Making the Switch: Chick Feed to Layer Ration

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

It’s always a big event when your chickens start to lay! You and your birds put so much hard work and dedication into that moment, and the feed you give your birds is an important part of that first egg, too.  As your birds mature from fuzzy chicks into fully feathered adults, their nutritional needs change. The chick starter/grower they were eating now needs to be replaced with layer ration. How can you support this transition and help them live their best lives as laying hens? 

As your chicks become young adults, their dietary needs change.

Why do I need to switch?

The feed switch from chick starter/grower is critical for the health of your growing birds. So how do the needs of chicks and laying hens differ, and what are the differences between chick starter/grower and layer ration? The short answer is that chicks need feed that supports healthy growth, and hens need feed that supports healthy egg laying.

In their first months of life, chicks’ bodies experience a lot of changes. They need a feed focused on muscle and skeletal growth. Because chicks develop so quickly, their feed requires higher protein, more amino acids, and higher phosphorus levels to support growth. Giving chicks layer ration too soon can cause kidney or liver damage and growth problems.

Layers, on the other hand, need feed that supports egg production. Hens put lots of nutrients into eggs, and the vitamins and minerals that form the shell and its contents come from the hen’s diet. In addition, minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus are important for powering  muscles to lay the egg. Adult laying hens also need higher levels of Vitamin D3 to support calcium absorption.

 

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Either way, you should start with a good layer ration!

When should I switch?

Now that you know the why of switching from chick starter/grower to layer ration, let’s look at when. Most breeds start laying between 20 and 24 weeks of age. It’s important to start providing your hens with a quality layer feed before they begin laying. To prime your hen’s bodies for producing great eggs in the healthiest way possible, you should begin the switch to layer ration at around 16 weeks.

How do I make the transition easy?

Chickens are creatures of habit who like routines and continuity. Because chickens like things to be the same, it’s important to maintain consistency in nutrition. The best way to make a diet transition is to introduce the new food gradually. If you attempt to switch too quickly, you may see the following effects:

  • Digestive upset: A new diet may cause intestinal distress. Signs include a change in the color and consistency of droppings: they may be darker or lighter, or drier or runnier. During a diet change, feeding too many treats also can cause digestive upset and affect the overall health of your birds.
  • Refusal to eat: Chickens like things to be the same. It’s part of being a prey species. Their need for consistency includes their environment, flock mates, feeding times — and their diet. If you switch out a food all at once, they may not recognize the new feed and may stop eating altogether!
  • Overall health decline: Birds who are not happy with their new feed may experience health effects or fail to thrive. They might eat less, thereby getting fewer nutrients. If they free range, they may eat too many things that do not contain the right nutrients, and their bodies will not be ready for the transition to laying.

Now that you know the importance of a gradual transition, you can keep in mind the following to help you transition from one feed to another.  

  • Taste and smell: Formulated feeds from different companies have different ingredients, and it may be easier to stay with one brand, rather than switching brands. For example, Nutrena’s new improved NatureWise line includes essential oils that improve the taste and smell of the feed. If you start your birds on NatureWise Chick Starter Grower, they may move more easily to NatureWise Layer Feed.
  • Visual appearance: The shape of the feed is important, too. Birds are very visual creatures, so they will move more easily to a new feed that looks familiar. Most chick feeds are crumbles, so your birds likely will transition more easily to a feed in crumble form, rather than to a pellet.
  • Nutritional quality: You also want to make sure the new feed is nutritionally similar to or better than your chick feed. If you are feeding a high-quality chick feed, you should seek to maintain the same level of quality in your layer feed. Or better yet, find a layer feed that offers more and better nutrition. A shift to a lower-quality diet could affect the health of your birds at a critical time in their lives.

 

It’s important to transition to a layer ration that is similar to the chick starter you have been feeding. The similarity in texture and nutrients between Nutrena NatureWise Chick Starter Grower (left) and NatureWise Layer Crumble (right) can help your birds make the switch.

What are best practices for switching from chick diet to layer feed?

So how do you switch you birds from chick starter/grower to layer ration? The following are some tips that will help make the transition as easy as possible. You should always start by reading and following the instructions on the manufacturer’s label. Nutrena recommends starting the transition at 16 weeks, and your birds should have made the transition by 18 to 20 weeks. Your chickens may be just fine with this transition, but just in case, we recommend the following protocol.

