Quick Reference Feed Guide Chart (Chick to Laying Hen)


Depending on where you buy your feed, you might get accurate information about what you should be feeding your chickens at various points in their life - or you might not. I remember being horrified early on, after having been told that Flock Raiser was perfect for our growing mixed flock of chickens and ducks and bringing home a bag, to find that it would have been perfect had we been planning on EATING our flock!


The feed store (correctly) recommended it for our mixed flock, but (incorrectly) recommended it to a mixed one-day-to-be-LAYING flock.  With 20% protein, it would have put weight, on the ducks especially, way too fast and could also have caused them to start laying too soon.

I have also been told by the feed store that chicks can eat layer feed without a problem. Again, incorrect. The extra calcium in the layer feed can cause kidney problems in non-laying chicks and pullets, as well as weak legs or even death.

Confused and not trusting what I was being told by our local feed stores, I did my own research, called a few hatcheries and feed companies and now feed our chicks, pullets and laying hens, as well as our ducklings and ducks, what they specifically need for each stage of life. Remember that this is an imprecise science, so I generally switch to new feed at or about the ages listed - or when I run out of my last bag of the current feed (you can even mix the tail-end of a bag into the new feed so as not to waste it).

Here's a handy reference to the feed requirements for your growing chickens:

Hatch to 8 Weeks

Feed: Chick Starter (18-20% protein)
Water: Room temperature with stones or marbles in it so chicks don't drown, with a splash of apple cider vinegar several times a week. Sugar water the first day, optional, for shipped chicks (1T sugar per quart of water)
Grit: Chick-sized grit or coarse dirt, if fed anything besides chick feed
Calcium: N/A
Supplements: Sprinkle of probiotic powder (thought to combat coccidia), sprinkle of brewer's yeast (especially important for ducklings) and garlic powder (immune system booster) over feed, sea kelp, assorted dried culinary herbs especially oregano
Treats: Limited. I stick to moistened oats (helps with pasty butt), soft scrambled eggs, minced garlic, cut weeds, herbs and clumps of grass.


8 Weeks to 14 Weeks

Feed: Starter/Grower Feed (16-18% protein)
Water: Cool water with 1 Tablespoon of  apple cider vinegar per gallon twice a week
Grit: Commercial grit or coarse dirt/small stones
Calcium: N/A
Supplements: Sprinkle of probiotic powder, brewer's yeast and garlic powder, and DE (food-grade diatomaceous earth) added to feed if the pullets are spending time outside, sea kelp, dried culinary herbal blend
Treats: Begin to introduce other healthy treats in moderation: vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes, leafy greens, watermelon, corn or peas, whole grain pasta or brown rice, along with the moistened oats, soft scrambled eggs, minced garlic, cut weeds and clumps of grass.



15 Weeks to 18 Weeks

Feed: Finisher Feed (16% protein)
Water: Cool water with 1 Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon twice a week
Grit: Hens in a dirt run/free range set-up should find enough stones on their own
Calcium: N/A

Supplements: Probiotic powder, brewer's yeast and garlic powder, DEsea kelp, dried culinary herbal blend

Treats: Healthy treats in moderation, add sunflower seeds, cracked corn, mealworms to the other treats

Note: if you can't find finisher feed, you can skip this step and continue feeding the grower feed. I personally have never used finisher feed.


18 Weeks and Older

Feed: Layer Feed (16% protein plus increased calcium levels)
Water: Cool water with 1 Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per gallon twice a week
Grit: Hens in a dirt run/free range set-up should find enough stones on their own
Calcium: Crushed oyster shell or egg shell free-choice in a separate dish
Supplements: Probiotic powder, brewer's yeast and garlic powder, DE, Omega-3 supplementsea kelp, dried culinary herbal blend
Treats: Healthy treats in moderation not to exceed 10% of total diet, scratch in the evening during cold months

For the exact amounts of each supplement that should be added to the layer feed and more on the benefits of each supplement READ HERE. (The link to purchase the various supplements appear above, just hover over each word)

Calcium (either oyster or egg shell) should always be fed free-choice so each hen can eat as much or as little as she needs for strong egg shells.


Roosters

If you have roosters in your flock, they won't touch the calcium, nor will non-laying hens,  which is why it should always be fed free-choice not mixed into the feed so each bird can eat as little or as much as they want. Roosters can safely eat Layer feed once they reach 18 weeks old despite the higher calcium levels.

