Feeding is one of the most important aspects of poultry farming. If you fail to provide your chickens with a healthy diet, they will be more susceptible to poultry diseases and have trouble laying eggs. While in the past people would feed their chickens with corn and scraps of leftover food, years of research have shown that poultry food should contain a variety of nutrients.
As a result, today there’s specialized poultry food enriched with protein, vitamins and calcium – all essential for proper chicken growth. However, similar to humans, chickens have different nutritional needs at different stages in life. To help you provide your flock with the best nutrition, here’s some great advice on what different chickens need.
For the first six weeks of life, baby chicks need to receive poultry food with a high amount of protein that stimulates faster growth. This usually means a feed that contains around 22% – 24% of protein for meat birds, and 20% for laying birds. During this time, most farmers use medicated feeds for preventing coccidiosis, however, if your organic farm is small you may not need to do so.
If you intend for your chickens to become layers, it’s important to let them mature slow enough to develop strong bones before they begin to produce eggs. Continuing with the high-protein diet may trigger egg production before the chickens are quite ready. For that reason, it’s important to reduce the protein intake to about 16% from six weeks to 22 weeks of life or until they start laying eggs (whichever first). At this time, your feeds should contain small levels of calcium as too much can damage their kidneys.
When your chickens are grown enough to start laying eggs, their diet should include a balanced amount of protein, vitamins and minerals to promote quality production and high calcium and phosphorous for strong eggshells. Once chickens reach maturity, it’s actually safe (and advisable) to increase the intake of calcium and phosphorous.
Forms of Chicken Feed
All the different chicken feeds come in three forms: crumbles, pellets and mash. Mash is a type of feed with a fine and loose texture that is used for baby chicks as it’s easy to digest. When combined with hot water, mash turns into a porridge-like feed that the flock loves to eat. To get the chickens used to solid food, many farmers bridge the gap between starter and grower chickens with pellets. Pellets have a semi-loose texture which makes it easier to manage than mash. When the chicks are into the grower stage, they can be fed on pellets which have the form of tiny crunchy cylinders.