Heard about this thing called “layer feed,” but not sure how it’ll help your chickens? Unsure if your chickens’ diet is the best? In this article, you’ll learn all about layer feed, and why it’s critical to raising a healthy flock!
Living things need to eat. In fact, that might be one of the biggest motivators for gathering a group of chickens in our barns and sheds. We look after them, and they provide us with collections of eggs and meat. If you read our article about what chickens can eat, you know that to produce an adequate supply of eggs for us, our hens need the right nutrients for the job.
To aid in this, industry experts created specially-created feeds called layer feed. These feeds help hens with egg production. They also some smaller bonuses to our chickens.
What Is Layer Feed?
Layer feed is a mixture that helps chickens grow strong and healthy. It offers them a balanced mix of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It’s feed specifically for laying hens, and has healthy amounts of protein and calcium. Your hens need a lot of both to lay healthy eggs!
How Much Protein Should A Layer Feed Be?
A feed with 16-18% protein is best, with the right nutrients for your chickens to remain healthy. A layer feed isn’t the same as a chick starter, which is formulated for baby chickens.
A common question we get is about how to switch to a layer feed from chick starter. For the first part of your chickens’ lives, they should be on starter and grower feeds. Then once they begin laying, you should switch them to a layer feed. It’s easiest to switch gradually over the course of a week. A sudden switch could lead to diarrhea and other gastric problems.
Laying hens will eat about a quarter pound of feed each day. Free-ranging hens need less than this, as they will be foraging for much of their own feed. Despite their foraging, they will still need a significant amount of layer feed to help maintain a proper nutritional balance.
You might wonder can roosters eat layer feed, since they don’t lay eggs. In short, yes they can. They’ll be perfectly healthy. It’s unrealistic to house roosters and hens together and feed different meals.
Can Chicks Eat Layer Feed?
Your chicks have different dietary requirements than your fully-grown chickens. They will need different nutrients. Layer feed has extra calcium, which can cause your chicks to not grow correctly. It’s always best to feed your baby chickens an 18% starter ration.
Does Layer Feed Have Grit?
No, it does not. Grit is a coarse and abrasive material that chickens can safely ingest. It helps them grind up and properly digest food. It has no nutritional value, so you should offer it separately. You can read more about grit here.
Can Broiler Chickens Get Layer Feed?
Broiler chickens need a higher protein percentage than egg layers. The best feed for them are these heavier protein content feeds. In a pinch, your broilers would not suffer from layer feed. But the lower protein content might mean your chickens are smaller than expected.
How Much Does Layer Feed Cost?
Layer feed can range in price. A budget feed at your local farm store might cost about $.50-.60 / lb. If you are looking for non-GMO or organic homemade mixes, they will be a little more expensive. But your chickens will have a better diet. This is the Non-GMO layer feed we use.
Should I Make Homemade Layer Feed?
Whether to make homemade layer feed vs. store-bought layer feed is up to you. It depends on your lifestyle, free time, and the particulars of your farms. There are many recipes available online (like this one here). The following is a list of ingredients that are most often included in homemade layer feeds.
- Oat groats
- Regular naked oats
- Black sunflower seeds,
- Hard red wheat
- Soft white wheat
- Kamut flour
- Whole corn
- Crack corn
- Sesame seeds
- Brewers’ yeasts
- Sea kelp
- Fish meal
- Flax seed
- Food-grade lime or aragonite
Each ingredient brings its own value into the mix: oils, protein content, nutrients, vitamins, amino acids, calcium, and energy. The ratio of ingredients can vary, and the higher protein ingredients will probably be more expensive than the grains. As a result, the grains will usually compose the bulk of the homemade layer feeds. Seeds and supplements like peas will certainly be more expensive, but they add tons of nutrients and variety to the layer feed.
You can extra supplements depending on the season. If it’s time for a worming or mite-prevention cleansing, food grade diatomaceous earth, garlic, or cider vinegar can all be added to help with keeping your birds’ bodies healthy – both inside and outside. You can give these supplements temporarily or long-term. You can mix the ingredients into garbage pails or metal pails by hand.
One of the biggest advantages of using store-bought layer feeds is the scientific measurements of protein. Excess protein can create problems in many barnyard animals. Renal dysfunction is one problem that does occur with too extreme a protein quantity. But a low protein content can result in smaller or abnormal eggs. It can also cause your chickens to stop laying and/or to become flighty.
You also might wonder whether you should ferment chicken feed. There are many resources online that show you how to ferment chicken (here’s ours). It’s certainly not necessary, but it’s very easy. The main idea is to submerge your flock’s feed under water, and allow beneficial bacteria to grow. If you’re worried about gut health, and want to do everything possible for your flock, then fermenting feed might be for you! You can also ferment chick starter.
Do Pullets Prefer Store-Bought Layer Feeds To Homemade Layer Feeds?
This is a very specific question that requires significantly more research for a definitive answer. Current observations show that there is no preference. Picky eaters are everywhere, so there just might be one in your flock. Chickens are live creatures, and some can certainly be more picky than others. If this is a research question that you decide to pursue, please let us know! We would love to hear your results!
Is Layer Feed Really Necessary?
There will always be people who think layer feeds are unnecessary. And in some situations, they’re possibly right. But industry studies show that a 16% layer feed is the basis of a good diet. Personally, I would stick to “tried-and-true” facts.
Where To Buy Layer Feed
Layer feeds are available everywhere, and we even sell our own – and very popular – blend right here. Petco, Tractor Supply, and even Wal*Mart all stock layer feeds. Chances are good that a simple Google search of “layer feed” and “nearby” will net you a source for the feeds.
Layer feeds have become a single stop for your egg-laying hens. They are easy to mix, contain a good balance of ingredients for your little ladies, and help your flock produce the “butt nuggets” we all know and love. By looking after the eating habits of our girls, we are improving the quality of our own food: our eggs.
Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.