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.

5 High Protein Treats For Backyard Chickens

5 High Protein Treats For Backyard Chickens

Winter is here….and although most backyard chickens weather winter well, you might find yourself worrying about whether they’re getting enough protein.

Your flock’s feathers are critical to their health during the winter. Feathers serve some important purposes, including protection from the wind AND keeping your backyard chickens warm. So, providing your hens a diet that’s high in protein is critical.

While most commercial feeds have 16% protein, you might want your flock to get even more protein so even the coldest days won’t effect them. In this article, I’m going to show you lots of different high protein options that both chickens and ducks love! There’s something for every backyard chicken on this list, and most of these treats also have important vitamins and minerals too!

Brewer’s Yeast

It’s not something you typically associate with protein, but brewer’s and nutritional yeast is FULL of protein – they’re both about 40% protein. You can mix brewer’s yeast with your flock’s regular feed, or with a special treat you’ve created for them (such as the eggs or black soldier fly larvae above).

It’s probably best to mix it with something else. It’s full of protein but also powdery – so adding it to food with texture will help your chickens enjoy their treat more. You can buy it in our store, and it’s mixed with garlic, oregano, and echinacea – all herbs traditionally used to support healthy immune systems in chickens.

Black Soldier Fly Larvae

Black soldier fly larvae are about 40% protein, and hens LOOOOOOVE them! You can buy them dried right here or you can create your own farm – they’re remarkably easy to farm, and they’ll live in anything.

(Recently, we discovered a BSFL farm in my truck bed, where some grain had spilled. Totally disgusting and proof they’ll hatch anywhere. We had NO idea they established residence until some torrential downpours caused them to jump ship. Let’s just say the hens were VERY happy for a few days).

If farming black soldier fly larvae isn’t your deal, then you can always go with dried ones – hens love them either way!

Dried River Shrimp

Like black soldier fly larvae, dried river shrimp are full of protein. The nice thing about shrimp is they’re very easy for tiny beaks to consume, so if your chickens aren’t quite adults yet (or if you have baby chicks), you might find shrimp are easier for them to eat.

Ducks in particular love shrimp (I think more than other treats), and mine really love when we float dried river shrimp on water for them. In fact, we named one of our most recent ducklings “Hoover” because he eats the shrimp so fast! You can buy dried river shrimp right here.

Quinoa

You might not think of quinoa when you think about treats for chickens, but it’s full of protein, and when cool, makes a great high protein treat. I cook my chickens and ducks quinoa before feeding it to make it easier to digest, which in turn makes the protein and nutrients more bioavailable.

Cooked quinoa contains 8 g of protein per cup, and it’s also full of magnesium, iron, fiber, and manganese. Just make sure it’s 100% cool before offering it to your flock.

Kale

Yep, kale uis very high in protein, and it might break up some long winter days when your flock refuses to leave the coop. It’s also full of vitamins and minerals! An easy way to provide kale for your backyard chickens is to hang the leaves in the coop. Your flock can pick at the leaves, and once they’re done, it’s easy to remove.

For ducks, it’ll be easier to float the kale on water for them. Because of their round bills, ducks sometimes struggle to pick up leaves. Kale has 2 g of protein per cup.

Fluffiest Feathers Ever!

We carry this dietary supplement in our store. It’s 28% protein, and chickens LOVE it. We feed it separately or sometimes mixed with their feed, and it doesn’t stay in their feed bowl very long! You can learn more about Fluffiest Feathers Ever right here.

Why Are My Chicken’s Feathers Falling Out?

Why Are My Chicken’s Feathers Falling Out?

Why are my chicken’s feathers falling out?!?!? This is one of the biggest questions I get from concerned new chicken owners.

 

There are many reasons why your chicken’s feathers might be falling out. I’ll go through some of the main ones today and give you tips on what you should do.

 

The top reasons chickens lose feathers are:

  1. Molting
  2. Not enough protein
  3. Self-inflicted from stress
  4. Broodiness
  5. Picking by bullies
  6. Mites and lice
  7. Vent gleet
  8. Overmating by roosters

 

Molting

So, chickens molt. And it’s a very common reason why chickens lose feathers.

