Feed selection and winter egg-laying

dashman1319

Chirping
Jul 31, 2018
30
102
89
Chapel Hill, NC
Hi all,

I'd love some input regarding laying expectations and feed selection for my new flock. We've got 4 hens (1 RIR, 2 barred rocks, 1 welsummer) who are just five months old today - they were delivered back in July.

They were fed on grower feed exclusively through about October. Around that time, I started mixing in a small amount of layer feed. Currently I'm giving them a ratio of about 5 parts grower to 1-2 parts layer.

First of all: was it a bad idea to start mixing in layer feed before they started laying, especially given that they're coming of age in the winter? It seems a small enough amount of layer feed, and they seem perfectly happy and healthy. When the first eggs come, I don't want to just switch all of them over at once to only layer feed.

Secondly, should I expect any eggs at all during the winter season, or should I expect to wait until spring since they are coming of laying age during the winter? We free range them and I haven't opened up their nesting box yet, so I'm never sure how diligently I should be checking their favorite spots around the yard for a first egg.

Thanks for any advice!
 

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Feb 2, 2009
27,235
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Southeast Louisiana
To solve your feeding dilemma keep them on Grower until you see an egg (mine are always on Grower, I never feed Layer) but offer oyster shell on the side. Get rid of that stress on you by putting them to work.

I'd open up the nests now. If there is going to be a problem, like them scratching the bedding out of the nests or sleeping in the nests I'd want to know now so I can fix the problem before they start laying. The only thing you do by keeping the nests not open is taking the chance you are teaching them to lay somewhere other than the nests or maybe have other problems when they do start.

When will they start to lay? Who knows, I sure don't. I've had pullets start to lay this time of the year, the first week of December. I've had some wait until the days started getting longer and the weather warmed up. I do not provide light or do anything special to start them. Whether it is a pullet laying her first egg or a hen getting over the molt they can possibly start up at any time, even this time of the year.
 

rosemarythyme

Scarborough Fair
Premium Feather Member
Jul 3, 2016
15,088
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WA, Pac NW
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I'd just continue to feed grower, and take out the extra work of mixing feed. If you do want to switch to layer once they're all laying (I know not everyone will agree with this) I'd just do it cold turkey - it prevents them trying to scratch out feed to get to the stuff they're used to, and they'll eat it once they get hungry. Or you can keep them on grower for life if you're satisfied with that feed, and just have oyster shell on the side.

I agree with opening up the nest boxes now. It'll give them a chance to explore the boxes so hopefully when they start laying, they'll want to use them. I just got new chicks this spring as well and no one's laying yet, but I can tell someone's been in the boxes pushing bedding around, so hoping to start getting eggs before the end of the year, but not counting on it either.
 

dashman1319

Chirping
Jul 31, 2018
30
102
89
Chapel Hill, NC
Thanks everyone for your input! So - the sense I'm getting is that there's some debate about feeding layer feed? I bought a huge bag so I'll probably want to use it up, but perhaps once it's done I can just offer oyster shell on the side of grower feed.
 

Heinzie

Songster
Jul 6, 2018
76
121
114
Buffalo County Wisconsin
I mix 3 parts grower to 1 layer feed plus some limited free range, I got my 3 bared rocks in June and just got my first egg this week. My nesting boxes have always been open, I used one as a makeshift brooder when they were little. Good luck fun times ahead
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
Premium Feather Member
8 Years
Nov 27, 2012
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When the terms grower, layer, starter, all flock are used....
....good to also cite the protein percentage.
 

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Feb 2, 2009
27,235
19,980
857
Southeast Louisiana
Thanks everyone for your input! So - the sense I'm getting is that there's some debate about feeding layer feed? I bought a huge bag so I'll probably want to use it up, but perhaps once it's done I can just offer oyster shell on the side of grower feed.

Layer feed contains 3-1/2% to 4-1/2% calcium, practically all other chicken feeds contain around 1% calcium. All chickens need some calcium for body function or growth, the extra calcium in Layer is used for the egg shells for laying hens. There are studies that clearly show the excess calcium can cause harm to growing chicks. I've seen a study that shows the excess calcium can possibly cause harm to roosters that don't lay eggs. I don't know of any studies on hens that are not laying. The "harm" can be bone growth in growing chicks and kidney or liver damage in all birds.

This does not mean that a chicken will take one bite and fall over dead. It's about the cumulative effect if they average that much excess calcium over a long period. It does not mean that all chickens will be affected. Some can handle the excess calcium better than others. It means that a certain number are damaged by eating three to four times as much calcium as they need. In those studies that cut the chickens open to see what the actual affects are.

If they don't eat that much excess calcium the risk of harm is less. If they get a lot of their daily diet from foraging on low calcium foods, the total calcium they eat in a day is less than a diet of nothing but Layer. If you fed them a lot of low calcium treats the affect is not as severe. Mixing the feeds as you have been doing the amount of calcium is quite a bit less than straight Layer. I think it is highly unlikely you have caused a problem.

The flip side of this is that if they are not eating that much calcium the egg shells can be thin. It is possible they can pick up extra calcium from their environment. Some greens they eat can be high in calcium, many creepy crawlies are a calcium source. If your native rock is limestone they can pick up a lot of calcium from the rocks they eat for grit. If the egg shells are hard they are getting enough calcium from somewhere.

Many of us solve this potential issue by offering oyster shell on the side. The hens that need the extra calcium for egg shells seem to know instinctively that they need it and eat it. The ones that don't need it that much generally don't eat enough to harm themselves. If they are getting calcium from other sources that oyster shell can last forever, it will not go bad. If they need it the oyster shell will disappear.

Some people feed Layer with oyster shell on the side. A lot of us feed a lower calcium feed with oyster shell. That lower calcium feed can range quite a bit in protein content. Some people feed a high protein feed, others of us feed a lower protein feed. People tend to have strong feelings on this, their way is right and any other way is wrong. Some of that depends on your goals, yours may need a special diet. For example, show chickens tend to need a higher protein diet to achieve and maintain the size they need. My opinion is that as long as you don't go to an extreme either way, for the vast majority if us it just isn't that important.
 

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