Nutrition and Formulating Feed for the Layer Flock
Nutrition and feed are very important factors in ensuring the good performance of hens. Make sure you provide the flock with proper feeds and nutrients to get quality eggs during harvest.
Feed newly hatched chicks a starter diet until they are about six weeks old. Starter diets are formulated to give proper nutrition to fast growing baby chickens. These feeds usually contain between 18% and 20% protein.
It is not necessary to feed “meat bird starter” to young layer chickens. Diets formulated for starting meat chickens are higher in protein (22% to maximize growth, which is not necessary or desirable for egg laying chickens and is higher in cost. Once the birds reach about six weeks of age, substitute a grower feed for the starter. Grower feeds are about 15% or 16% protein and are formulated to sustain good growth to maturity.
After about 14 weeks of age, you can substitute the grower feed with developer feeds if they are available. These feeds are lower in protein than grower feeds (14% to 15%) and are formulated to prepare young chickens for egg production. Remember, these two feed types are virtually interchangeable; either one can be fed to chickens between six weeks of age and the beginning of egg production.
Once your chickens begin laying eggs, you can choose between layer and breeder feeds. Your choice of feed at this stage depends on how the eggs will be used.
Layer feeds are formulated for chickens that are laying table eggs (those used for food). Layer feeds contain about 16% protein and extra calcium so the chickens will lay eggs with strong shells. Start feeding layer feeds at about 20 weeks of age or when the first egg is laid, whichever occurs first.
Breeder feeds are formulated for chickens that are producing eggs for hatching. These feeds basically are layer feeds containing slightly more protein and fortified with extra vitamins for proper chick development and hatching. However, use
of breeder feeds is somewhat questionable for the small flock producer, since the increased cost may not be justified by the potentially slight increase in hatchability.
What we feed our chickens is very important. Chickens use feed for two main purposes: as an energy source to maintain body temperature and to carry on activities such as breathing, walking, eating and digesting the feed and as building material for the development of bone, flesh, feathers and eggs. The feed that chickens eat is made up of water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals and vitamins. Each nutrient serves a special need.
Carbohydrates make up the biggest share of the poultry diet. In the form of starches or simple sugars, that are needed for body maintenance and
energy. Important sources of carbohydrates in poultry feeds are corn, milo and various other grains.
Proteins are complex compounds made up of amino acids. Feed proteins are broken down into amino acids by digestion and converted into boy proteins. Body proteins are used in the construction of body tissue. Tissues that mainly consist of protein are muscles, nerves, cartilage, skin, feathers and beak. The albumin (white) of the egg is also high in protein.
The mineral portion of the feed is inorganic matter. Minerals, especially calcium and phosphorus, help build bones and make them strong and rigid. Laying hens also require minerals for eggshell formation.
Grains are low in minerals, so supplements are necessary. Calcium, phosphorus and salt are needed in the greatest amounts. Bone meal and
defluorinated and dicalcium phosphates supply additional calcium and phosphorus. Ground limestone and oyster shell are good calcium sources. Trace levels of iodine, iron, manganese and zinc are also included in mineral supplements.
Vitamins occur in feeds in small amounts, but they are absolutely necessary for growth, reproduction and the maintenance of health. They occur in feedstuffs in varying quantities and in different combinations. Vitamin A is necessary for the health and proper functioning of the skin and lining of the digestive, reproductive and respiratory tracts. Vitamin D plays an important role in bone formation and the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. The B vitamins are involved in energy metabolism and in many other metabolic functions.
The correct formulation of feed depends upon local conditions. It requires knowledge of the relationship between energy content of the feed and the amount of feed consumed daily. With correct formulation the latter will contain the correct daily allowance of protein, vitamins and minerals. Some vitamin supplementation can be done via the water and a continuous level of vitamin supplementation is virtually essential during all period of heat stress.
Water is the single most important nutrient that chickens consume. Therefore, it is necessary to provide adequate amounts of clean, fresh water daily during growth and egg production. Birds will drink between two and three times as much water by weight as they eat in feed. Their consumption of water increases in warm weather.
Sanitation and Waste Management
Maintain only a very shallow layer of litter on concrete floors. This will maximize any cooling effect which the concrete floor may have on the birds through absorption of body heat. Dry, dusty litter can cause severe irritation and damage to the eyes of chickens. Avoid dustiness by sprinkling water generously on litter at regular intervals. This spraying can, during extremely hot, dry spells, be advantageously extended to the birds themselves and the feed.
Vaccinations and Control of Common Pests and Diseases
Many bird diseases can be difficult to diagnose. The list below includes some of the things to look for that signal something might be wrong with your birds. Early detection of signs is very important to prevent the spread of disease.
Watch out for the following signs of disease:
- Sudden increase in bird deaths in your flock
- Sneezing, gasping for air, coughing, and nasal discharge
- Watery and green diarrhea
- Lack of energy and poor appetite
- Drop in egg production or soft- or thin-shelled misshapen eggs
- Swelling around the eyes, neck, and head
- Purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs (AI)
- Tremors, drooping wings, circling, twisting of the head and neck, or lack of movement.
Proper handling of vaccines should be practiced. The quality of a vaccine cannot be guaranteed if the product is mishandled or improperly used after it leaves the manufacturing plant. All vaccines are labeled with instructions for use and dates of expiration.
Author: Carmela Abaygar, Marid Digest