Welsummer chicken eating feed

Feeding Chickens from Chick to Hen

   A balanced diet is crucial to a chicken’s health and wellbeing. It also plays a very important role in the development of the hen’s ability to lay eggs. The nutritional requirements for a chicken can vary depending on age, breed and even the season.          Chicks need a different formulated feed ration than adult birds. Hybrid layers and heritage breed layers will thrive off of different formulated feed rations than one another. Summer feeds should be higher in proteins to support egg development and foraging abilities while winter feeds should be higher in carbohydrates and fats to help birds keep warm. There’s no one-feed-fits-all option when raising chicks to hens so it’s important to understand your chicken’s specific needs as they grow.

Welsummer Chicks at Deer Run Farm     Day old chicks develop quickly. Because of this they require a higher percentage of protein, amino acids and phosphorus in their feed to help create the extra energy they need for growth. Chicks should be fed a finely mashed chick starter that’s balanced to include 20-24% protein. A finely mashed and mixed ration is the preferred feed for a small chick so that their small beaks can pick up and ingest a truly blended and balanced diet. Keeping chicks on this feed through 6 weeks minimum is the ideal time frame until they can be switched to a grower formulated feed. Options for medicated and non-medicated chick feeds are available. Medicated feeds are recommended for chicks that have not been vaccinated for coccidia. Medicated feeds contain Amprolium which is a coccidiostat that helps young chicks develop an immunity to coccidiosis keeping them healthier as they grow into adulthood. 
   Some chick starters are designed to be fed to birds from day old through 20 weeks old. These feeds can make do but aren’t necessarily the best choice for developing birds. Chicks 7 weeks and up should be transitioned to a grower feed. Grower feeds have a lower percentage of protein in them and lack the high amounts of calcium found in layer feed. Juvenile birds don’t need as much protein to support their growth as they did when they were chicks. Young Welsummer PulletGrower feeds usually contain around 18-20% protein which is the perfect amount to continue supporting the growth of these teenage birds without overwhelming them with unnecessary vitamins and minerals. Transitioning a juvenile bird from starter to layer right away can be dangerous for your bird. Layer feeds contain higher amounts of calcium meant to support the hen’s egg laying abilities. Too much calcium in a young, developing bird can be damaging to their kidneys and also cause disruptions in their reproductive abilities. Sticking to a uniform mashed or crumbled grower feed will provide juvenile chicks the proper balanced diet that supports their growth needs. 
    One feed ration that is often overlooked in the poultry industry is the developer ration. A developer ration should be given to a chick between 13 and 18 weeks of age as a transitioning feed from the grower ration to the layer ration. Because grower feeds tend to have higher protein levels and minimal amounts of calcium in them compared to layer rations with lower protein levels and high amounts of calcium, a transitioning feed between the two can be very beneficial. The developer feed will split the differences between the grower and layer rations and will better promote the developing bird’s ability to absorb the nutrients, vitamins and minerals more properly. Typically, a developer ration would be lower in protein at 16-18% with slightly elevated amounts of calcium than grower feed that would begin to aid in the egg development process of a young bird and help to prevent soft shells from first time layers. 
    A full-grown adult hen will consume roughly a quarter pound of feed per day. To get the most out of your hens, feeding them a properly balanced layer feed is key. While it is possible to feed strictly scraps and let your hen forage for the rest of their food, this is not a diet they’ll thrive on. Chickens need protein, key amino acids like; lysine and methionine, calcium, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and other essential vitamins and minerals. Some of these things can be found in a foraged diet that consists of insects, leaves, seeds, fruit and small reptiles and mammals. However, consistency in this foraged diet would be difficult for most chicken keepers due to land restrictions. Welsummer hen foraging on pasture at Deer Run FarmStrictly foraged diets need lots of land to be successful and must be located in an area where temperatures are more consistent. Supplementing a foraged diet with free-choice layer feed will allow the hen to achieve the proper nutrient intake to maintain optimal health, immunities and production abilities. Layer feeds should be between 15-18% protein and contain higher amounts of calcium to support eggshell development. Two types of layer feed should be considered for your hens throughout a year. One that is given during the summer that’s higher in protein to support egg production and another that is given during the winter months that’s higher in carbohydrates and energy to better support the hen’s ability to maintain their body heat while it’s colder out.  
   The poultry industry is overflowing with feed options for chickens. Knowing the different nutritional requirements for your birds at their many stages of growth will help guide you in determining the best feed for your birds. Chicks between one day and 6 weeks old should be fed a 20-24% protein starter feed. Young juvenile chicks between 7 and 12 weeks of age should be fed an 18-20% protein grower feed. Older juvenile chicks between 13 and 18 weeks of age should be fed a 16-18% protein developer feed. Adult chickens 18 weeks and older should be fed a 15-18% protein layer feed and plan to have a higher protein layer feed for hens in the summer and a lower protein layer with more carbohydrates for hens in the winter.
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