 

In case you don’t know, molting is when chickens lose feathers and then those feathers are replaced by new ones.

 

And luckily, it’s a natural and totally normal process. (Ducks molt, too!) that happens more or less once a year (normally in the fall), and it can be ugly. (Not always, but sometimes you’ll wonder what happened to your once beautiful hens!)

 

I love chickens, but they just aren’t that good looking when they’re going through a rough molt. It’s messy, ugly, and a little bit uncomfortable as the feathers grow back.

 

The molting process can be scary for first time chicken owners, but realize that your chickens losing their feathers in a molt is a normal process.

 

If you want, you can feed them a high protein treat (like BEE A Happy Hen, which we sell in the store) to help them stay healthy and regrow their feathers.

 


Freaked out over feather loss?

 

Not enough protein

Another reason your chickens could be losing their feathers is because they aren’t getting enough protein. This can happen if you’re feeding your chickens scratch or letting them forage for their food

 

Even if you allow your chickens to roam around the yard and they’re finding and eating bugs as they do so, you need to make sure that you are also providing them with access to feed that is nutritionally balanced and has the appropriate amount of protein.

 

If your chickens start losing their feathers without an explanation (such as molting), then evaluate their diet and feed that you are providing.

black soldier fly larvae backyard chicken treat

What to do:

Provide more protein!!! Start incorporating black soldier fly larvae (we sell them in the store right here – use coupon code FEATHERS to save 10%) or mealworms (use coupon code FEATHERS to save 10%) into your chickens diet – you can mix it with their feed or give it as a treat (we have lots of treats in the store with dried insects for just this reason!).

 

Plus chickens LOVE them  (like….really love them, LOL!) so they will eat it happily! If you want to raise them yourself, it’s easy to start a mealworm or black soldier fly larvae farm

 

Self-inflicted picking or picking by other chickens

One reason your chickens might lose their feathers is from picking, which is usually caused by environmental stress such as over crowding or bullying. Think of it as a reaction to anxiety.

 

Bullying among chickens CAN happen (personally, we’ve been lucky and not experienced this in our coop, but yours might have an alpha hen who picks on a more subservient hen).

 

Every coop has a social order and particularly if the flock as a whole is stressed or the “picked on” hen is new, chickens will sometimes peck the victim until she’s lost her feathers.

 

Or your chickens could also be stressed and so they begin picking feathers of other hens in the coop to deal with that stress.

 

What to do:

The simplest thing to do in this case is figure out why your chickens are stressed and try to remove the problem. If they’re over crowded (10 square feet per chicken in a coop is a good guideline), then give them more room.

 

If they’re bored, then provide environmental enrichment such as treats they have to “hunt” for, swings, branches for them to fly up to (this can also give them more room), places to hide, etc.

 

One popular idea is to put a treat such as cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, or cucumbers on a string and allow your flock to peck at it.

 

If your flock has a bully, then you can remove the bullied chicken from the coop and isolate her from the flock (give her a friend since 2 chickens together are likely to bond since they only have each other for company). You can then try to reintroduce everyone a few days later or continue to keep them separate.

 

If your chickens lose feathers still, then you should figure out if the problem is something else.

 

Broodiness

Chicken’s may also be picking their feathers due to broodiness. Some chickens get broody (i.e they really want their eggs to hatch) and so they’ll sit on their eggs for long periods of time and often pick their own feathers and lay them around their eggs for warmth.

 

If you want your hen to hatch the eggs, then let her do it, and understand she’ll stop picking her feathers after the chicks hatch.

 

If you don’t want her to hatch chicks, then break her broodiness. She should stop losing feathers because she’ll stop picking at herself.

 

Mites & Lice

Yuck. I hate lice and chicken mites, and they can definitely cause your chickens to lose feathers. Now, you might say “I don’t see any mites on my chickens” and assume the issue is something else.

