A Guide to Chicken Nutrition
Knowing the Source
A significant benefit of raising your own chickens is the peace of mind that comes with knowing just what is and is not going into your chickens. If the saying is true, “you are what you eat”, you’ll likely want to provide your flock with quality feed. Raising chickens on high-quality feed not only attributes to strong and healthy birds in prime laying capacity but furthermore, makes for high-quality eggs and meat. Manufactured at the Meridian Feed Mill, each hand-crafted sack of Dr. Jim Z’s feed is filled with quality, locally sourced ingredients in a fixed ratio to guarantee ideal nutrition in every bag. Dr. Jim Z’s feeds are all free of chemical preservatives, antibiotics, and insecticides. Hens raised on Dr. Jim Z’s natural poultry feeds produce the most flavorful eggs around. Compare the deep, golden-yolked eggs produced with Dr. Jim Z’s feed to a typical grocery store egg, and the difference will be plain to see.
From hatching to about six weeks of age, young chicks require a Chick Starter feed. This is typically a crumble diet of about 18% protein. This diet is nutritionally complete, which gives the chicks the proper nutrition to support their growth and development into “adolescence”. After about two weeks of age, chicks can be offered small insects and pieces of greens and vegetables as treats. Insects and vegetables can be collected from outdoors, but be sure that any selection offered to the chicks is herbicide, and insecticide free. When feeding items alongside the Chick Starter, do so sparingly and provide a dish of Chick Grit to aid in digestion.
As the chicks mature, they will require a slightly different diet to meet their nutritional demands. At about seven weeks of age, chicks should transition from Chick Starter to Pullet Developer feed. Pullet Developer is a complete diet that is typically a crumble feed of about 17% protein. This feed should be offered from seven weeks to approximately 22 weeks of age. Once you observe more than half of your flock beginning to lay eggs you may transition the birds to a layer diet.
Lay Pellets and Crumbles
When at least half of the flock has begun to lay eggs (typically around 22 weeks old), transition the birds to a diet that will support the increased biological demand associated with laying. Lay Crumbles and Lay Pellets are two feed options for laying hens. Lay Pellets are a nutritionally complete diet consisting of about 16% protein. This diet is intended for birds that are allowed to do some foraging for insects, greens, and vegetables during the spring and summer months. During warmer months, hens require less energy (i.e. food) to maintain body heat and perform daily activities than in the cooler months. Due to the lower energy requirement and the supplemental food items collected while the hens forage, 16% protein in Lay Pellets is sufficient. When the cool season hits, the hens will require more energy to maintain body heat and will not have as much opportunity to forage. During these cooler months, hens should be fed the 20% Lay Crumbles, which provides more protein for the hens.
Hen Scratch and Supplements
Providing a portion of Hen Scratch alongside a nutritionally complete diet offers the birds variety and gives the birds the opportunity to practice foraging behavior. Hen Scratch is a mixture of scratch grains, such as cracked corn, whole white wheat, and whole red wheat, amounting to about 9% protein. Because this feed has a lower protein percentage than the complete diet, this feed should be offered as a supplement to the main diet and should amount to no more than 20% of a hen’s total diet during the summer months and no more than 10% of a hen’s diet in winter months.
A Few More
- Oyster shell is a natural calcium supplement that helps to maintain shell quality. Providing a portion of Oyster Shell in a separate feeder allows hens to free feed to boost the amount of calcium in the diet, which strengthens hens’ eggs.
- Hen Grit is an essential supplement to laying hens and adult birds. Very similar to Chick Grit, Hen Grit consists, of course, insoluble material that resides in the bird’s gizzard when ingested. This supplement aids in breaking food items into small, manageable pieces and promotes overall digestive health. Hen Grit should be provided in a separate feeder and should be available at all times.
Chicks and adult birds benefit from being free-fed (having a constant supply of food available). Feeders should be easily accessible and free of moisture. When using flip-top trough feeders or gravity feeders with dividers and/or openings, make sure there is a ratio of at least one opening per bird. Maintain a clean feeder.
When offering dietary supplements, always provide these in a feeder that is separate from the main diet