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Best chicken feed for laying hens
Since egg laying season has begun, it’s important to know what the best chicken feed for laying hens is.
Spring is right around the corner here in Southern California. It’s already been 60 degrees most days and our hens have started spitting out eggs right and left. We’ve also had the turkey vulture migration start and around here in the High Desert, we use the turkey vultures instead of the ground hog to tell us when we have 6 weeks until spring.
Layer feed is a type of chicken feed formulated specifically for hens laying eggs. Laying hens have certain nutritional requirements in order to produce eggs that chickens at other life stages obviously don’t have. A rooster certainly wouldn’t need as many nutrients as a laying hen and a laying hen for eating eggs doesn’t even have the same nutritional requirements as a hen who is laying eggs to be hatched.
Different types of chicken feed
There are many types of feed and each type is sold by many different brands leaving us chicken owners with a lot of choice. Did you know more than seven options to choose from increases depressive symptoms? Just consider trying to find a new show to watch on Netflix lol. Making choices is hard.
Different types of chicken feeds include:
- Starter feed: For chicks up to 6 weeks
- Meat bird starter: For chicks destined to be meat chickens
- Grower feed: For chicks over 6 weeks old
- Developer feed: For chicks over 14 weeks old
- Breeder feed: For hens laying eggs to be hatched
- Layer feed: For hens laying eggs to be eaten
- Flock feed: For roosters and general maintenance of a mixed flock
The difference in each of these feeds is mainly the calcium content (influencing egg development) and the amount of protein. Older chickens need less protein, roosters even less than hens. The other difference in these feeds is cost. The less protein, the less cost. So beginning at starter feed, the cost decreases respectively down the list to flock feed.
Since you are interested in the best chicken feed for laying hens, let’s focus on layer feed. Layer feed is formulated for hens laying table eggs for eating. It has about 16% protein and extra calcium so that the eggs have nice strong shells.
Breeder feed is for the same egg laying hens, but it’s formulated with extra vitamins to make sure the baby develops nice and strong. Breeder feed is more expensive than layer feed and it’s debatable whether it’s actually worth the extra cost, particularly for small farmers and homesteaders.
Even if you’re feeding laying hens the appropriate high calcium layer feed, it doesn’t hurt to have oyster shell available for them. High production hens may especially need more calcium than even layer feed provides them.
You can determine if your hens are deficient in calcium by noticing the thickness of their eggs. If the shell is delicate and breaks easily then the hens need more calcium. Hens will only eat oyster shell if they need the calcium so having it on hand for them isn’t a major extra expense.
Scratch is not chicken feed and very much not appropriate feed for laying hens. While scratch may be of caloric value, it is solely there for the psychological entertainment of your hens. Chickens love to scratch at the dirt to find food and chicken owners love to spoil their chickens. Hence, chicken scratch.
Chicken scratch might be helpful physically in the winter to get some extra calories in your hens, but in general it should solely be considered a fun treat.
One of the problems with feeding scratch is that, like us humans, hens can only eat so much food. If they are filling up on nutritionally deficient chicken scratch, they aren’t getting the nutrients they need in the layer feed.
Too much chicken scratch and you may give your hens a vitamin or mineral deficiency. That’s bad for laying hens.
Greens and table scraps
Greens and table scraps are wonderful feed for laying hens. However, they do have a similar issue to chicken scratch in that they may not have the correct nutrient profile for laying hens. Again, if your laying hens fill up on the scraps, they aren’t filling up on their properly balanced laying feed.
On the other hand, greens and many table scraps also provide nutrients that they aren’t getting in their dried out, highly processed layer feed. Hens that eat greens have much healthier eggs with nice orange yolks contrasting with the pale yellow of solely grain fed yolks.
Still, keep in mind that feeding scraps is not the same as having a free range, pastured chicken. Chickens out on pasture have a much wider variety of greens to choose from and they are also finding lots of bugs, worms and even the occasional small mammal to eat. This is why you have to keep in mind that feeding too many greens or scraps can still lead to a nutrient imbalance.
Sometimes it isn’t just about what you feed your chickens, but how you feed your chickens. You need to make sure that there is enough space for your hens to eat and that they aren’t crowding and competing for feed.
Some hens are very dominant, and others are quite passive. The dominant ones will end up overeating and the passive ones will under eat leading to nutrient imbalances and problems with egg laying. Maybe even death.
Hens should always have feed and not just be fed at meal time (unless carefully managed such as with pastured chickens). This will significantly decrease feed competition as the passive hens can wait until the dominant ones have eaten.
Crumble, mash or pellet?
When I first got chickens, the question of crumble, mash or pellet chicken feed was a perplexing question for me. I didn’t know what the difference was or why I should pick one over the other.
Turns out it’s nothing more than personal preference. Which do you like feeding? Which do your chickens seem to eat the best?
I personally prefer pellet. Mash is a powder that blows away in the wind. Crumble are little bits of feed like small rocks. Pellets are bigger pieces and I like them because they won’t blow away and also if I spill some and then step on it, it doesn’t immediately grind to dust (i.e. mash) like the crumble does.
Does it actually matter though? No. It doesn’t matter at all…unlike making sure that your laying hens have the right nutrients in their layer feed.
The best chicken feed for laying hens
When it comes to brand, I don’t really feel like there’s much of a difference. It’s more of a question of what is available in your area, is reasonably priced, and then you just have to try it out to see what you like.
However, there is a great website that has a comparison chart so you can look at the nutritional content of each type of feed http://www.poultrydvm.com/feeds.php
Generally speaking though, here are some of the top brands as rated on amazon:
10 Best Chicken Feeds for Laying Hens – Amazon Reviews
| ||Chicken Feed||Rating||Current Price|
| ||1. Kalmbach Feeds Henhouse Reserve 17%||4.8|
| ||2. Small Pet Select Chicken Layer Feed, Non-GMO, Corn Free, Soy Free||4.6|| |
| ||3. Nutrena Country Feeds 16% Layer Pellets||4.5|| |
| ||4. Scratch and Peck Organic Layer Feed||4.3|| |
| ||5. Purina Layena Premium Layer Feed Crumbles||4.3|| |