 

I hear this a LOT from chicken owners trying to figure out feather loss. Even though you might not see mites on your chickens, they can still be the source of your trouble.

 

Mites are sneaky. They hide in corners of your coop and then come out at night and infest your flock. And eventually, they can cause more than feather loss – they can cause your chickens to lose the scales on their legs and eventually death as they rob your hens of nutrients.

Chicken losing feathers completely? Here's what to do!

What to do:

Even if you don’t think mites are why your chickens are losing feathers, you can still preemptively clean your coop and use herbs such as peppermint and cinnamon and diatomaceous earth to keep mites and lice away.

 

If you don’t know, diatomaceous earth is a powder that your chickens can bathe in. It has been shown in scientific studies to reduce the number of mites and lice in chickens because it’s sharp edges cut the exoskeletons of insects, causing them to die.

 

However, I highly recommend that you only use DE in well ventilated areas, and keep your flock out of the coop while you’re spreading it about (a little goes a long way)! Chickens have a very delicate respiratory system, so you want to be careful that they don’t inhale it on a regular basis.

 

If you don’t want to bother with DE, you can just use herbs. Mint repels insects, so hanging peppermint around the coop or nesting box is a great way to get rid of or prevent a mite infestation.

 

Another option is to provide garlic for your flock (we sell shelf-stable garlic granules in the store, which I’ve found hens prefer over fresh garlic). Because of the spicy nature of garlic, it repels external parasites (and it’ll help your flock’s immune system as well!)

 

Vent gleet

Another reason your chickens could be losing their feathers is vent gleet, which is a fungal infection in the vent (where your chicken expels waste and eggs) and it can cause some pretty nasty whitish/yellowish discharge along with a loss of feathers.

 

Think of it like a yeast infection. It’s gross and it’s definitely not good for your chicken!

 

What to do:

If you think your chicken has vent gleet, then the best thing to do is take her to the vet, who can give you medications or make recommendations for all natural solutions.

 

One way you can help prevent vent gleet is to ensure your chickens have good gut health! You can do this by adding some apple cider vinegar (about a tablespoon per gallon) to your chicken’s water. We sell apple cider vinegar granules in the store – they’re shelf stable and easy to add to water or feed.

 

 

Rowdy roosters 

So roosters like to mate. A LOT. It’s normal and part of a flock’s social dynamics. If you notice your hens are losing feathers on their back (and only their back) and you have a rooster, you can be pretty sure the issue is overmating.

 

This isn’t to be taken lightly – I’ve seen cases where roosters were overmating hens to the point where the hens lost not just their feathers, but the skin on their chests – which, of course, is a much bigger issue than losing feathers. 

 

In summer, this can end in a bad case of fly strike, and you might have to put your hen down if it’s bad enough.

 

Fly strike is notoriously difficult to get rid of, and treatment – which consists of picking maggots off your hen’s body and removing dead tissue – is painful and difficult, and a lot of animals simply die of shock).

 

Roosters stand on top of hens backs while they are mating and they can cut your hens or cause them to lose feathers.

 

If this happens you might need to separate the roosters from your hens to keep your girls safe. If the issue is only feather loss (and not skin loss), you can also use a chicken saddle, which will cover the bald area.

 

If you have multiple roosters and see them excessively bickering over the hens, then it’s time to either give each rooster his own flock of hens, or re-home one of the roosters.

 

If you have multiple roosters and notice one rooster is losing feathers on his back, then it’s time to separate him from his “prison buddy” if you get my drift. (Yes, this is a real thing that can happen because it’s about social dominance and their pecking order).

 

 

Got Chickens Molting? Here’s What To Do.

Got Chickens Molting? Here’s What To Do.

Molting chickens can be stressful because, well, your flock looks naked and like they’re unhealthy.

 

In fact, they can look like they’ve been to hell and back. They can look scruffy, and you might worry that they’re sick. And you might even take them to the vet! (Want more help with your chickens? Grab my bestselling ebook right here!)

When we say “chickens molting,” you might wonder what that really means. It’s a term you see thrown around on Facebook, but it can be confusing if you’re a beginner with chickens.

