Is Layer Feed Really Necessary?

Is Layer Feed Really Necessary?

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!

Example of layer feed ingredients

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
  • Millet
  • Whole corn
  • Crack corn
  • Popcorn
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Sesame seeds
  • Brewers’ yeasts
  • Sea kelp
  • Alfalfa
  • Barley
  • 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.

Photo of our layer feed

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.

Wheat Berry & Lemon Balm Happy Tummy Treats

Wheat Berry & Lemon Balm Happy Tummy Treats

Taking time with your hens is the highlight of anyone’s day, and treats make it all the more special.

 

My hens come running when they see I have goodies (and sometimes jump ON me), and it’s definitely adorable watching how excited they get.

 

Suet cakes (treats made with a fat to bind the ingredients together) are definitely a favorite around here, and they’re a great treat to make sure your hens are getting enough fat in their diet as well as make sure they gobble down their herbs.

 

This week’s treat for hens is a brand new recipe that includes our old favorites, sunflower seeds and oregano, with an extra twist: lemon balm and wheat berries.

 

Wheat Berry & Lemon Balm backyard chicken Treats

 

Why these ingredients?

I made these suet cakes using coconut oil because of its health benefits for you AND your chickens.

 

If you don’t have any on hand, you can substitute tallow (rendered beef fat) or lard (rendered pork fat). You can also use leftover bacon grease (which chickens LOVE).

 

Coconut oil itself is great to help your chickens maintain their weight (has lots of healthy fats) AND it’s known for its antibacterial properties. So if you’re worried about your chickens as they free range and wander around in the dirt, the coconut oil is a great basis for any treats.

 

Oregano is also known for its antibacterial properties (it’s become the darling of the chicken industry because of it), and contributes to overall health for your flock.

 

Lemon balm (aka Melissa) is well known as a natural antibacterial and has anti-inflammatory properties – great for helping your chickens’ tummies.

 

It also has a bright, citrus scent, which will leave you feeling happy as you shred it for your chickens (if you have any left over, make it into a tea for yourself, which you can drink while spending time with your fluffy butts.)

 

So why wheat berries? Well, they’re pretty inexpensive, and chicken love them. Non-GMO and organic wheat berries are a favorite of my chickens, and I know it’ll be for yours as well.

 

Also, the great thing about wheat is you can either use it straight out of the bag in these treats OR you can sprout them for 2 or 3 days into fodder.

 

The act of sprouting makes the wheat berries more nutritious and hens LOVE them, and the sprouts are a great boredom buster.

 

If you’re not sure how to sprout wheat into fodder for chickens, it’s easy.

 

Sunflower seeds, if shelled, aren’t worth trying to sprout, but chickens love them, and they’re full of healthy fats that are great for your hens. I’ve yet to meet a chicken who DOESN’T go crazy for sunflower seeds!

 

In this recipe, I used shelled sunflower seeds, but if you prefer to leave the shells on, that’s fine as well. Be sure to use black oil sunflower seeds.

 

I like to use a mini-cupcake pan for suet cakes because it makes great single-sized servings and they’re not so huge your chickens take a few bites then ignore the rest.

 

The pans are also a great way to make sure each hen gets a treat. If you have a large flock or a bossy alpha hen, some of those down further on the totem pole might not get a chance at the larger treats.

 

Ready to make your hens some healthy treats?

 

Wheat Berry & Lemon Balm Happy Tummy Treats

Ingredients per chicken

¼ cup melted coconut oil

¼ tsp dried lemon balm

⅛ tsp dried oregano

2 tablespoons wheat berries

1 tablespoon sunflower seeds

Mini-cupcake pan

 

(If using a regular-sized cupcake pan, double or triple ingredients, and know that each treat is enough for 2 or 3 chickens. You can always cut them down to individual portions.)

 

Directions

Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Melt the coconut oil so it’s completely liquid.

 

As the coconut oil is melting, fill each cup in the cupcake tin with the dry ingredients. You want each tin to be nearly full.

 

When the coconut oil is completely melted, pour over the dry ingredients until the coconut oil reaches the top. Refrigerate until solid.

 

To remove, turn the pan upside down and knock on the bottom a few times until the treats are loosened. Serve to your chickens immediately.

 

Make yourself a cup of tea with any remaining lemon balm and drink while you enjoy watching your chickens gobble up their goodies!

How To Keep Your Chickens Laying Through The Winter

How To Keep Your Chickens Laying Through The Winter

Today we’re going to talk about keeping your hens laying through winter.

