Every chicken owner knows that their birds eat more or less constantly when they are awake. Always picking, pecking, scratching, and nibbling. Sometimes keeping the chickens fed feels like a full-time job on its own!
But what happens when life gets in the way and the chickens don’t get fed? Be it an accident, disaster, personal emergency, or even vacation. How long will your chickens last without food?
An adult chicken can last between 4 and 6 days with no food at all, depending on overall health, size, and other factors. A chick can survive for 2 or 3 days with no food. Injuries, climate, and breed all factor into this estimation.
Your chickens don’t need to be fed every few hours, or even every day, especially if they have access to forage and found food.
However, a lack of food will quickly start to take its toll even on hardy chickens. There is a lot that owners need to know about this subject, so keep reading.
How Much Food Do Chickens Need to Survive?
An adult chicken will need around 4-6 ounces of food per day, depending on age, breed, activity level, and overall health.
This can be in the form of pellets, grain, vegetables, forage, or chicken feed. A chick will need three times as much food as an adult chicken, on a weight-for-weight basis.
That does not sound like much to you and me, and it isn’t, but this is a fairly steep calorie requirement for an animal of their size.
Chickens, like most birds, have a very high metabolism and they burn through calories quickly.
This is why chickens need to eat so often and why they are always scratching around looking for something to eat. If they don’t get enough food they will start to lose weight quickly, and eventually die.
What Happens When Chickens Don’t Eat?
As we said, a chicken’s metabolism is very high, and they need to eat constantly to maintain their energy levels.
If they don’t eat for even a short period of time their energy levels will start to drop sharply. This lack of energy will make them listless, and they will start to sleep more.
As time goes on and they continue to go without food their energy levels will drop further and they will become increasingly lethargic. Their feathers may even begin to fall out.
Pretty soon after that they will eventually stop moving altogether. At this point, their organs will start to shut down and they will die.
What Kind of Nutrients do Chickens Need on a Daily Basis?
Chickens need a few key nutrients to survive, and these are mainly protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
Ratios vary, but in general their diet should be composed of thirds: one third of their calorie intake should be protein, one third should be fat and one third should be carbohydrates.
A chicken’s diet should also contain a good amount of vitamins and minerals, as these are essential for their health.
Some of the most important vitamins and minerals for chickens are calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A, vitamin D3, vitamin E, and niacin. Manganese and magnesium are also important on a daily basis, particularly for laying hens.
As you can see, there are a lot of different nutrients that your chickens need to survive. This is one of the reasons why a varied diet is so important for chickens.
They need a wide range of different nutrients to stay healthy, and if they don’t get them all on the regular they will eventually become ill.
How Long Can Adult Chickens Go Without Food?
As we mentioned, an adult chicken can go without food for 4-6 days before starving, depending on various factors.
However, just because they can survive for this long without food does not mean that it will be without consequences.
A chicken that goes without food for even a day or two will start to become weak and lethargic. Their feathers will also start to look dull and their combs will start to fade in color.
They can bounce back quickly from this after feeding, but going any longer than that may have lasting consequences.
How Long Can Baby Chickens Go Without Food?
Newborn baby chicks can last for up to 48 hours without food, perhaps longer. Chicks that are aged a few weeks will only be able to go for a day or two without food before they are in real trouble.
As with adult chickens, the longer they go without food the more severe the effects will be.
Weather and Environment Make a Difference
Ambient weather conditions and the environment the chickens live in make a big difference in how long it will take for them to starve.
Weather conditions that are too hot or too cold will cause chickens to burn more calories, thus shortening the amount of time they can go without food. Mild weather will extend this time since they won’t be physically stressed.
The environment around them also contributes to instances of foraged or found food. If there are plenty of plants, bugs, worms, and other insects to eat they may be able to extend their survival time, without feeding from you, by a long time.
Do You Still Need to Feed Free-Range Chickens?
Generally yes, but not nearly as much depending on how bountiful the foraging area is.
If your chickens have plenty to eat they may not need supplemental food, but it’s always best to provide some just in case. Chickens can deplete an area of food a lot quicker than you might think!
Can You Leave Chickens Alone for a Week?
This is dependent on several preparations. With no food, then no: count on dead or dying chickens when you get back.
But if you leave plenty of food and water and the weather is mild, your chickens will likely be just fine. A chicken coop with an automatic feeder and waterer can help in this situation.
These can be filled before you leave and will keep your chickens fed and hydrated for the duration that you’re gone.
Additionally, having another person check in on your chickens while you’re gone is always a good idea.
This way if anything happens they can take corrective action as needed. As long as these basic needs are met, there’s no reason why your chickens would starve, though their other care requirements would still need to be met.
How Long Can You Leave Chickens Alone?
The only true answer is “it depends”. It depends on the age and health of your chickens, the weather, how much food and water you leave them, and whether or not someone is checking in on them while you’re gone.
Consider that chickens crammed into their coop will still be generating an awful lot of waste that will create health problems for them. Even a medium run will start to get cramped.
Predators will also grow bolder when you aren’t around. Letting your chickens free range will give them a much longer survival time regarding starvation, but other risks may shorten it.
As a general rule of thumb, however, most people say that it’s safe to leave healthy adult chickens alone for 3-5 days with sensible preparations and in mild weather.
Any longer than that and you will need someone to check in on and care for them, including giving them fresh food.
If you have baby chicks, though, it’s best not to leave them for more than a day or two tops as they are much more vulnerable.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.