Poultry Feed Formulation is one of the most frequent questions that many people have when they first consider keeping chickens is what kind of housing they need. While it is possible to keep baby chicks in a number of easily obtainable containers; once they are a few weeks old, you will need something larger such as proper Chicken Coop or Chicken Shed for your feathered-pets.
Remember that much like humans, chickens have different nutritional needs at various stages of life. If you are raising chickens for egg production, you will need to provide your chicks with a quality starter feed with a minimum protein content of 22%. After your chicks have reached the age of six weeks you can then switch to a pullet grower feed with a protein percentage of between 14% and 16%. Once they make it up to 20 weeks, its time to transition them to a layer feed that has a protein content of between 15% and 18%.
The simplest way to feed a small flock of chickens is to purchase a complete feed from a feed store. Complete feeds provide nutritionally balanced diets for chickens.
Today’s chickens are descendants of the jungle fowl of Southeast Asia. Mature jungle fowl hens lay about 12 eggs per year, and only during the breeding season, but genetic selection has resulted in the development of a chicken that can lay almost 300 eggs per year and can lay year round. As a result of genetic selection and improved nutrition, hens start laying at a younger age and lay more, larger eggs, all with increased feed efficiency.
Commercial feeds from a reliable feed store have all the nutrients in the right proportions that chickens need. A balanced diet is necessary for optimal growth and production. If you use a good diet that meets the dietary needs of your flocks, supplementing with other items will upset the balance of the diet. The ingredients used in different types of feed are similar, but the proportions vary depending on the particular chickens being fed. Each bag of feed is labeled with its specific use.
Common mistakes made with supplements include the following:
- Providing vitamin and electrolyte supplements for more than 10 days
- Supplementing complete feeds with cracked corn, oats, or other grains
- Regularly adding green chops, lettuce, or other low nutrition ingredients to the diet
- Administering inappropriate or unnecessary medication
A chicken’s daily consumption of feed depends on the composition of the diet. Chickens typically adjust their feed intake in order to meet their energy requirements. As the energy content of a diet increases, feed intake decreases, and vice versa. Environmental temperatures also play an important role in determining how much feed a flock will consume. During hot weather, feed intake decreases. Feed intake increases during cold weather as chickens consume more to supply the extra energy needed to maintain regulation body temperature.
Poultry Feeding: When do chickens need electrolytes? First, let’s talk about baby chicks.
- Weak chicks : Sometimes newly-hatched chicks require a bit of extra help. Maybe they’ve had a long, hard struggle to hatch, or perhaps you’ve noticed that there’s a baby who’s not quite as strong as the rest.
- Pasty butt : Chicks who suffer from pasty butt are in danger of losing liquid very quickly – and a young chick doesn’t have many reserves to call on. If you’re not sure what “pasty butt” is, find out more by following this link.
- Wry neck : Chicks (or adults) who develop problems such as wry neck require a mixture of electrolytes and vitamins. Find out more here).
- Overheating : It’s easy for chicks to overheat in a brooder, particularly if you have a lot of them or if you’re using a standard heat lamp.
Poultry Feeding: When might adult chickens need it? Heat and cold.
- Heat stress : This is the most common reason for needing to rehydrate poultry. They can deal with cold far better than they deal with heat – they have feathers to protect them.
- In hot weather, unless precautions are taken, it’s very easy for chickens to overheat. And heat exhaustion can kill very quickly.
- To find out more about how to spot, treat and prevent heat stress in your flock, click this link.
- Frostbite : Conversely, poultry suffering from extreme cold and potentially frostbite also need electrolytes replacing. For more information about dealing with extreme cold in your flock, follow this link.
Poultry Feeding : When might the flock in general need an electrolyte drink?
Chickens are creatures of habit, and very easily stressed if their routine changes. They’re also easily stressed by things like :
- Overcrowding in the coop
- Too much handling – particularly by inexperienced people and children, who can be quite rough
- Travelling, no matter how short the journey
- Infestations, such as mites
- Awareness of predators around the coop
- Illness in the flock
- The death of others in the flock.
