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How Long Can Chickens Go Without Food? [To Survive & Thrive]

A big aspect of chicken keeping is ensuring your flock remains well fed. Besides, it is through food that they obtain the nutrients they need to grow new feathers, produce great eggs along with ensuring all those other essential bodily functions can take place. But what if you need to step away for a while; such as a trip or a vacation. Can these birds survive without food for long? How attentive do you need to be when it comes to feeding? This is what the research clearly states.

So, how long can chickens go without food? Chickens can generally last about 4 days without food, but this should be considered an absolute maximum. Instead, they should eat continuously throughout the day, every day, if you want your flock in optimal health and if you are seeking maximal egg production.

Chickens are relatively self-sufficient animals.

In the wild chickens would have been considered foragers, grazing on whatever food that they could find throughout the day.

They would sometimes have to go days on end without food and often any scraps that they did find would be measly and unsustainable.

However, this doesn’t mean that our backyard hens should be treated the same way; a lack of proper nutrition will lead to suboptimal egg production and poor health.

Life can get in the way, there may be times that our busy schedule means that feeding your backyard flock needs to wait until later or you may have even forgotten to feed them and are worrying about how long they can survive.

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Every meal matters…

This article will explain how long a chicken can go without feed, what effects this might have and what the optimal way to feed your chickens is.

So, be sure to keep on reading to ensure the needs of your flock are met!

How Long Does It Take For Chicken To Starve To Death?

If you’ve had to leave your chickens alone for a few days or have noticed that they aren’t eating any pellets, you may have wondered how long it would take for them to starve to death.

It’s very unlikely that a free-range chicken would starve themselves to the point of death if there is some type of food available.

Even if you haven’t been able to put fresh pellets into their pen for the past few days, they will often be able to find other sources of food if their enclosure allows them to forage on any patches of grass or bare ground.

If you’ve recently acquired new adult chickens they won’t be used to their new home, especially if they were settled with their previous owner.

It can take them a while to acclimate to the new environment and being prey animals, they will often have their guard up until they are sure that their new enclosure is safe from predators.

Eating is usually the last thing on their mind in this situation and so avoiding food for a few days can be normal.

The same can be true if you have recently moved your flock of hens to a new enclosure or different part of your backyard, it will take them a little while to settle into the new setting.

If your chicken’s have no food available at all, then they will gradually waste away as their bodies use fat stores and eventually even muscle stores to stay alive.

The exact time it would take for a chicken to starve to death depends on many factors such as the amount of fat reserves and any other concurrent illnesses that each individual might have.

Although there is no official time frame that it would take for a chicken to starve to death, many would be very unwell if left without food for 4-6 days and some may even die by this point.

Certainly, you should aim to not leave your chicken without food for any longer than 2-3 days, as after this point their health will suffer substantially.

Can Chickens Survive Without Feed?

As mentioned, chickens are foraging animals and they are efficient at turning almost anything they can find into food if necessary.

When given sufficient land to roam and forage, most chickens will be able to survive on whatever they find, from grass to insects.

However, just because chickens aren’t picky eaters, this doesn’t mean that allowing them to forage is the most efficient way to keep them.

While it may be cheaper to allow them to live off the land, their egg production and general health might suffer.

Without a consistent supply of good nutrients, they are unlikely to produce an optimum amount of eggs and they may be lacking key vitamins and minerals essential for good health.

A high-quality chicken feed is always the best choice.

This is nutritionally balanced, providing all the vitamins and minerals your chickens need to thrive.

But what’s more, its also sufficient in energy; including both carbohydrates and fats. Both of which, are required for various differently bodily processes to support a healthy metanolism and strong immune system.

The best feed will always be one that is suitable for the developmental stage and age of your birds.

For layers, this organic feed on Amazon is ideal in laying hens, for instance.

What To Feed Chickens If You Run Out Of Feed

If you’ve found yourself in a situation without chicken feed, there are some good alternatives that you can give your hens while you wait to get more.

These options are not a substitute for quality chicken feed but fine for the last resort if necessary.

When aiming for optimum health and egg production, chicken feed is second to none so always ensure you have plenty available.

If you find yourself unable to get your hands on any chicken feed in the short term, try and provide your chickens with a balanced diet.

As mentioned above, allowing your chickens to roam and find free food is feasible if you have plenty of greenery in your backyard.

This will keep alive and content, but egg production may suffer due to a less reliable supply of essential vitamins and minerals. 

Many owners will feed chickens table scraps and food remains; chickens can be great at recycling waste food, but this shouldn’t make up the core of their diet for the same reasons as we have mentioned.

Be sure to check your local regulations as in some countries such as the UK, it is illegal to feed chickens table scraps.

A simple alternative that will provide enough energy for your flock to sustain themselves is oatmeal, cornmeal or any other wholegrain.

Protein is an important part of your chickens’ diet too, providing small amounts of cheese, yogurt and sunflower seeds can be a good source of this.

Can Chickens Survive On Grass Alone?

Grass alone can’t provide chickens with all the components that they need to live a healthy life.

Chickens require a balanced diet that meets all their protein, carbohydrate, fat, and micronutrient needs. And this is just lacking in grass alone.

For a start, chickens require a good source of calcium and protein in their diet, both of which are lacking in grass.

Chickens cannot make their own amino acids either, the building blocks that form proteins; they must obtain these directly from their diet as grass cannot provide these essential amino acids in large enough amounts.

While allowing chickens access to grass can keep them occupied while foraging for insects and worms, you should still provide a consistent supply of high-quality pellets to ensure optimal health and efficient egg production.

How Should You Be Feeding Your Chickens?

Chickens prefer to graze on food throughout the day; they should always have a readily available supply of food so that they can eat as and when they want.

You should feed them predominantly a diet of high-quality pellets, but you can supplement this with small amounts of fresh fruit and vegetables including pears, apple, green beans, and asparagus.

Nutrition is the single most important factor in ensuring that your flock is healthy and happy.

Hens require a lot of energy to lay eggs, so a constant supply of nutrients will maximise their productivity.

Having the ability to eat whenever is necessary will ensure that eggs develop without interruption.

Your daily schedule will influence how often and when you can feed your hens.

If you are away from home during the daytime, then feeding them once in the morning before you leave and once in the evening before putting your hens away in their coop will be fine.

If you are at home all day, then you can keep checking in on your hens and providing them with food when necessary.

Scatter pellets in their enclosure on a regular basis.

This not only keeps them fed but it keeps them active and entertained as well; chickens love foraging for their food.

Another alternative is to use a feed hopper, this will gradually dispense feed to your flock over the course of the day, ensuring that they never run out.

It is extremely important for egg production that a chicken goes to bed with a full crop of food.

This allows them to store food in a specialized organ within their throat and gradually release it throughout the night for digestion, ensuring that their eggs can continue to develop overnight.

Therefore, even if you are unable to feed your chickens continuously, you should make sure they have plenty of feed prior to going to sleep.

Once you are in a good routine with caring for your chickens, you will find that they are very self-sufficient and low maintenance pets to keep.


You should avoid leaving your chickens for any more than one day without food if you can help it.

Generally, one day of reduced feed intake won’t have too much of an effect, egg production may halt but your hen’s health shouldn’t suffer.

If left any longer than this, undesirable effects may start to accumulate.

Want to learn more about keeping chickens and best practices in and around the coop? Then my other guides may be of interest: