Why You Should Stop Feeding Layer Feed NOW

  1. Welshies
    Layer feed. I once fed it to my flock, too. But then one day, I began to have issues, so I turned to BYC. What did I find? Enlightenment. Super cheesy, I know. But I'm here to provide you with the exact information I was given two years ago when I quit feeding layer pellets to my flock, and why you should stop feeding it to your birds NOW!
    Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 11.33.37 AM.png Pellets are a great way to reduce waste...

    What Layer Pellets (And Crumbles) Lack
    Layer pellets, shockingly, lack a lot of great nutrients that birds need in their diets. We'll go over these individually, too, and their effects.
    Layers pellets tend to lack in protein. Most layer feed has around 14-17% protein. Suitable for layers, but they sure don't thrive on that level.
    Layer pellets also lack in animal proteins- important, because chickens are omnivores. Vegetarian diets work, but they aren't the best for chickens. Layer pellets also lack diversity- meaning they can only be used for one type of bird- a laying hen.
    Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 11.37.36 AM.png Eggs are the hallmark of most backyard flocks.

    Layer Feed Protein
    Laying chickens do lay on 14-17% protein levels. However, they don't thrive. Most layer pellets have around 16% protein- not formulated for increased egg size. Hens fed with higher protein levels (around 20 and 22%) often lay bigger eggs, over a long period of time. Young hens fed with high protein diets tend to lay more eggs, only to become bigger eggs later on. A higher protein diet in growing birds also directly results in their mature body weight, and it is commonly known that a big hen=big eggs;). The effects of protein on laying hens have been studied, and it has been proven that hens do best on 20% protein. Unfortunately, this is something layer pellets often lack.
    Birds that require higher levels of protein to lay well, like Leghorns and Easter Eggers, do much better on a 20 or 22% diet, whereas when fed layer pellets, they often don't lay as well, or as young. Layer pellets are formulated for a controlled, battery-type cage setup for laying hens, where there are no cockerels or roosters involved. Hens that sit in a cage all day require less protein than a chicken running around would, so unfortunately, layer pellets lack what backyard flocks- us- need.

    Layer Feed Protein Sources
    Layer feeds are almost always vegetarian. Of course, a lot of feeds are today, but the issue with this is that vegetarian feeds were formulated for "organic" or "humane" egg produce. People no longer bought eggs with animal proteins, believing it was some cruel, inhumane way to provide protein. So, in order to increase profit, egg companies started dishing out vegetarian layer pellets with vegetarian protein sources-allowing vegetarians to eat the eggs, but also omnivorous people. This may have been what people wanted, but chickens are actually omnivores, so animal-sourced protein is worth looking into for your backyard flock. Animal sources of protein also provide the amino acids that chickens (and people) need, whereas vegetable sources of protein must be supplemented... another thing worth considering.

    Layer Feed Calcium
    One thing layer feed does not lack is calcium. However, I'm throwing this under the "lacking" category, because it is not something chickens need. Layer feed is designed for laying-hens, not non-laying birds. In a backyard flock, where we often have roosters and chicks, or keep older, non laying hens, feeding layer pellets can actually be very dangerous. We'll go over these effects soon, but this is definitely something you want to pay attention to- which is why I'm listing it twice.
    Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 11.54.36 AM.png

    Do you want to kill off these cute little chicks? No? Keep reading...

    The Effects Of Feeding Layer Pellets To Birds Younger Then Laying Age
    Backyard flocks generally have a lot of mixed ages. Many of us have roosters and chicks, along with laying hens. Chicks are cute and fluffy, that's one thing we know for sure.:jumpy
    However, if they get ahold of those layer pellets, they can actually suffer severely for it- and so can you.
    Delayed development happens a lot, something most of us don't want to deal with. When a chicken doesn't lay for 10 or 20 months after it reaches laying age, those on a budget suffer. Most layer pellet packages say to begin feeding at 16 weeks of age- laying age... but, there's a catch.
    Many breeds aren't ready to lay at 16 weeks of age. Some don't mature until 36 weeks! When you start feeding layer pellets to non-laying-ready birds, it causes severe delays in maturity. The lack of suitable protein also can cause breeds like Leghorns and Easter Eggers to experience a delay in maturity.
    Kidney or liver failure can happen in chicks that have been fed layer pellets. Layer pellets are high in calcium, which laying hens need. However, calcium is toxic in high amounts in non-laying birds. Chicks who are not laying, who get a bite of those layer pellets (or crumbles), risk overdose, and death.
    Growth problems are another issue that can arise when fed layer pellets. This is not specific to only layer pellets, though. This issue is directly related to protein levels. Young, growing birds need a specific amount of protein. Those not fed enough can have small maturity weight, growing issues, etc.
    Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 12.12.38 PM.png

    The Effects of Feeding Layer Feed to Adult Non-Laying Birds
    Adults that aren't laying in a backyard flock often get fed layer pellets, due to being lumped together with the others. However, non-laying birds can include roosters, non-laying pullets and cockerels, non-laying hens, molting hens, and old hens no longer laying. Feeding layer pellets to these birds can be harmful.
    Feeding layer pellets to mature non-layers can cause calcium overdose, liver or kidney failure, or other issues related to a lack of protein (but, we won't go over that here- that's another topic;)).
    Kidney damage is becoming more and more common in backyard flocks, even in laying hens that are meant for the layer pellets. Why? Well, layer pellets are formulated for commercial breeds that big companies use to produce lots of eggs. However, backyard flocks are generally made up of a variety of breeds, or heritage breeds, which lay less eggs compared to commercial breeds like Leghorns.
    Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 12.22.25 PM.png

