Protein percentage question

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by Husker Hens, Mar 13, 2016.

  1. Husker Hens

    Husker Hens Chillin' With My Peeps

    OK, from what I understand, the main difference between all feeds besides layer is the protein percentage. Layer has calcium, but the rest (starter, developer, grower, flock raiser, meatbird, gamebird, etc) just differ in protein. Now I know different brands have different levels of everything and better or worse ingredients and there's a million threads on here discussing that, but it seems like between the TYPE of feed protein is the difference and the price almost directly correlates with the amount of protein. I'm sure there's not a concensus on the perfect protein percentage but if I can get a bigger bang for my buck on meatbird feed (cost per pound of protein) could I just mix this with a lower protein percentage feed to save some money. For example I've seen grower at 18% and grower at 16% and meatbird at 21%, if it was financially advantageous to mix the 16 and 21 to get about 18 is there any reason not to? Also can you give too much protein? Would 21% be bad for layer chicks? What about layers in general once they start laying (of course I'd have oyster she'll available). Would they eat less feed? I know brands are important but I'm trying to leave that out.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2016
  2. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe True BYC Addict

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    Protein percentage won't dramatically affect feed intake as chickens eat to satisfy energy needs.

    I don't see a problem mixing feeds to obtain a desired protein percentage.

    You can start all chicks on 21% protein but I'd cut back by 5 or 6 weeks - especially for layers and DP breeds.
    16% is more appropriate for birds that are nearly grown at around 15 weeks.
  3. Chris09

    Chris09 Circle (M) Ranch

    Jun 1, 2009
    For the most part the difference between most types of feeds (outside of a layer feed) is protein amount and energy amount.

    It is possible to feed to much proteins, but unless your feeding a 26% - 30% protein Pre-Starter/ Starter your most likely not going to have a problem with over feeding proteins. One of the first signs of over feeding proteins is going to be heat stroke on hot days.
    I myself feed mostly one type of feed from hatch to death and I reduce the protein (and cost) by adding grains.
  4. RonP

    RonP Chillin' With My Peeps

    Is the feed you use availble to the public or a special type blend?
  5. Husker Hens

    Husker Hens Chillin' With My Peeps

    Chris, how do you determine "energy amount"? I mean, I realize that fat would have a big part but what else? Also what grains do you add? Besides scratch grains, I've only seen cracked corn and oats around here (although I haven't really looked).

    Ron, I've looked at everything available around here: Purina, Nutrena (Nature Wise and Country feeds), Country Acres, Country Companion, and Bomgaars store brand (which is a Midwest chain).
  6. Chris09

    Chris09 Circle (M) Ranch

    Jun 1, 2009
    My base feed states the amount of energy that is in a set feed.
    Starter - Metabolizable Energy,kcal/kg 2,625
    Maintenance - Metabolizable Energy, kcal/kg 2,835
    Layer/ Breeder - Metabolizable Energy, kcal/kg 2,625

    As for the grains I use, I use a all grain pigeon mix. One that I use is about 14% proteins and contains; Popcorn, Canada Peas, Whole Wheat, Austrian Peas, Red Milo, White Kafir, Oat Groats, Hemp Seed, Mineral Oil.

    Fats are a source of energy but Proteins and Carbs also offer energy.
    1 person likes this.
  7. Spangled

    Spangled Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 12, 2012
    Serenity Valley
    Two cents: (or less)

    There is also more phosphorus in layer feed than the others because there's a calcium/phosphorus/magnesium ratio that layers need to be able to utilize the calcium properly. (That's a simplified explanation since the complicated explanation is too hard for me to even explain. ;-) )

    What is provided in the feed stores for us to feed our layers is what works most efficiently and economically. It has the nutrients necessary for layers to lay eggs. Layers can lay at 16% protein, but that's pretty much the minimum. Lower than that, and their laying is not being supported. They can produce eggs more easily at 18% (more and bigger -based on what their genetics allow/dictate). They usually don't need a higher percentage than that. Extra (unutilized) protein can't be stored and has to be excreted through their kidneys, and that can put a bit of pressure on the kidneys that they don't need. The coop air can also become very smelly from the extra ammonia which is excreted because of the extra protein. This has to be removed from their system by the liver, so that takes a toll on their liver and, besides fatty liver disease, can cause some slower size growth, so they need lots of ventilation and fresh air if you're going to feed them as if they were a meat bird at 21+ for their entire lives. (Yeah, I was surprised myself at the whole air quality thing. They breath in the ammonia, it gets into their blood by breathing it into the lungs (I guess), then the liver cleans the blood of the ammonia byproducts ... or something like that. Their eyes can get damaged, too, etc.) A layer's longevity/long-term health is important since a longer, robust life will keep them feeling good and they will be able to provide us with more eggs. Depending on how many chickens you have and your water table or nearby streams, long-term overfeeding of protein can create water quality issues if rain produces runoff on your property.

    As for chicks, after 4-5 weeks at 21%+, 18% is good. 20% is okay, also. But during those weeks when the chicks are 10-16 weeks, you really don't need to be feeding them that high of protein. But it sounds like maybe that's the most economical feed you can find.

