By Lisa Steele, Blue Seal Brand Ambassador
When you’re new to raising chickens for eggs, it can be daunting to walk into a feed store and try to figure out what you need to buy for your flock to eat. So many brands, so many formulas.
First you need to choose one – and hopefully you’ll choose Home Fresh as I have! But that’s only the first step. You then need to make a few simple decisions depending on the stage of life your chickens are currently in: chicks, pullets or layers.
The various formulations of feed contain different amounts of nutrients critical for your chickens’ specific growth stage, but protein and calcium are the two that you mainly need to be concerned with.
Baby chicks need higher protein levels than older hens because their growth rate is so rapid and their bones are still forming. Conversely, older hens that are laying eggs need higher calcium levels to ensure that they lay eggs with nice hard eggshells.
Feeding chicks a formula with too much calcium can lead to kidney issues later in life. Feeding older hens a feed too high in protein can result in weight gain and interfere with their egg production.
The decision whether or not to feed organic feed is a personal decision, but Kent makes it easy by offering both their Home Fresh premium and organic line.
Baby chicks should be fed a chick starter feed from hatch to eight weeks old. Home Fresh Starter AMP chick feed is available as a “medicated” formula with amprolium added to help guard the chicks against coccidiosis until their immune systems have strengthened. Home Fresh Multi-Flock Chick n Game Starter /Grower 22 is an unmedicated option for those who instead intend to rely on the chick’s natural exposure to their environment to build their immunity. Home Fresh Organic Starter/Broiler feed is also available for those raising organic flocks. The protein levels of the chick feed is between 20-23% with calcium levels less than 1.5%.
After the first eight weeks, your chickens will need to move to a grower feed with lower protein levels, since their growth during this stage will slow down considerably. We recommend starter or grower feed from eight to 20 weeks. This will get them up to right before they start laying (around 18-20 weeks or so), and will provide all the proper nutrients they need to continue maturing. Home Fresh Grow & Show and Home Fresh Organic Grower are both appropriate choices for this age range - depending on if you’re going the organic route or not. The protein level of these grower feeds is 15-16%, with calcium levels still under 1.5%
Feeding Laying Hens
Once your hens start laying, and optimally a few weeks prior to their laying that first egg, a layer feed will provide elevated calcium levels to assist them in beginning to store excess calcium that will be used to produce eggshells. Again, you have a choice between organic and non-organic layer feeds. Home Fresh Extra Egg Layer is available as a meal, crumble or pellet, while Home Fresh Organic Layer is available solely in pellet form. All forms – meal, crumble and pellet – contain the exact same nutrients, it’s just a matter of preference – yours or your flock’s! The layer feeds contain 16% protein and between 3.0-4.5% calcium for strong eggshells.
If you have a mixed flock of older laying hens and younger pullets not yet laying, grower feed can be offered to all, with supplemental calcium provided free-choice for the laying hens so they get the additional calcium they need, until the youngest flock members are 18-20 weeks old and about ready to start laying. Then you can go back to a layer feed.
Lisa Steele is a 5th generation chicken keeper, author, DIYer and master gardener. Follow her blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com.