Mixed Flock (Layers and non-Layers)

A 'mixed' flock of layers and non-laying pullets should be fed Grower feed with the free-choice calcium described above until the point at which all your hens are laying or at least 18 weeks old. Then the entire flock can be switched to Layer feed.  Feeding laying hens Grower feed with the increased protein won't hurt them, although they WILL eat more crushed egg shell to make up the calcium they need and aren't getting from the feed, but feeding non-laying pullets Layer feed causes them to ingest higher levels of calcium than they need and can cause kidney problems later in life or even death.




Broody Hen with Chicks

A broody hen with chicks will be fine having access only to chick Starter feed, since she's not laying eggs while she's caring for her chicks anyway and doesn't need any additional calcium, but provide her with a bowl of egg shell or oyster shell so she can start building up her calcium stores to prepare to begin laying eggs as soon as the chicks are on their own.




In a perfect world you could set out bowls of different feeds and they all would eat from the right one, but that just isn't realistic! I hope this reference guide will be helpful as you add to, or establish, your flock.

Buying sources for the feeds I recommend:
Scratch & Peck Organic Feed (west coast)

Further reading:
http://articles.extension.org/pages/69065/feeding-chickens-for-egg-production
http://animalsciencey.ucdavis.edu/avian/feedingchickens.pdf


33 comments:

  1. I have 5 laying hens. They are about 30 weeks old. How do you feed the Brewers yeast/garlic powder and how much? Great article.

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    1. I just mix the Brewers Yeast and Garlic Powder into the feed. There are instructions on the bag, but I add 1.5 Cups to a 50 lb bag of feed. You can also just sprinkle some on top of their feed each morning since your 5 will take awhile to go through a bag of feed, if you don't want to mix it all in at once.

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  2. Thanks for this info! My baby hen Raven is 11 weeks old and she is now on starter/grower mix from the feed store! When I frist started keeping chickens it was very confusing on what you can and can not feed them,so this info is very helpful and I will be printing it out for a friend that is thinking about starting her own flock!

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    1. Oh good thank you Midge! It is confusing and even different feed companies recommend different things. I have tried to make it easy.

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  3. Great information, Lisa. I started my first flock this year and am still learning! I have found that there is so much "discussion" regarding different brands of chicken feed. Can I ask what you feed? Do you mix your own or do you buy pre-packaged? Do you find one brand is better than another? I look forward to your newsletters! Thanks! Paula

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    1. There are a lot of choices, but sadly most people are somewhat limited to what they can find locally. I currently feed Nutrena crumble but would love to find a source for organic feed. I prefer Nutrena over the Purina. Those are about the only two brands I can find easily. I don't mix my own. It's something I've thought about but its not as easy as just dumping grains into a feeder, here's more info on that: http://fresh-eggs-daily.blogspot.com/2012/10/mixing-your-own-layer-feed.html

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  4. Thank you SO much for this info! I looked all over for this kind of info when I started out. But all I got was a bunch of people freaking out that I was killing my chicks because I was doing it wrong. But they wouldn't tell me what I SHOULD be doing!!! I wish I had this info back then.

    I wish you made such a great reference for meat birds too though!

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    1. Hi Bethany, I'm glad it was helpful. I don't raise meat birds so I haven't really researched it, but from what I've read you want a high protein feed so they grow fast, so something like Flock Raiser would be fine for their entire (albeit short) lives.

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  5. How much DE do you mix into their food?

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    1. Here's the 'recipe' I use for a 50 lb bag of feed.
      REAKFAST OF CHAMPION LAYERS

      1 50lb. Bag Layer Crumble
      1 Large Canister Old-Fashioned Oats
      4 Cups Cracked Corn
      4 Cups Shelled Sunflower Seeds
      1/4 Bag Omega Ultra Egg
      1-1/2 Cups Thomas Labs Brewers Yeast and Garlic Powder
      1-1/2 Cups Probiotic Powder
      1-1/2 Cups food-grade Diatomaceous Earth

      And here's the whole article: http://fresh-eggs-daily.blogspot.com/2012/07/new-and-improved-breakfast-of-champion.html

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  6. I’ve been writing guides/tutorials for quite some time now, and I think this is the best “Guide to write Guides” I’ve seen.