And since mine have started to drop off in production, this is a topic near and dear to my heart.

There’s many reasons why a hen can drop off production in the winter, and we’re going to look at reasons why that happens, both biological and environmental, and what you can do about it.

Some people like to give their hens the winter off, or let nature do its thing and go with the flow as their hens naturally drop egg production in the winter. Personally, I like to be eating omelets year round, so I try to keep my chickens producing eggs in the winter.

Why do chickens stop laying in the winter?

The biggest reason hens stop laying in the winter is because the days get shorter, and so there’s less light. Egg production is triggered by light, specifically by the pituitary gland and the amount of light that is affecting the pituitary gland. And since shorter days mean less light, it triggers the pituitary gland to stop producing the hormones that command egg production.

Chickens need about fourteen hours of light per day to keep laying eggs. Now this isn’t to say every hen needs fourteen hours, and we’ve even bred chickens that will keep laying throughout shorter days, such as Production Reds. But generally speaking, most chickens need fourteen hours or so of light in order to lay eggs consistently.

From an evolutionary stand point, more energy is needed to keep a hen alive during the winter. And chicks are less likely to survive in the winter because chicks have a harder time maintaining their own body temperature until they feather out. So there’s less evolutionary value in producing eggs during the winter. So from that angle, it makes sense why hens don’t lay in the winter!

Now for people this stinks, obviously, because we have to work to keep egg production up, or just simply go without eggs.

How can I keep my hens laying?

There are several things you can do to keep your hens laying through the winter. The main thing is adding light. In order to keep your hens laying throughout the winter you have to supplement the light that your chickens get with artificial light. In our coop, we use battery powered lamps.

If you’re lucky enough to have electric lights in your coop, you can use those, or you can also use solar energy. That’s a great option if you are off grid. We’re looking at getting solar panels for our coop this winter, but for now we’re just using battery powered lanterns.

One thing to keep in mind is you need to use a strong light.  When we first started putting lamps in the coop, the lamps just didn’t emit enough light and so it was useless. Obviously, you don’t need to blind your hens, but just using  a small LED flashlight, in my experience, doesn’t work. So we use battery operated lanterns, which shed enough light to keep egg production up, but not so much that it’s overwhelming for my hens.

I advise you to skip infrared heat lamps. That’s the red light bulbs. In my opinion, the risks are way too high. Those heat lamps get really, really, really hot! And all it takes is a hen knocking it down (and chickens are great at getting into trouble) and you might lose your whole flock to a fire.

Putting a light in your coop is the top way to keep your hens laying throughout winter. But let’s talk about some other things you can do that are really just as important.

Molting

So the next thing we’re going to talk about is molting. If you don’t know what molting is, when hens molt they’re losing one set of feathers and replacing them with new ones. This could take a couple months, and while hens are molting they aren’t producing eggs.

Now when a hen molts, her body naturally puts all of its energy into producing new feathers, hence the drop in egg production. This generally happens in the fall and in early winter after your hen’s first year. Usually when she’s about eighteen months old, although I have had them molt at younger ages.

Now there’s really nothing you can or should do to speed up molting. I know in factory farms with chickens, they try to speed it up. But you really shouldn’t be doing anything to speed it up. It’s a natural process. But one thing that you can do that might help is to feed your hens extra protein, so her body can redirect extra energy into producing eggs.

So if you have a hen that’s molting, you can try a 22% commercial feed, or something with a lot of protein in it. Try things such as mealworms, black soldier fly larvae, or wheat fodder. If you like to feed eggs to your chickens, eggs are another protein supplement you can give a molting hen.

I supplement molting hens with my Fluffiest Feathers Ever Chicken Supplement. It’s packed full of protein and nutrients to help your hens have the fluffiest feathers ever! You can find it in the store here: Fluffiest Feathers Ever Chicken Supplement

 

Make sure your hens have enough to eat

The third thing that you can do in the winter to keep your hens laying eggs is to make sure they get enough to eat, especially if your hens are used to foraging.

During the cooler weather, foraging obviously gets harder, and as the weather turns cooler, chickens start using more nutrients and energy from whatever they’re eating to keep warm. So if they get too cold, they’re going to take all the energy and put it to keeping warm instead of producing eggs.

So it’s really important in cool weather to make sure that your chickens are getting enough to eat. And if your hens will be cooped up all winter, or if there is a lot of snow and they don’t want to leave their coop, you’ll need to watch how much they’re eating and increase what you’re offering so that they have enough energy to make eggs.

