Different Types of Chicken Feed: A Comprehensive Guide
Whether raising confined or free-range chickens, proper nutrition is essential for keeping a healthy flock. Good poultry farmers must feed their fowls with the appropriate food and provide clean water daily to ensure they are healthy and productive.
Some keepers prefer to allow their fowls to forage for food to cut back on chicken feed costs. However, leaving your chickens to forage and fend for themselves can cause nutritional deficiencies and health problems.
Giving your fowls high-quality chicken feed can help in egg production, weight gain, muscle development, and faster growth. Besides, they taste better, are easy to digest, and comprise more nutrients. Some types of feed act as vaccines and prevent poultry diseases from spreading.
Given the numerous types of chicken feed available, figuring out what to give your fowls can be challenging. This comprehensive guide explains the different kinds of chicken feed available to poultry keepers. Keep it here to learn more.
Starter Chicken Feed
As suggested by its name, starter chicken feed is for newly hatched chicks. Since baby chicks are fragile during their first few weeks of life, they require a protein-rich diet for optimal growth and development.
Starter chicken feed contains high protein, ranging between 20%-25%. Protein and amino acids are critical building blocks for tissue and muscle development. They help the baby chickens grow faster and build mass. This chicken feed also contains vitamins and small quantities of calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, chloride, and other minerals for stronger bones.
The feed comes as crumbles (small grains) for easy ingestion and digestion since the chicks are still learning to eat. You can choose between medicated or unmedicated starter feed. The medicated option can help build your chicks’ immune system and prevent parasites like Coccidia.
Your baby chickens require starter feed with clean, fresh water for the first six weeks to support their growth before switching their diet. Exceeding this timeline is dangerous for the chicks since too much protein can lead to liver damage.
Grower Chicken Feed
You’ll be surprised at how fast your chicks have grown after six weeks. These (pullets) adolescent fowls have different nutritional requirements, meaning you must change their diet.
Grower chicken feed is the best option for chicks older than six weeks. This feed has a lower protein content, ranging between 15%-18%. The reason for the lower protein is to facilitate their continued growth without causing liver damage. Then again, too much protein leads to faster development, meaning the birds may lay eggs before the appropriate time.
Adolescent chicks or pullets require grower feed from 6-20 weeks or until they lay their first eggs. Even though grower feed has less calcium and minerals than layer feed, it helps pullets develop stronger bones and gain weight gradually before egg laying begins.
Depending on the brand, grower feed may come as crumbles or pellets. Some chicks might have challenges eating pellets because of their size. You can crush or break them into tiny pieces before feeding the pullets. Alternatively, you can mix the pellets with starter feed to help the young birds familiarize themselves with their new diet.
Once the young chickens reach 20 weeks or start laying eggs, you can switch to layer feed.
Layer Chicken Feed
Most chicks mature into egg-laying hens once they reach 20-22 weeks. At this stage, they require a different diet for egg production.
Layer chicken feed is exclusively for egg-laying chickens. It has the right balance of calcium, phosphorous, protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals for proper eggshell formation and development.
The nutritional requirements for egg layers vary with their age. Younger hens may need at least 16% protein in their diet to maintain their weight. They also need about 4.40% calcium and 0.48% phosphorous for optimal egg production. The high calcium content determines egg size and the number of eggs they can produce in a given period.
Poultry keepers should know that layer chicken feed is unsuitable for older or non-egg-laying hens. The high calcium in the diet can cause kidney and liver problems. The quickest way to prevent other chickens from eating layer feed is to separate the layers from the rest of the flock.
Mashed Chicken Feed
Mash is a form and not a type of chicken feed. It can be a starter, grower, or layer feed crushed or ground into fine, loose particles for easy ingestion and digestion. Most poultry keepers prefer to give their chicks mashed chicken feed since it is easy to swallow and digest. Some grown chickens also like to eat mash than pellets or crumbles.
One of the benefits of mashed chicken feed is that you can formulate it at home. You don’t have to buy chicken mash from an animal feed store if you know the nutritional requirements of your flock. You can mix several ingredients, such as corn, oats, soya, fish meal, and limestone, before crushing them to form mashed chicken feed.
You can give your chickens mashed chicken feed in dry form or mix it with water to form a porridge-like consistency. The only issue with chicken mash is that it expires rather quickly. Besides, you cannot store it once prepared. Clean up leftover mash to avoid bacterial contamination and keep vermin at bay.
Crumble Chicken Feed
Crumble is a form of chicken feed broken into tiny coarse grains for newly hatched chicks and younger birds. It comes from large pellets crushed into smaller pieces using a crumbler to achieve a softer consistency. Chick starter and grower chicken feeds come as crumbles. Since the particles are tiny, chicks and pullets can easily swallow and digest crumbled chicken feed.
The reason for turning pellets into crumbles is to ensure chicks can eat quickly and indiscriminately without picking out the parts they like. Besides, crumbles are more digestible as making them uses heat treatment. Giving your chicks crumbles ensures they get the essential nutrients required for optimal growth and development.
Some adult chickens prefer crumbles to mash or pellets because of their texture. However, feeding grown chickens crumbles might result in wastage. Your flock may forage through the tiny particles to select the parts they want to eat.
Crumble chicken feed is easier to store than mash. Moreover, it has a more extended expiry date and can last 3-4 months when stored appropriately.
