When you select a commercial chicken feed for your egg-laying flock, you'll find several different types of feed available. Each brand name of feed may have slightly different ingredients as far as protein and other nutrient content goes. Besides these daily rations, you can feed your birds supplements and treats. You might get brave one day and make or grow your own chicken feed.
Types of Chicken Feed
The correct type of feed for your chickens depends on two things: their age and whether they are meat birds or laying birds.
- Chick starter. Exactly what it sounds like, chick starter is for the first (usually six) weeks of your baby chicks' lives. This is typically 22 to 24 percent protein for meat birds (called broiler starter) and 20 percent protein for laying breeds. You can buy medicated or unmedicated chick starter. Most people use a medicated feed, but organic and pastured small farms often use unmedicated feed.
- Grower pullet. After chick starter, young pullets that are destined for a laying flock are put on a lower-protein diet to slow growth to allow strong bones and adult body weight before laying begins. If the protein is too high, development happens quickly and the birds lay too early. Grower pullet rations typically have 18 percent protein and are fed until the chicks are 14 weeks of age.
- Pullet developer or finisher. At 14 weeks, young pullets can be lowered to a 16 percent protein feed until they begin laying. Some feed lines don't distinguish between this stage and the grower stage and just have a grower-finisher that is somewhere in the middle protein-wise.
- Layer rations. Laying hens at maturity (around 22 weeks of age) require a 16 to 18 percent protein level and extra calcium and minerals for strong eggshells. Don't feed layer rations to birds younger than this age as it damages their kidneys due to the high amounts of calcium and phosphorus. However, roosters can eat laying rations.
- Broiler rations. These high-protein feeds are for meat birds, particularly Cornish X Rock crosses that grow extremely fast. Broiler rations are typically 18 to 20 percent protein. This is sometimes called "grower-finisher" feed. For heritage and pastured meat birds, protein content can be lowered to 16 percent after 12 weeks of age until butchering. Some may choose to keep the heritage meat birds on the higher grower-finisher rations until slaughter.
If you want to reduce the amount of feed you need for your chickens, raise them on pasture. They'll be able to find enough insects, bugs, weeds, grasses and seeds to stay healthy. They'll still need some supplemental feed, though.
Forms of Feed
Chicken and poultry feed comes in three forms: crumbles, pellets and mash. Crumbles are excellent if you can get them, but pellets are sometimes the only form available. Mash is usually used for baby chicks, but it can be mixed with warm water to make a thick oatmeal-like treat for chickens. However, it must be fed right away or else it spoils and becomes moldy, so don't let mixed mash sit around.