  • Transition slowly: Mix 25% layer feed with 75% starter/grower feed for a week. Then change to 50% layer feed and 50% starter/grower feed, again for a week. Next, provide 75% layer feed and 25% starter/grower feed for a week. And then finally provide only layer feed.
  • Observe your birds: Monitor the birds closely. Check their crops, watch them eat, and check the feed levels to make sure they are eating. If they are not fed too many treats, layer hens should self-regulate their diet, eating about a quarter pound (1/2 cup) of food per bird per day. You may also want to weigh them every few days. You will need to adjust if there is any sign of weight loss.
  • Slow down the transition: If they stop eating or start losing weight, return to the previous percentages of new and old feed and continue for a few more days. Then try to increase the percentage, and continue increasing, but at a slower rate.
  • Observe nutritional needs: The layer feed should provide about 90% of your hens’ diet. Limit scratch and treats to no more than 10% of their diet. Feeding too many treats reduces the amount of nutrition your birds get from their feed. Limit treats to every few days, and then feed only about 2 tablespoons.
  • Be consistent: Your chickens need consistency, so provide them with fresh food and water at the same time each day, preferably morning and afternoon. They should have both feed and water available at all times.
  • Offer extras: Provide grit — small pieces of granite or other stones — to help them grind up their feed. Also offer oyster shell or limestone, which is slow-release calcium, as opposed to the calcium in their feed, which is absorbed quickly by the body. These supplements should be provided free choice, in separate dishes from the feed, and available at all times. The birds are self-regulating and will eat as much grit and oyster shell/limestone as they need.
  • Remember water: Fresh water is important to proper egg formation; eggs are mostly water. Make sure your birds have water at all times, even during the winter.
It’s important to observe your birds’ eating habits when you start a new feed.

How do I choose a layer ration?

How do you select a layer ration for your birds? First, think about your expectations for your birds and find a feed that will fit those needs. You have a number of options, from bare-minimum feeds that offer very basic nutrition to feeds that are finely crafted for top performance.

Pullets like this one need optimal nutrition to get their bodies in shape for laying.

For backyard flock owners, the goal is usually eggs. If this is your goal, choose a layer diet that will support your pullets as they make the transition to layers and prepare them to live healthy, productive lives. At the very least look for the minimum requirements of layer feed — 16% protein, 0.70% lysine, 0.30% methionine, 3.0% calcium, and 0.40% phosphorus.

Some premium feeds provide additional ingredients for optimal flock performance. For example, in addition to providing a solid nutritional foundation, Nutrena NatureWise includes the following:

  • Pre/probiotics support good bacteria, prevent colonization of bad bacteria, and aid with absorption of nutrients.
  • Yeast culture supports the immune system and gut microflora.
  • Essential oils are plant extracts that provide several benefits:
    • Provide nutrition to support healthy immunity
    • Maximize egg production
    • Support healthy digestion
    • Encourage healthy growth/bone formation
    • Enable superior eggshell strength
    • Enhance feed taste and freshness
  • Vitamin D3, an important vitamin related to calcium absorption, has the following roles:
    • Helps body absorb and use calcium
    • Improves hardness of eggshells
    • Supports stronger bones
    • Contributes to eggs that contain 37% more D3 than eggs from chickens fed a standard diet
  • Tagetes meal (Aztec marigold) helps the hens produce golden egg yolks.
  • Yucca schidigera extract reduces the amount of ammonia in your hens’ droppings, which minimizes coop odor.

 

Feeding Chickens in the Winter

If you are new to chickens or even an experienced chicken owner, understanding winter feeding can mean the difference between your flock surviving winter or losing some of your feathered friends. To learn more, listen in as Twain Lockhart, Nutrena Poultry Expert gives a rundown of the dos and don’ts of feeding chickens during winter.

Coop Odors: The Stinky Truth and How Nutrition can Help

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

Sometimes your coop can get a little smelly, which can be a little embarrassing. What’s the scoop on coop odors, and how can you help your hens live their best lives by reducing odors in their home?

Causes of Coop Odors

Although chicken poop can be stinky, the most likely culprit for coop odors is the colorless gas ammonia. A combination of hydrogen and nitrogen, ammonia has a sharp, pungent smell, similar to vinegar.

Chickens that are exposed to this gas can develop permanent damage to lungs and eyes and will avoid the coop if levels are too high. Ammonia can cause damage at very low concentrations, which are below the level that the human nose can detect. So, if your coop smells like ammonia, clean it immediately!

Fixing a Stinky Coop

While cleaning is a quick solution, there are several longer-lasting measures you can take to eliminate odors and make your coop a more pleasant place for you and your birds.