And when I give this advice, I’m assuming that you’re also providing a supplementary light to promote egg production because the bottom line is that without the supplementary light, most chickens won’t lay. But making sure that they have enough to eat is also very important.

You can simply feed more of your hens regular ration or supplement with mealworms, if you don’t already feed them. If it’s gonna be a cold night, you can offer corn. But as a consistent way to increase their feed, I don’t suggest feeding corn. You’re better off offering just more of what they already normally eat, and making sure that they’re getting enough protein and calcium.

Calcium

To help keep your hens laying toward the winter, you should also make sure that they’re getting enough calcium. This is really important. Winter is an especially important time to offer oyster shells as a calcium supplement. You should do it all year round, but winter is especially an important time to do it.

I just offer oyster shells separately in a bowl or a dish. Don’t mix it with their feed, just offer it separately so they can take it as they need it.

Without the calcium supplement, hens will start to draw calcium from their own bones which you don’t want. It’s not to say that if you don’t offer oyster shells, they will absolutely draw calcium from their bones, but if they don’t get enough calcium in their diet, it will start to come from their own bodies.

So I suggest that you offer them oyster shells as a supplement and let them eat at it as they need it.

If you have any concerns about whether your chickens are getting the right diet or are deficient in anything, you can always take them to a vet to have blood pulled to double check. But as long as you’re sticking to a recommended diet and feeding enough, your chickens should be okay.

Just remember, that I’m not a vet, so this is just a public service announcement. If you have any concerns about your chickens not getting the right amount of nutrients, have a vet pull some blood and double check it.

Now let’s just talk about scratch for a minute. I think you should avoid scratch at all costs, especially commercial scratch. If you make it from home and it has enough protein, that’s one thing. But commercial scratch … I suggest that you just save your money and don’t buy it.

Personally I think you’re better off offering more of the regular feed, or offering some other tasty treat.

Stress

Now something else that can shut down egg production in winter, even if you do everything else right, is stress. When a hen’s body is stressed, she’s less likely to lay. So when it’s very hot or very cold, she is less likely to lay because her body is having a little bit more stress. But there’s also environmental stresses that can be brought on by winter and confinement.

Now as it gets colder, you might choose to keep your hens in the coop more often. Or when there’s a lot of snow hens will choose to stay in the coop rather than brave the elements. This can lead to some environmental stresses, especially if they’re used to getting out and about a lot.

This is the classic issue of overcrowding. Overcrowding can lead to a drop in egg production and behaviors like egg eating, picking at each other, fighting. So when there’s snow everywhere and they don’t want to go outside, what are you going do?

Here’s what we do. In the past, we’ve put straw on the ground in the run. We don’t use shavings because shavings absorb water and it can become a boggy mess in the run very quickly. So we use straw which gives them a nice, clean place to walk and it’s a little bit warmer than snow.

Then to convince them to go outside we offer them treats, like mealworms. Pumpkin is another favorite. You can offer them any treat that they really go nuts for.

The situation of chickens being in the coop too much really becomes one of weighing the risks and the benefits. If they stay inside, what kind of behavioral, or even nutritional issues will they develop if they’re in the coop for long periods of time without sunlight. Vitamin D absorption can become an issue which then causes problems with calcium absorption. So look at the risks versus the benefits in making them go outside for a couple hours.

Obviously I’m not saying you should make them go outside in negative thirty degree weather or thirty mile an hour gusts. I definitely wouldn’t have them go outside in that case.

I’d definitely wait for a day when the weather is better. If you have really bad weather every day where you live, I’d consider building them an indoor warm area, like a greenhouse. But in reasonable winter weather, there’s no harm in making them go outside for a couple hours, and it will only benefit them and help avoid cabin fever.

Boredom Busters

Another option is what I like to call boredom busters. You can find a lot of examples out there on the internet. You can move perches around a lot to give them some interesting environmental things to think about. Something mine love are pumpkins, and literally what I do is I just break it in half and let them peck at the flesh and enjoy that for a few hours. We have about thirty chickens in our coop and it takes them a few hours to get through it all.

If you can’t find pumpkins in your area, you can offer them squash or other gourds. And the nice thing is that since the flesh is a little bit tougher in pumpkins and squash, it can take them some time to get through it, they get extra food, and they also love the seeds.

In my experience, the squash and the pumpkin keep them occupied longer which, in the dead of winter, when they’re bored, is always a good thing. It also keeps them moving around, which helps them keep their body temperature up.