If you notice changes in your flock’s behaviour – panting, spreading their wings, cowering, not eating or drinking, poor egg production, lethargy, for example – it’s time to bring out the electrolytes.
Keeping chickens is a lot of responsibility. During poultry feeding time, you will likely find it easier to use a poultry feeder to help in saving waste, rather than sprinkling it directly on the ground. If poultry feeders are used, the feeding system becomes much organized as less chicken feed goes into waste. Using chicken feeder saves a lot of trouble. Although, to keep your hens happy you can always sprinkle some mixed corn on the ground for your hens to scratch around in.
Poultry Feeding: Supplements
Chickens are compelled to scratch at the ground. They use their toes to mix up litter or scrape the ground in search of various seeds, greens, grit, or insects to eat. Spreading scratch grains (cracked, rolled, or whole grains such as corn, barley, oats, or wheat) encourages this behavior. Scratch grains are relatively low in protein and high in energy or fiber, depending on which grain is used.
When feeding scratch grains to chickens, it is also important to provide grit to help the chickens grind and digest the grains properly (since chickens do not have teeth). If chickens have access to the ground, they can typically find enough grit in the form for small rocks or pebbles, but it is helpful to supply commercial grit, which is available in chick or hen size.
Medicated poultry feeds, which typically contain a coccidiostat and/or an antibiotic, are available. Coccidiosis can be hard to control through sanitation practices alone. Chickens benefit from being fed a coccidiostat at low levels. Mature chickens develop a resistance to coccidiosis if allowed to contract a mild infection of the disease. Chickens raised for replacement can be fed a coccidiostat-containing feed for the first 16 weeks of life. The medicated feed should then be switched to a nonmedicated feed.
The manner in which a pullet is raised to sexual maturity will have a lasting effect on the productive life of the hen. Pullets are grown to reach a certain body weight at a specific age. Many of the problems that occur in a laying flock can be traced back to insufficient body weight during the growing period.
Commercially raised pullets receive three diets during the growing phase: starter, grower, and developer. Most feed stores sell only one or two types of feeds for raising replacement pullets.
|FEED||PROTEIN LEVEL (%)||AGE OF BIRDS||FEED INTAKE/10 BIRDS/ AGE PERIOD|
|Chick starter||20-22||0-6 weeks||20-29 lbs|
|Pullet grower||14-16||6-20 weeks||120-130 lbs|
|Layer||15-18||20 weeks on||18-24 lbs/week|
|All purpose*||16||All ages|
Once your chickens start laying eggs (around 20 weeks of age) they should be switched to a layer feed. Layer feeds are formulated for chickens laying table eggs (those used for human consumption). Broiler feeds are formulated for those chickens producing hatching eggs (breeders). The diets are basically the same, but the breeder diets typically have slightly more protein and are fortified with extra vitamins for proper embryo development.
Laying hens require large amounts of calcium for eggshells. Laying mashes typically contain 2.5% to 3.5% calcium. Growing chickens require only 1.2% calcium in their feed. If you feed high-calcium diets to growing chickens, kidney damage can result. It may also be necessary to supplement the diet of laying hens with ground oyster shell on a free-choice basis. Some high-producing laying hens may require the extra calcium that the oyster shell provides. Monitor the quality of eggshells to determine whether or not you need supplemental oyster shell. If hens produce eggs with thin shells or shells that are easily cracked, oyster shell supplementation might help.
Layer diets should contain at least 14% protein to ensure continued egg production. Layer diets that contain 16% protein are more common.
Poultry Feeding : Foods to Avoid
If your primary reason for raising chickens is eggs, there are some foods that you should not feed to your chickens. Although they are relatively few, these are foods that can result in a variety of problems, including a reduction in egg production and foul tasting eggs.
- Citrus peels and fruits
- Raw potato skins
- Avocado pits and skins
- Large servings of meat
- Meat that has gone bad
- Long-cut grass (if feeding alfalfa in the winter, always use second-cut)