Chickens consume much more than just calories when they feed their chickens; their feed provides essential vitamins and nutrients essential to the health of their eggs.
Diet of a chicken depends on their age and stage in development; whether molting occurs, or they begin laying. Most backyard flocks start with chick starter and grower feed before switching over to layer feed once they begin laying eggs.
As one may imagine, chickens require an abundance of protein – more than half their bodyweight to be precise! Chickens depend on it for growth and feather development purposes as well as to produce strong-shelled eggs without defects that compromise their integrity or taste.
Layer feed contains high protein concentrations (16-18%) and calcium levels that meet their special dietary needs, making this the optimal food choice for mature hens who have begun laying. Chicks or pullets should instead receive starter and grower food until they begin laying.
Hens can also be fed a mix of layer and starter feeds when they reach an appropriate age, provided they have access to free-choice grit and oyster shell to supplement their diets. A separate feeder should be set aside for each age group and sufficient grit must be present in both feeds to avoid too much phosphorus consumption, which interferes with calcium absorption.
Chickens need a diet rich in calcium to produce hard, strong eggshells. While protein requirements for egg formation peak early each day, their calcium intake remains minimal at this time as its absorption from feed has already peaked as well as release from stored reserves in their bones.
Hens that consume too little calcium deplete their bone reserves and may experience leg issues and soft, cracked eggs. Supplementing their diets with shell grit helps minimize these issues.
As soon as baby chicks become teenagers (pullets) and start laying, they need to switch over to a layer diet with higher calcium content than their former grower feed diet. A hen eating a layer diet containing 4% calcium will receive 2.75 grams daily from its feed source – supplementing that amount with coarse-grained oyster shell supplements can meet increased requirements during the laying season, and help minimize waste and expense caused by their flock overeating protein.
Vitamins & Minerals
Chickens require an assortment of vitamins and minerals in their diet in order to remain healthy and produce high quality eggs, such as those found in complete layer feed as well as additional sources such as oyster shells, grit, scratch grains and oyster grit. Furthermore, calcium supplementation along with other minerals like phosphorus, potassium magnesium salt selenium must also be provided as part of an ideal chicken care program.
Studies have demonstrated that adding vitamin powder to poultry rations and drinking water reduces mortality, increases egg weight and quality (EGS and EST), and strengthens eggshell strength.
Birds cannot store fat-soluble vitamins, so they need to get them through their diet each day. Unfortunately, small variations can prevent birds from absorbing all necessary nutrients, leading to deficiencies. Even without visible symptoms appearing, deficiencies of vitamins and minerals can have serious repercussions for flock health.
Anytime you visit a feed store, you are sure to find bags of grit and oyster shell near the chicken feed. What exactly are these products used for? Watch this clip from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart for all the answers.
Grit is an essential dietary supplement for all laying chickens. It helps the gizzard break down food while providing slow-release calcium to maintain strong egg shells, making up one of the components necessary for their success. Without enough calcium in their diets, their stores could become depleted leading to weak or thin shells as well as compromised skeletal systems and eggshell fragility.
At the point of lay, it is highly advised to offer free-choice grit as part of their feed – including oyster shell for extra calcium dietary supplement. Dolomite limestone competes with calcium absorption sites and could result in deficiency symptoms in your flock.