    Our layers grow up on 20% protein feed because that is what our broilers are eating. At around the time the layer chicks lay their first egg, I introduce another feeder just like their regular one and put mixed grain in it to increase the "energy" the chickens are getting and to reduce their protein intake. I don't use peas because they are high in protein (around 24%) and that messes up their ability to regulate the consumption of the energy, from what I understand based on reading the studies. Around 10 weeks, chickens begin to develop the ability to regulate their feed intake based on the energy in the feed. And other studies have shown that they can be given two feeders (one with protein feed and one with energy feed [grains]) and can go between the two to get a balanced diet, although it can take about two weeks for them to figure it out. This method has to be used consistently, though ... as in I can't put out a feeder of grain one week and then skip a week. It has to be consistent for the chickens; they need to be able to depend on it or their feed intake of energy and protein gets a little out of whack.

    I don't ever mix the extra grain into the "balanced feed" because they just bill all the feed out looking for the grain.

    I am afraid to give the chicks free choice on the grain feeder before around 16-18 weeks because from 10-20 weeks their egg-laying organs are all being developed. Any nutritional deprivation during that time will alter their long-term laying abilities. I do start tossing them a bit of grain most days, though, to get them used to the practice. But I try not to give them so much that it is replacing any of their nutrients nor getting their protein level below 18%.

    Insoluble grit also plays a part in how chickens utilize their feed. Chickens that have grit introduced too late in life never catch up in their ability to utilize feed (get the most out of it, which saves money) when compared with chickens that started getting grit as from weeks 1 to 3 of life. (Chick-sized grit.)

    You asked: Would 21% be bad for layer chicks? What about layers in general once they start laying (of course I'd have oyster she'll available). Would they eat less feed?

    The thing is that the mineral ratio that layers need which also includes phosphorus and magnesium. You see for the calcium to be available to the chicken, there needs to be a proper amount of phosphorus available in the chicken's bloodstream, magnesium, too. The magnesium is easy to add it because it's a set amount and epsom salts can be used. But the calcium:phosphorus ratio is much more of a delicate balance, especially because your feed store will offer some odd product based on what is the most economical phosphorus in your area. I hated figuring out how our local oddball phosphorus source worked with our calcium and all the math I had to do to. But once I had it figure out, it was done and I haven't had to redo it. (I've even managed to forget how I did it!) The good news is that Storey's Guide to chicken raising (or whatever the proper name of it is) tells us that we can just put out a small feeder with our local phosphorus product in it and let the hens regulate themselves. However, I think that's a pain because it's just one more storage bin I have to have, one more feeder that I've got to fit into the coop, one more feeder to keep filled, one more feeder to keep clean, one more feeder to keep dry in the rain since there's no room in the coop, etc., etc., etc. And if you have two layer coops and 3+ breeder pens, it just becomes a joke to keep all those extra feeders around.

    But ask around. I think a lot of people ignore the phosphorus needs of chickens when formulating their homemade feed, so you probably could, too, I guess. They say what you say, "I provide oyster shell for the calcium." And they don't mention phosphorus. And they feed some grains and soybeans and call it "good." I also wonder how they get away with not feeding some vitamins and other necessary minerals and some good clay and some probiotics, which many commercial feeds include. But then I also hear of a lot of medical maladies that I've never seen here with our chickens like prolapse. I can't remember seeing a sour crop for at least 7 years And some of our chickens are old (my oldest will be 7 this fall, and I have three more that are either 6 or 7). Not that our way of feeding necessarily keeps our chickens healthier than folks who feed only oyster shell, grain, and soybeans, because there's no way to prove that ... I just don't know how they get it to work. I couldn't keep my chickens laying and healthy on that type of feeding program no matter how much I'd like to be able to.

    The amount of feed chickens eat is based on them meeting their energy needs. So, they will eat more feed than they need to of the 21% protein if the energy level isn't high enough for layers. If it's formulated for broilers, the energy level will likely be lower than what is necessary for layers. My layers do eat less "balanced feed" when I provide two feeders -- 1 with balanced feed at 18% and 1 that is grain based (no peas and grains like wheat and oats mixed). The grains are cheaper than the cost of the balanced feed, I believe. I haven't run a cost analysis on our layer feed in years. I think we have healthier chickens feeding them the "balanced feed," so the price upfront isn't always the bottom line in my way of thinking. And also, not having to grind and measure and mix the feed as often (reduces our work load) is also a big benefit to us of feeding the two-feeder method.

    We didn't make up the two feeder method. One of the agricultural experimental stations at one of the Ag universities came up with it and tested it out years and years ago. It may not be a valid way to feed on production egg farms any longer, but it works great in the backyard setting, imo.

    However, we can't forget that excess protein can be (often is) converted into energy. I'm not sure how that fits into the equation. But it's a more expensive way (usually) to provide chickens with energy. Meat protein is more expensive than soybeans. Depending on where you are, you can sometimes get a good deal on field peas if they aren't exporting them to be used as human food overseas.

    However, feeding 21% protein is definitely *not* likely to help reduce the amount of feed the chickens will eat. They could eat more if the energy level isn't high enough. If your feed doesn't like the energy level, you won't be able to figure it out. You have to know the amounts. But it's just the amount of calories in the feed, from what I understand.

    Oh, and also, sometimes a higher protein feed can cause more feather picking ... at least that what some studies say. More fiber and a high lignan level will lessen feather picking. So access to free range with growing plants and fresh dirt can be a big help. Oats with the hulls on them and BO sunflower seeds($$) are good sources of fiber, too. But that's a whole 'nuther question, but sometimes an issue with high protein feeds, so I'll stop.
    1 person likes this.

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