken needs roughly ¼ of a pound of food per day.

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How Long Can Chickens Go Without Food?

If left alone long enough, chickens will start eating their own eggs (after 3–4 days), and if they are kept in a flock, they will start pecking at each other soon after this. Eventually, your small flock will be down to one or two chickens, as chickens are known to resort to cannibalism if it’s needed to survive! Of course, if there is forage available, this will be unlikely, but for chickens in a coop, this is a probable scenario.

If chickens are free-ranging, they can most likely survive indefinitely as long as there is a supply of plants and insects to feed on, so it’s difficult to say how long it will be until they are desperate enough to begin pecking at other chickens. A chicken left alone in a coop without any food will last no more than a week before they starve to death and even less without water.

While chickens are expert foragers, you should not rely on this for their health. Foraging is important for their mental and physical health, but they need the more balanced nutrition that comes from feed for them to thrive, especially in winter months when there is little forage available.

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Can Chickens Survive Without Feed?

Chickens are experts at surviving on whatever they can find and can live without feed if they have space to forage. From grass and weeds to worms, insects, and even small mammals, chickens will find a way!

Of course, surviving is different from thriving, and general health and egg production will almost certainly go down without regular feeding.

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How to Ensure Your Chickens Always Have Food and Water

Accidents happen, and as hard as you try, there may be a day or more when you forget or are unable to feed your chickens. It’s best to plan ahead and make sure your chickens will have food even in your absence. The best way to do this is with a feed dispenser. These dispensers come in different sizes and don’t need refilling every day, so they are especially useful if you’re away for a few days.

Using one of these simple devices may save the life of your chickens should you fail to feed them. They are also inexpensive and thus, a worthwhile investment. Also, it will save you from needing to feed your chickens every day!

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Final Thoughts

Chickens without access to forage will most likely not survive for more than a week and will almost certainly be severely malnourished if they do. Chickens with access to forage, however, may be able to live indefinitely because they are experts at finding insects and weeds to eat, but they will likely not be healthy and will produce inferior or fewer eggs. For a healthy, happy chicken, you’ll need to be giving them at least ¼ of a pound of feed per day.

Featured Image Credit: AngelaQuinn, Pixabay