With your flock, you can use some of these ideas to help reduce their stress levels, or you can always come up with your own to keep your flock occupied during colder days of the year when they might not want to go outside and play. And the less stress that they have, the more likely they are to keep laying throughout the winter.

If you want more boredom buster ideas you can head over to my article about my favorite gifts and winter boredom busters for your chickens.

So to sum up, making sure that your hens get enough to eat, get enough light, and have low levels of stress, will help you keep your hens laying eggs. Do you have any ideas you have on how to keep hens laying through the winter? What are your favorite winter boredom busters for chickens?

Are My Chicks Hens Or Roosters?

Are My Chicks Hens Or Roosters?

More reading:

7 Tricks To Sex Baby Chicks

How To Sex Ducklings By Quacks

What Color Eggs Will My Chickens Lay?

What Color Eggs Will My Chickens Lay?

Chicken eggs come in a variety of colors, and since we are looking at the whole process of a chick’s life, we may as well look at that awkward transition between the alpha state and the omega state, too. One of the biggest questions people have is “What color eggs will my chicken lay?” This is a big question, one that I’ve decided to answer today.

 

For me, the thrill of having chickens begins before they are even hatched, as chickens will need care and attention even from when they are still in their eggs. I don’t know about you, but I love eggs. Sure, they are incredibly useful in the kitchen, but if we’re hatching them, we’re not thinking food, are we? No, what I’m talking about is egg color. 

 

    1. The Surefire Way
    2. Disclaimer!
    3. Earlobe Color
    4. Easter Eggers
    5. Ayam Cemanis
    6. Silkies
    7. Summary

 

 

 

The Surefire Way Of Knowing What Color Eggs Your Chicken Will Lay

There are a few different ways you can sort of predict what color eggs your chicken will lay, but really? The only surefire way to know what color eggs your chickens will lay is by waiting until the egg is actually laid. Beyond that, there are some other ways that can probably help you figure out what color egg your hen will lay. 

 

Disclaimer!

Before we get started with this, I must say that there are always exceptions to everything I say here. Don’t message me or leave a comment below about how I’m wrong because a specific breed might not follow the conventions mentioned in this video. There are always going to be exceptions, and I will touch upon some of them. Please keep in mind that the information in this video is very generalized advice. 

 

Will Ear Lobe Color Tell You Egg Color?

From a conventional standpoint, if your chicken has white ear lobes, it will lay white eggs. If your chicken has red earlobes, it will lay brown eggs

 

Some very obvious exceptions to this, notably, are Easter Eggers, Silkies, and Ayam Cemanis – or any sort of chicken that is completely black. Silkies and Polish Bantams have blue ear lobes, but they can lay like a white egg or a cream-colored egg. Easter Eggers have red ear lobes and they can lay any sort of color eggs, from brown to cream to pink to blue to green to teal.

 

Exceptions To Ear Lobe Color

Easter Eggers

Easter Eggers aren’t a breed, exactly, and the colors of their eggs do have something to do with that chicken’s particular genetics. Because they are more like a hybrid, their eggs can be one of a massive variety of colors. With Easter Eggers, the idea that red ear lobes mean brown eggs doesn’t work in reality. 

 

An Easter Egger can lay brown, white, cream, blue, green, or even pink eggs. There’s no way to know until she actually starts laying.

 

One thing to note is that each Easter Egger hen can only lay one color throughout that hen’s lifetime. If you want a different color egg from your Easter Egger, you need to have another hen. 

 

Ayam Cemanis

Ayam Cemanis and chickens that have purely all black skin are another exception. Even though they’re completely black in color, and they have black ear lobes, Ayam Cemanis don’t lay black eggs; their eggs are cream-colored.

 

Silkies

Silkies also have black skin, but they’re not purely black because they do have the blue ear lobes. They also do not lay black eggs, but rather cream-colored eggs

 

There is to the best of my knowledge, while no chicken lays a black egg, emus do lay black eggs.

 

Summary

There you have it! While most chicken breeds are at least mostly predictable, there are the exceptions. Easter Eggers, especially, are tricky: the only way you are guaranteed to know what color egg will come out of your chicken is by seeing the egg that comes out of its vent. But this unexpected fluke of genetics is one of the exciting parts of raising your own chickens! When your chicks are ready to start laying, the anticipation of seeing the eggs will keep you on your toes. 

 

Got questions? Got comments? Got suggestions? Leave a comment below

 

Additional reading:

How often do chickens lay eggs?

When chickens stop laying eggs

Chicken breeds that lay colored eggs

Chicken Breeds Guide