Dodging and weaving to feed the flock, is this going to be ok?

TheFatBlueCat

Crowing
Oct 16, 2021
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Hi knowledgeable team of fellow chicken nerds.
I have been happily and successfully feeding my mixed flock with a combination of good quality local grain/peas, pullet grower feed (15% protein) and meat meal and seaweed to round out the edges (plus free choice calcium of course). HOWEVER I am being hit with some supply issues, shipping delays, and massive shipping cost increases so I am having to rethink what I'm doing.
I have now moved to a 50/50 blend of layer pellets (17% protein) and meat bird crumbles (20% protein). The meat bird crumble may have to be substituted for grower feed (16% protein) once I have finished growing on my current batch of chicks as it is very pricey.
My concern is force-feeding too much calcium to my rooster and young birds from the layer feed, which is why I am feeding it at 50/50. Is 50/50 going to be alright for the calcium issue. I can't actually see a calcium percentage on this new feed but it is usually 4% on layer feed and 1% on meat bird and grower.
The chicks have all the time free range and the adult birds have 2-3 hours per day of free range, with a good amount of pasture forage available to them.
All-flock is not really available here, although I figure pullet grower is about the same.
 
I doubt it. I have fed my roosters layer pellets, and personally never had an issue (although I know those who swear you will have troubles).

In a pinch, I've also fed younger chicks layer pellets, and again, never had an issue (although again, that isn't ideal).

So in a pinch, I doubt it will matter. Now the long haul might eventually show up some issues, but then again, I've seen my roosters eat the oyster shell too. LOL.

LofMc
 
Its a matter of statistics. Calcium toxicity is a progressive pathology. Its effects are greatest in developing chicks, but it can absolutely harm older birds. Like so much else, the science is clear, but observational judgements "my birds are fine" (see above) lack a control against which to judge. Typically, those effects are in reduced feed conversion, increased rates of gout and other joint problems, reduced liver function (and quality at butcher), small reductions in maximal weight.

For reasons of cost, I mix layer and a much lower calcium (albeit higher protein) ration to end up with a final mix between 2.4 and 2.8% calcium, which all my adult flock gets. By one year of age+, the effects on my roosters are obvious at time of butcher. I can see it in their livers, knowing what to look for. Sometimes, there are external signs in the knees, albeit mild.

That said, I protect my youngest birds from the worst of the effects by not mixing in the layer for their first 8-9 weeks of life, when they are most sensitive to excess calcium. I butcher and eat most of my roos before 20 weeks, when the effects (of just 12 weeks or so of high calcium meal introduced post major growth) are minimal and almost entirely (or completely) undetectible visually.

TL;DR? YES. It absolutely is bad for your Roos. and your non-layers. NO, the effects are not immediately obvious. YES, there are reasonable steps and management methods you can use to control risk.

Having read the studies, and butchered the birds, I've found a method that works for me. I hope you find something that works for you. The longer you intend to keep your roos, and the less tolerant of risk you can afford to be, the more I would advise against your proposed mix. If, as I do, you intend to eat most of your roos "early", and only keep your breeders a season, then I would suggest that's a reasonable balance of cost/risk - one which I personally engage in.
 
@U_Stormcrow I was hoping you would show up! My chicks are thankfully past what you have identified as the most sensitive period and everyone has just started this new feed strategy 3 days ago. I will look at a grower feed I can get hold of for a reasonable price moving forward. None of my flock (except 2 old ladies) has had layer feed to date so hopefully I have a bit of a window before things get dicey for the non-layers. For the moment I will proceed as planned but will seek other options.
I do intend to keep my flock rooster for a number of years, and I keep the hens for 5 years or so, keeping a constant mixed age flock. It is my preference to not feed premixed feed at all, my birds were happier with this, but it is just not practical or cost effective right now.

Many thanks for your thoughtful and informative reply.
 
@U_Stormcrow I was hoping you would show up! My chicks are thankfully past what you have identified as the most sensitive period and everyone has just started this new feed strategy 3 days ago. I will look at a grower feed I can get hold of for a reasonable price moving forward. None of my flock (except 2 old ladies) has had layer feed to date so hopefully I have a bit of a window before things get dicey for the non-layers. For the moment I will proceed as planned but will seek other options.
I do intend to keep my flock rooster for a number of years, and I keep the hens for 5 years or so, keeping a constant mixed age flock. It is my preference to not feed premixed feed at all, my birds were happier with this, but it is just not practical or cost effective right now.

Many thanks for your thoughtful and informative reply.

I have some concerns for the quality of life of such an old rooster on your feed mix, but we are all feeling price pressures right now, so I certainly understand.

FWIW, though I have little enough actual experience, part of my choice to keep my breeding roosters such a (relatively) short period was to ensure everyone eating was in their breeding prime - I don't like feeding unproductive birds. Of course, i have a culling project, not a breeding project, so the value I place on any one bird is quite low. If I had a show winning Rooster and was selling a breed my calculations might be a bit different.