    Visit our farm site www.eufarms.com

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  7. hi there! Here from the blog hop You can find me at http://theresmagicoutthere.blogspot.com/ . New Follower :) Your pics are too cute!

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  8. Hi there, I have a question regarding feeding the chickens 'scrambled eggs'. Why would you do that? I have read that animals being fed diets containing their own genetic makeup can have serious health consequences.

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    1. Maybe other animals such as cows -ie mad cow disease - but the very first 'meal' a chick eats is the yolk in the egg it is hatched from. Chickens have been fed eggs for generations with no detrimental consequences to my knowledge. Eggs are one of the most complete protein sources you can feed an animal.

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  9. What is the purpose of the apple cider vinegar in the water? Love the site!

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    1. ACV has amazing health benefits for animals as well as humans. It helps stabilize the acidity levels in the digestive system and also helps keep the water free of algae and bacteria. It helps prevent respiratory issues and builds the immune system.

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  10. Hi Lisa,
    Such cute little chick pics :) Great reference! I would love to have you join in several hops that I host or co-host! Starting today there is the seasonal Winter on the HomeAcre Hop at:

    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2013/01/winter-on-the-homeacre-hop.html

    This gives you a chance to bring out archived posts on winter subjects :)
    Tomorrow is Wildcrafting Wednesday, you'll be able to find it from my homepage at:

    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/

    And on Thursday I host The HomeAcre Hop, another good place to bring out great posts that you would like to share again. I'd love to see posts on homesteading, farming, cooking, homeschooling...the list goes on :) You can also find that on my homepage. Hope you can join us for all of these fun hops!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lisa. I linked up to Wildcrafting Wednesday last week, I'll check out the others now. Thank you.

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  11. Hi Lisa,
    I have 3 laying hens, 1 adult roo, 4 11-week-old pullets, and 4 3-week-old pullets (I hope!). My adults all eat layer feed, and my 8 youngsters are all eating starter feed. Before the teens start eating the layer feed, how do you control who is eating what? Do you keep them all separated until then? I have mine in 3 separate areas right now (I tried, unsuccessfully, a week ago to have the teens join the grown-ups - we had a near-death pecking result from what I have now discovered is a very bossy RIR - she's never been that way before)!

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    1. You can either keep them separate until the little ones are about 16 weeks old and ready for layer feed - or put them all on starter/grower.

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  12. Great info....thank you and thank you as well for a great blog!!

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  13. Could you use molasses in place of sugar for shipped chicks? You have a homemade electrolyte recipe on this site; would you recommend that or just sugar water for new chicks? Do you add ACV to chick's water the first day in addition to the sugar? Is it safe to offer crushed garlic from the get-go or would garlic powder be better? Have you ever given your chickens Water Kefir grains and/or a kombucha Scoby as live probiotics? Would that be safe for new chicks?

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    1. Hi there. You could use molasses, it has great health benefits but can cause diarrhea so I would be very careful and only use a tiny bit. Just sugar water is fine for new chicks, but the electrolytes would be great if one seemed to be struggling a bit. I don't start the AVC for chicks until they are a few days old - so no, either sugar or the ACV. Crushed fresh garlic is better but be sure they have grit available to help them digest it. I have not given chicks anything but probiotic powder so I can't help you there. Sorry!

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  14. Just came accross your site, very informational. Should we start feeding our chickens the layer feed if they have not started laying yet?? They are about 20 weeks and have layed nothing yet, were are in PA and its been very cold here even witha light in the house, so taht may be the reason??. Our feed mill told us not to start with the layer feed till we see an egg?? thoughts

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    1. Hi and welcome! They should start any time now. I would start them on the layer feed now. Anytime after 18 weeks or so is fine. You want them to have a nice supply of calcium for when they start laying. I would also put out some crushed oystershell or eggshell for them. Free choice. They'll eat what they need.

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  15. Where can we get probiotic powder?

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    1. Here's where I buy mine: http://amzn.to/1mYBew8

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  16. Would feeding chicks plain homemade kefir or yogurt be as good as using probiotic powder?

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  17. What should I do about my situation? I have 4 that are one age (now 8weeks) and 2 that are three weeks younger than that. They are all together in the coop, this is my first year in chicken keeping. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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  18. Very exucational

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