 

Basically, when we say “chickens molting,” we mean that your hens and roosters are losing their feathers. Don’t worry – they’ll grow new ones, and chickens molting is perfectly normal.

 

When do chickens molt?

Inconveniently, chickens tend to molt in the late fall or early winter; breeding season is over, and your flock will start to grow new feathers.

 

As your chickens get more and more “naked,” you’ll probably worry that your flock is cold (they might be and you’ll have to find a way to keep them warm).

 

Chickens start molting typically in the winter after their first year (in case you wondered “when do chickens molt for the first time? – it’s a typical question new owners ask).

 

So, how often do chickens molt?

Usually every year, although the severity of the molt (meaning how many feathers they’ll lose varies from hen to hen and the year.)

 

Your mileage will vary; while some people have chickens that look like they’ve had every feather removed, I’ve personally never had a hen lose more than a few feathers.

 

We live in an area where the winters are mild, so maybe that has something to do with it!

 

How long does molting last?

Almost universally, when I encounter a new backyard flock owner who has chickens molting, I’m asked “how long does chicken molting last?” and the answer probably won’t satisfy you.

 

Truthfully, only your chickens know how long they’ll be molting for. We’ve had it last 2 weeks and up to 6 months. Most molting seems to last 60 to 90 days, from the time the hens start to lose their feathers to completely regrowing new ones.

 

During this time, as your hens regrow their feathers, they’ll be more physically sensitive than normal. As the feathers start to peek out, this new growth is called “pin feathers.” Touching them can hurt your chickens.

 

When the feathers finish growing, though, your hens won’t be so sensitive, and you can pick them up and pet them as you normally would.

 

You might be tempted to provide a sweater or saddle for molting chickens, but it’s best to just let nature take its course. If it’s very cold out, you can find another way to keep your  flock warm.

 

Chickens molting or mites?

When your chickens start to lose their feathers, it can seem similar to a mite infestation. However, the two present differently, so using these rules of thumb, you can confidently know whether your chickens are molting or if there’s a more serious issue.

 

When chickens molt, they lose feathers in a systematic, predictable fashion: From the top of their heads, then their necks, and then on down until they lose their tail feathers.

 

If you think your problem is mites and not chickens molting, you’ll usually see feather loss around the vent, the tail, or other areas; it’s not in a predictable pattern. You’ll also notice their skin is red and irritated, and possibly flaky.

 

What should I feed a molting hen or rooster?

Your molting chickens’ diet is extremely important. To grow feathers, your flock needs lots and lots of protein. In addition to a high quality layer feed (you can get my favorite feed recipe here), you’ll want to give your chickens extra protein.

 

Mealworms (or suet cakes made with mealworms) are a good supplement. You can also feed raw, unsalted nuts, kelp, freshwater shrimp, grubs, or crickets.

 

You can mix them directly with their feed,

or offer the extra protein separately. Molting chickens also need plenty of fresh water!

Heard your backyard chickens molting can be stressful? Here's everything to support your backyard chickens beginners need to know!

5 Edibles You Can Feed Your Chickens For Great Tasting Eggs! [Podcast]

5 Edibles You Can Feed Your Chickens For Great Tasting Eggs! [Podcast]

Getting eggs is one thing….but getting GREAT eggs is an entirely different matter.

 

In this episode, we look at 5 edibles you can feed your chickens for great tasting eggs!

 

You’ll discover:

  • How to make sure your hens have an optimal diet
  • What to feed for healthy yolks
  • How to adjust the pH of their guts so they’re healthier
  • Why I don’t recommend mixing apple cider vinegar with feed

 

Links we discuss:

Manna Pro

Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock

Feeding Your Hens Right Video Course

Where to buy calendula

Apple Cider Vinegar & Chickens: A Marriage Made In Heaven Podcast

Where to buy Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar

How To Make Apple Cider Vinegar Video

Where To Buy Mealworms

 

I’d like to hear from you!

What do you feed your chickens for great tasting eggs? Leave a comment below!