Eliminate Moisture

A dry coop will lead to happy, healthy hens. Moisture in the coop not only can contribute to ammonia odors, but also lead to conditions that favor parasites and bacteria. To keep moisture low, use the following tips: 

Hens on a Henhouse Ladder

  • Every few days check for and replace damp bedding. 
  • If you use the deep litter method, clean out the upper layers several times a year, keeping the lower layer, which contains helpful microbes that break down bedding and waste.
  • Repair any leaks in the roof of your coop immediately.
  • Turn the litter if your chickens don’t do so on their own.
  • Add high-carbon materials that don’t pack easily (e.g., kiln-dried wood shavings), ground dolomitic limestone, or products containing zeolite.
  • Provide good ventilation. An air-tight coop might sound like a good idea, but air circulation will help dry out litter and prevent odors. 

Choose Feed Wisely

Your choice of feed can also reduce coop odors. Odor can be caused by waste protein from undigested feed. You can combat these smells by choosing feeds with the following plant extracts and essential oils:

  • Saponins: Additives called saponins, which include yucca, reduce ammonia production in a chicken’s body. As a result, they can increase the bird’s nutrient absorption and reduce the amount of proteins your chickens excrete.
  • Phytogens: Yucca is also a phytogen, one of a number of plant-based compounds that are increasingly being used in animal feeds. Other phytogens include essential oils, herbs, and spices. These compounds work with yucca to reduce waste protein by increasing digestibility, balancing gut microflora, and reducing gut inflammation, again contributing to better use of feed.
  • Proteins: You can also choose feeds that are more easily digestible, such as processed feeds available in pellets or crumbles, rather than whole grains blends. Feeds that are lower in crude protein can also help reduce odors; however, remember that your laying hens need 16% crude protein to stay healthy.

Choose NatureWise to Help Combat Coop Odors!

Nutrena NatureWise feeds can be part of your efforts to combat coop odors. NatureWise uses all-natural ingredients: essential oils, spices, bitter substances, and saponins that

  • support healthy enzyme production,
  • promote crude protein and nutrient absorption, and 
  • aid in the control of ammonia odor.

Remember that if you make a change to a new feed, switch slowly from your current feed to ease the transition, and help your birds feel more comfortable with the change.

Learn more about NatureWise Feeds

Amino Acids: Helping Your Flock Through Molt

Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

You may have seen the words amino acids on labels of human dietary supplements that claim to build healthy muscle, lower blood sugar, or improve skin condition. What are amino acids, and why are they also important for your chickens?

What are Amino Acids?

You may remember from science class that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.chicken in molt They consist of about 20 different organic compounds that combine in chains to form complex proteins. These proteins, in turn, perform essential roles in living things. They form the cells of our bodies, transport materials to and from cells, help us move, protect us from disease, and determine the activity of our genes. Proteins and amino acids are essential to life itself.

There are two kinds of amino acids:

    • Nonessential amino acids are produced by the body and do not need to be part of the diet.
    • Essential amino acids, however, cannot be made by the body and have to come from food. These amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.

Of the essential amino acids, lysine and methionine play a vital role in feather growth. We’ll be looking at those in detail later.

Importance of Amino Acids During Molt

Chickens will generally begin to molt, or lose and regrow their feathers, in the fall. This is a natural process that begins after a chicken reaches the age of about 18 months. Old feathers drop out, new feathers grow in, and the whole process usually takes anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months. Molting allows chickens to replenish worn-out feathers and ensure they have a warm, protective coat before the cold weather comes. During this time, egg laying will slow down or cease altogether.

Chicken feathers are about 85% protein, so chickens need extra protein in their diet during this time to support healthy feather regrowth. Because amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, it is important to ensure your birds receive the right amino acids in their feed.

Amino Acids in Feeds

Your birds need a high-quality diet with sufficient proteins (16% to 18%) and amino acidsbrown molting chicken during molt. During the molt, you should eliminate scratch grains from their diet; this provides primarily calories with limited nutritional value.

The bulk of the necessary amino acids in feeds come from the protein in the feed; however, a quality feed will contain two additional essential amino acids.

  • Lysine: The amino acid lysine is vital for overall growth, optimal digestion and use of feed, and balanced nutrition.
  • Methionine: Methionine is necessary for the development of the digestive tract, overall growth, feather development, and immune system performance.

NOTE: It is possible to have too much lysine/methionine in poultry diets, which leads the birds to eat less. Choose a commercial feed that is balanced to meet your flock’s needs.

Healthy Skin Helps Feather Regrowth

The health of a chicken’s skin also affects feather regrowth. Feather Fixer provides a combination of increased protein and fat levels along with chelated trace minerals to keep the skin healthy.