Chicken pellets are cylindrical-shaped chicken feed derived from a layer or mixed flock feeds through a process called pelleting. These spherical capsules contain all the nutrients your grown chickens and egg-laying hens need.
Giving your chickens pellets has numerous benefits. Since pelleting involves heat treatment, all the ingredients remain in the pellet, ensuring nutrient segregation doesn’t occur. Your hens consume all the essential nutrients for optimal egg production. Their large size makes it easy for grown chickens to pick up and eat, leading to an increased consumption rate.
Feeding your pellets also ensures less dust and wastage. They don’t produce dust that could congest the nostrils of your flock. Chicken pellets are hard, dense, and durable and will hold their shape even if your birds knock over their feeders. Moreover, they have a longer shelf life, and you can store them in a cool, dry place for over six months without them going stale.
Grit for Chickens
Grit is an integral supplement to your flock’s feed and serves two purposes. Oystershell grit is rich in calcium and helps egg-laying hens produce high-quality eggs with firm, hardy shells. Hens that don’t consume adequate shell grit might lay flattened or deformed eggs.
Flint grit is critical to your flock’s digestive needs. When chickens eat, they temporarily store food in the crop before moving it to the stomach for digestion. Large, hard-to-break food particles usually end up in the gizzard for grinding before digestion occurs.
Since birds have no teeth, they can only break down large food particles by consuming grit. It comprises coarse sand, pebbles, and other hard materials that help your birds to grind food in the gizzard.
All grown birds require grit for egg production and digestion purposes. Lack of sufficient grit can cause digestive blockages, reduced consumption, nutritional deficiencies, or even death.
Free-range chickens can find grit naturally while foraging the yard. However, confined birds require grit added to their diets. The serving size doesn’t matter since chickens instinctively control their calcium intake.
Chicken scratch is an extra treat given along your flock’s regular diet. After all, it has less nutritional value and doesn’t have vital ingredients to meet your bird’s dietary needs. It consists of a mix of seeds, cracked corn, oats, wheat, legumes, and other grains that chickens find appetizing.
Even though chicken scratch has minimal nutritional value, it has a high content of fat that can help keep your birds warm on cold nights. It is also a good energy source for fowls. However, it should not exceed 10% of your flock’s diet.
The best time to treat your flock with chicken scratch is late evenings when they’ve already eaten their main feed. You can broadcast the mixture on the ground and allow the chickens to scratch and forage as they eat. Ensure the grains do not exceed what your birds can eat in 20 minutes. Clean up leftovers to prevent vermin invasions.
Medicated vs. Unmedicated Feed
You can buy between medicated and unmedicated chicken feed when shopping for poultry feed. As implied, medicated feeds have ingredients with medicinal properties. They help protect unvaccinated birds from parasites and diseases such as coccidiosis.
Chicks can quickly become sick when they ingest contaminated soil or chicken droppings. Since baby chicks are vulnerable to diseases, they require medicated chicken feed to boost their immunity and protect them from disease-causing parasites.
Medicated starter chicken feed contains amprolium, a thiamin blocker that prevents Coccidia from the chick’s system. You can give your chicks and pullets medicated feed until they reach 18 weeks or lay their first eggs. Do not give vaccinated fowls with medicated feed to prevent health complications.
In contrast, unmedicated feed does not contain amprolium or any medicinal properties. Instead, it has all the essential ingredients your flock requires for healthy growth and development. This feed is suitable for vaccinated birds.
Many chicken breeds can build their resistance to Coccidia without relying on medicated feeds. For this reason, most farmers prefer to give their birds unmedicated feed.
Fermented Chicken Feed
Fermented chicken feed refers to moistened food or mash obtained by mixing chicken feed with water and letting it sit in warm conditions for 2-5 days. Fermentation will alter the feed’s chemical composition, adding enzymes and probiotics.
Giving your flock fermented chicken feed has numerous health, nutritional, and economic benefits. First, it increases beneficial bacteria in your birds’ guts, improving digestion. It also neutralizes toxic compounds in the feed, enhancing its taste and quality. Probiotics are renowned for boosting immunity, ensuring your birds remain disease-free.
Given its density, your flock will feel fuller faster for longer, decreasing your weekly chicken feed costs. Fermented feed also has a role in increasing egg mass, shell weight, and thickness. Your hens will produce high-quality eggs when fed on fermented chicken feed.
Fermented chicken feed is less messy since your chickens cannot spill it from the feeder. Since your birds eat less, they produce fewer droppings, keeping the coop clean.
Broiler Chicken Feed
Keeping chickens for meat production and consumption requires the appropriate feed to ensure your birds reach the correct table size quickly. Broiler chicken feed is for poultry bred for consumption. This feed has higher protein than any other chicken feed. It is fed to meat birds to encourage them to grow bigger and fatter within a few weeks.
Broiler chicken feed can cause health problems to your flock. Broilers usually develop heart and mobility issues because of the high protein levels in the feed. However, they often end up in the slaughterhouse within 7-9 weeks.
The type of feed you give your chickens depends on their age and the purpose of rearing them. Chicks, layers, broilers, and show chickens have varying nutritional requirements. For this reason, you must figure out the appropriate feed for them. Fortunately, you can use this guide to determine the best chicken feed for your birds.