Based on my (again, limited) experience, I doubt most anyone would notice any external symptoms in your rooster in its first two years on your proposed feed mix, maybe longer. I have hard time spotting it internally, and I know what to look for when I butcher between 10 and 16 months. Many of the first symptoms would look like what most call "old age", particularly the gouty joints and greater tendency for intestinal difficulties. The reduced feed consumption could be shown in lab settings, but you will NEVER notice it and its more than offset by the savings on feed cost.
 
I have some concerns for the quality of life of such an old rooster on your feed mix, but we are all feeling price pressures right now, so I certainly understand.

FWIW, though I have little enough actual experience, part of my choice to keep my breeding roosters such a (relatively) short period was to ensure everyone eating was in their breeding prime - I don't like feeding unproductive birds. Of course, i have a culling project, not a breeding project, so the value I place on any one bird is quite low. If I had a show winning Rooster and was selling a breed my calculations might be a bit different.

Based on my (again, limited) experience, I doubt most anyone would notice any external symptoms in your rooster in its first two years on your proposed feed mix, maybe longer. I have hard time spotting it internally, and I know what to look for when I butcher between 10 and 16 months. Many of the first symptoms would look like what most call "old age", particularly the gouty joints and greater tendency for intestinal difficulties. The reduced feed consumption could be shown in lab settings, but you will NEVER notice it and its more than offset by the savings on feed cost.
I appreciate your input very much. I am unsure exactly how long the rooster will get to stay, when he can't get the job done, so to speak, he will have to move along. He is a good example of his breed (and throws very good female offspring) and has an excellent temperament. I have fairly limited space currently for my flock (1/3 acre) so I put a lot of merit in calm stable flock dynamics. I can have only one crowing rooster at a time. I can sell pullets for $30 each and started pullets for $40, so it's worth it for me to keep my breeding stock for a decent length of time. And I hatch with broodies, so again it is worth it to me to keep experienced hens that are good mothers.
I also do not bring in any birds except as hatching eggs, so I've got a pretty hefty investment in each bird I keep (even spending $40 on a bird is cheaper than raising them!).

I am fairly over the top about how I keep and care for them, my husband spends a fair chunk of time rolling his eyes, but he humors me. He doesn't mind if I go over the top with the chickens as he considers it my hobby, but I have to justify it to myself!

I think I will work on being able to store 2 months worth of feed and go back to what I did before, purchasing that amount reduces the per-bag shipping cost to something more reasonable. While I figure out storage I'll switch everyone to grower once my current bags are finished. Very damp climate and coming in to winter so need to make sure I can keep it dry, ventilated and rodent proof.
 
I raise all my chicks on layer pellets mixed with water and then about 25% hard boiled eggs.

Calcium toxicity is really really hard to achieve. Needs to be pounds per day in a human. Otherwise Tums would be regulated like alcohol.
 
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Thanks for those links, I've had a quick browse. What works depends on your goals, there's not a heck of a lot that can go wrong with a bird dietary speaking (commercial feed to be clear) if they're only going to live 18 months. I am more interested in the health of my birds moving into the 3-5 year age range. More out of interest than any dreams of them being productive past 2 years old. I am very interested in the epigenetic portion of genetics, I would like to raise and breed birds kept in a certain way I think is 'best' in order to produce an ongoing line that has the best possible epigenetic factors. That can only happen if I provide them with the opportunity to get enough of what they need and not too much of what they don't.
 
Thanks for those links, I've had a quick browse. What works depends on your goals, there's not a heck of a lot that can go wrong with a bird dietary speaking (commercial feed to be clear) if they're only going to live 18 months. I am more interested in the health of my birds moving into the 3-5 year age range. More out of interest than any dreams of them being productive past 2 years old. I am very interested in the epigenetic portion of genetics, I would like to raise and breed birds kept in a certain way I think is 'best' in order to produce an ongoing line that has the best possible epigenetic factors. That can only happen if I provide them with the opportunity to get enough of what they need and not too much of what they don't.
Unfortunately, no one studies chickens as "pets" - we have to make do with the studies intended to try and optimize their commercial productive lifespan. Still, they can be useful - if a 20, 30, 60 wk study of adult birds shows negative clinical changes consistently and higher incidence of disease pathologies at rates like 1:7, 1:6, or higher, how much worse will it be over a projected lifespan of 5 - 7 years? Even now, some of the studies show significant impairments within a commercial bird's productive life, though as the science becomes increasingly understood, fewer and fewer studies are conducted at the "extremes". Look at the recent calcium studies, comparing bird performance based on levels at 0.8%, 1.0%, 1.2% as example - most of us buy off the shelf commercial feed with a range of +/- 0.5%! Some of the older studies, which I tried to link, compared levels of 1.0% with 3.0 or 3.5%... That sort of work just isn't done anymore.

I can take more risks, due to my management style, than someone breeding with a remarkable bird or maintaining a vanity flock - but I know I'm involved in educated risk taking. I should keep better records, but for now, I'm learning (slowly) by doing, and by reading everything I can.
 

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