As soon as your birds show signs of molting, switch them to a commercial feed like Naturewise® Feather Fixer, formulated specifically for feather regrowth, to ensure they receive the amino acids and other nutrients they need to support healthy feather regrowth and get them back to laying.

As you consider your feed choices, think about amino acids and the needs of your birds. Naturewise® Layer and Feather Fixer provide all the nutrients your chickens require to live their best lives with optimal health, whether or not they are molting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Feeds: They’re not all the same.

Did you know that a quality chicken feed is more than just grains, vitamins, and minerals? While these ingredients are necessary, they are only part of a diet that helps your birds live their best life. Quality, higher-technology feeds include beneficial microflora, which are gut-friendly organisms such as bacteria and yeast. These tiny living things populate the chicks’ digestive systems, aid in digestion, and strengthen the chicken’s immune system.

Let’s at look some of these added extras that contribute to a chicken’s digestive health. Then you’ll know what to look for when you’re looking for your next feed.   

Fungal Components

The next time you look at a feed label, check for the words yeast culture. Also called fermentation metabolites, this additive is composed of compounds produced by fermentation of dietary yeast, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae (sak-uh-roh-MY-seez sehr-uh-VEE-see-eye). When fermented inside a chicken’s gut, yeast culture has the following functions:

    • Supports the immune system and gut microflora
    • Contributes to the health and strength of intestinal tissues
    • Produces compounds that latch on to bad bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella and prevent them from attaching to the cells of the digestive tract

Another fungal product involves the fermentation of Trichoderma reesei (trih-kuh-DER-muh REE-see-eye). This feed component is an enzyme source, and the compounds it produces help break down carbohydrates to make nutrients more available to the chicken.

Probiotics

You’ve seen probiotics intended for humans, but did you know that probiotics are also helpful for your chickens? Probiotics are live microorganisms that result from fermentation and aid in digestion. Around 70 percent of the bacteria in a chicken’s digestive tract is Lactobacillus strains. They support the existence of beneficial bacteria, and some protect against bad bacteria. Many of these microorganisms are found in several places in the digestive tract. Look for these probiotics on feed labels:

    • Lactobacillus acidophilus (LAK-toh-buh-SI-luhs a-suh-DAH-fuh-luhs): Helps ferment carbohydrates, produces chemicals that support growth, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
    • Lactobacillus casei (LAK-toh-buh-SI-luhs KAY-see-eye): Helps ferment carbohydrates, reduces colonization of bad bacteria, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms
    • Bifidobacterium thermophilum (bye-fih-DOH-bak-TEER-ee-um ther-muh-FIH-lum): Helps ferment carbohydrates, benefits immune system
    • Enterococcus faecium (en-tuh-row-KAW-kuhs FEE-see-um): Helps ferment carbohydrates, reduces impact of harmful microorganisms

When probiotics form part of the chicken’s microflora, they support the immune system and reduce disease. They also help the gut better absorb nutrients and can prevent or cure diarrhea.

Prebiotics

The prefix pre means “before,” and prebiotics pave the way for probiotics to do their job. They serve as food for good bacteria, supporting growth and strengthening the chicken’s ability to resist bad bacteria. When they are fermented by a chicken’s body, they create compounds that stop the growth of harmful bacteria and keep them from sticking to the intestinal walls.

Prebiotics cannot be broken down and absorbed by the digestive system. After the chicken eats prebiotic material, some remains in the crop. However, most prebiotics travel into the lower parts of the digestive tract, including the ceca. Here they aid in fermentation and balance the acidity of the ceca for optimal health.

Some of these prebiotics might appear on the feed label, or you can supplement your chickens’ diet with these common sources of prebiotics:

    • Flaxseed
    • Barley
    • Berries
    • Dandelion greens
    • Kelp
    • Garlic
    • Honey
    • Wheat bran
    • Yams
    • Lentils

While technically not a prebiotic, yeast culture has properties that can be included in the prebiotic category. It assists with nutrient absorption and digestion and produces compounds that can improve growth and enhance the immune system.

What to Look for on the Label

The next time you buy feed, read the label closely. There are two main sections to every feed label:

    • Guaranteed analysis lists the percentages of ingredients that the feed is certified to contain.
    • Ingredients includes everything that is found in the feed.

Look for probiotics, such as Lactobacillus strains, in the Guaranteed Analysis and Ingredients. The fungal products will appear in the Ingredients section only.

The next time you choose a commercially formulated feed for your flock, remember to look for yeast culture, prebiotics, and probiotics. These important ingredients will give your chickens some extra love and help them live their best lives.

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