Knowing what types of carbohydrates, vitamins and proteins go into poultry feed is the first step to providing your backyard chickens with the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. The next step is ensuring your flock receives those nutrients in the proper percentages.
Complete feed producers such as Nutrena, Purina, Manna Pro and Kent scientifically formulate their products. They target them specifically for specific ages and stages of development.
Feeding a baby chick too much calcium or a laying hen grower formula can result in dire health issues. To make certain you offer your flock the right diet at the right stage, follow these feed guidelines.
Newly Hatched to Six Weeks
Only offer formulated chick starter feed at this crucial early stage of a chicken’s life. This crumbled feed should contain between 20 to 22 percent protein and approximately 1 percent calcium.
Too high a calcium content—even just 4 percent—can result in permanent damage to a chick’s kidneys, cause improper bone formation, and result in decreased egg production when a pullet reaches laying age.
Avoid offering supplements at this stage. The complete feed has all the nutrients a baby chick requires.
Seven Weeks to 16 Weeks
Juvenile chickens can begin to eat grower feed at seven weeks of age. Like starter feed, you can get grower feed (which contains minimal calcium) in crumbled form.
Less protein is needed at this stage of development. Grower feed contains approximately 18 percent of this nutritional essential. Fat and fiber content levels remain the same as for baby chicks.
As juveniles, young chickens can start eating table scraps in moderation—nothing they cannot finish in about 10 minutes. They can also start foraging for bugs and tasty plants, especially if they have a mother hen guiding them.
Four Months Plus
At this stage of development, chickens have reached point-of-lay and, while not completely full grown, are considered adult birds. You can now offer layer rations. These come as both crumbles and pellets.
I offer my bantams crumbles and my large fowls pellets. There is no difference in formula between the two. Crumbles are simply crushed pellets.
Layer rations contain approximately 4 percent calcium, which hens require to produce strong eggshells and maintain bone density. Protein content, however, decreases to approximately 16 percent, as mature birds are no longer actively developing.
Adult birds can actively forage and eat table scraps. Since overfeeding your flock these treats can throw off the nutritional balance offered by complete feeds, limit table scraps to what chickens can finish in 20 minutes and ensure nothing is rotten or left out overnight.
Medicated vs. Unmedicated
You can typically find starter and grower feed in both medicated and unmedicated formulas. The medicated formula contains a medication called a coccidiostat, which is added to help prevent coccidiosis, a parasitic disease affecting a bird’s intestinal tract.
Coccidiosis can damage a chicken’s immune system, make is vulnerable to Salmonella, and cause stunted growth due to poor nutrient absorption through the affected intestines. If you are raising your flock organically, opt for the unmedicated feed.
Feeding Meat Birds
Broilers and roasters develop at a different pace than egg-laying birds and have different nutritional requirements. If you are raising meat birds, offer starter rations from hatching through three weeks of age, then switch to grower feed through six weeks of age.
From seven weeks on, offer your meat birds finisher rations, which contain the high levels of protein and fat (approximately 18 percent protein and six percent fat) necessary to complete their growth as sources of meat for human consumption.