    What To Do Now
    Hopefully, once you've read this, you can decide what feed is right for your chickens. For most backyard flocks, layer feed is totally unnecessary. Our birds are pets, so we typically don't lock them up in battery cages to lay every day.
    What can you feed instead?
    I feed a 20% unmedicated grower feed to my entire flock. It's a one-size fits all feed, because it is suitable for growing chicks, too.
    You can feed any feed that has 18%, 20% or 22% protein levels, or anything in between 18 and 22. Be cautious of feeding too much protein, though, because it has adverse effects, in both people and chickens!
    The best feeds to decide on are grower, maintenance feeds, or all flock feed, or Flock raiser. You could also consider mixing your own feed.
    Make sure that when your flock has laying hens, to provide oyster-shell free choice on the side. Always provide insoluble grit free choice on the side, and make sure treats (yes, that includes meat, veggie, and other scraps) don't make up more than 10% of the total diet.
    Best of luck with your flock, reader! :)

    Sources from articles, Backyard Chicken posts, etc. Linked posts and images credit goes to owner.

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  1. RoostersAreAwesome
  2. 3riverschick
    Amazing Rachael,
    I like the way you think.
      Jnkmoultonr1 likes this.
  3. AmazingRachel
    "Layer feed. I once fed it to my flock, too. But then one day, I began to have issues,"
    Ok, well what "issues" were you having and how could you have been so sure that it was because of the feed?

    Your thing on protein:
    Can you please link where you found the info that said that chicken feed lacks a lot of nutrients. You only seem to address protein, calcium, and nutrients from animal products. But you don't go into detail about any other nutrients. Also, the page you linked for protein/egg size, you left out where it says "After the flock has reached maximum egg production, high protein diets no longer promote large increases in egg size." Meaning that after a year of egg production, the high protein aspect of the feed no longer matters. Next, the thing you said with "big hen = big eggs", not always so. My Sapphire lays larger eggs than my 7 pound Barred Rock and Cornish Crosses (not layers, I know) lay small eggs despite their size. So saying that there is a direct correlation is false. The other study you linked, that you state that "it has been proven that hens do best on 20% protein" is not a study to be held at the caliber of a proven scientific fact. It is a small study using individuals, not groups, over the course of about 1.5 years (~1 year of laying). The study does not acknowledge egg sizes after the chickens' maximum egg production. You say that layer feed is produced for layers in battery cages and does not account for exercise. While this seems kind of plausible, I haven't found any research addressing this as an issue in small flocks (ex.), unless you have a source. Another thing, you fail to address the risk of obesity.

    On animal protein:
    I do kind of agree with you there, except for the fact that vitamin B12 (vitamin found in animal products, vital for omnivore nutrition) along with many of the associated animal-based amino acids are added to chicken feed so there is no deficiencies of that nature. But maybe there are some nutrients that nutritionists don't account for.

    Feeding calcium supplemented feed is vital for chicken health as well as production. If a hen exhausted her calcium stores, she will lay soft shelled eggs, suffer from vitamin D deficiency, have fragile bones, and she could even die. There is a similar ailment in dairy cows where they exhaust their calcium stores called milk fever and it's fatal if calcium is not given through IV, just for some comparison. Feeding most layer feeds to roosters and non-laying adults is not dangerous because they can handle the low levels of calcium fine. However, you should check with the feed company just to be sure. I know that Purina’s Layena can be fed to roosters without issues. I don’t see how this would apply to chicks. You usually keep them seperate from the adult flock and most people know that layer feed is dangerous to chicks and immature pullets. Also, I agree that you shouldn’t feed layer feed to molting hens since they aren’t supposed to lay and a higher protein feed will help regrow feathers faster. As for causing organ failure, you would need a much higher amount of calcium that what is currently found in layer feeds to cause that type of damage in adults. Feed companies show you the guaranteed feed analysis on the bag showing the minimum and maximum percentage of calcium in order to show that it is not dangerous or a crap shoot.

    In conclusion, I would say that your article is factually mostly ok if the title were “Why to hold off on layer feed for pullets” and you focused on that in relation to egg size. But saying “For most backyard flocks, layer feed is totally unnecessary.” is wrong and can lead to chickens developing serious nutritional deficiencies that could have easily have been solved with the recommended balanced feed. Qualified poultry nutritionists have formulated chicken feed for several decades. People with years of training and have written about and researched the topic extensively. To become a specialized poultry nutritionist to work at a large farm or company, one would typically need a BS, Masters and/or a PhD. These are the people who formulate the feed and say how to feed it accordingly based on scientific data collected and by conclusions drawn by years of expertise.
  4. 3riverschick
    I feed my Dual Purpose Heritage Light Sussex Naturewise Meatbird. it is good from hatch through the rest of their life. they do great on it .
  5. judevie
    Great info, thank you!
    I had no idea, and have been feeding layer. I will be switching tomorrow. I actually have 2 pullets at 36 weeks that haven't started laying...
      Welshies likes this.
  6. ChickNanny13
    Great article, I switched from layer to Flock Raiser with Oyster Shells & Grit is separate dishes a year ago. No regrets & I ferment :)
  7. BlueBaby
    Good info!
      Welshies and VHoff like this.

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