THE BALANCE of nutrients, the proportions of proteins to fats and carbohydrates, and the essential vitamins and minerals a chicken needs differs throughout its life. What a bird needs when it’s under six weeks old varies greatly from what it needs when it finally gets its first lot of feathers, when it matures at around 18-30+ weeks in age, and whether it is a high eggproducing, light-bodied bird or a heavy breed bird with a tendency to lay down fat and muscle.
Breeding birds – hens and roosters – need more feed to suit their body size, but their diet also requires a higher proportion of vitamins and minerals to ensure their health as they go through the stress of mating, laying and sitting, and the health of their offspring. Most diets formulated for commercial breeding stock contain double the vitamins and minerals of a standard layer diet, even though the rest of the main ingredients may be exactly the same as a diet fed to commercial laying hens.
Previous generations of poultry breeders and farmers often had secret recipes which they created through trial and error, giving them what they felt was the perfect diet for their birds. A lot of people today think there is more merit in those diets than buying commercially-made feed, but that’s not usually the case, for three good reasons.
savings and a lot less work as milling and mixing of separate ingredients, usually by hand, was a major daily chore.
kitchen and garden. This diet may or may not suit the birds. Yes, they’ll survive, but they may not always produce the numbers of eggs or grow to fulfil their genetic make-up because they aren’t getting their full nutritional needs met.
Lighter breeds and hybrids are more easily able to consume the right amount of energy and protein to fulfil their needs, if it is available. If they need X amount of grams of protein and Y amounts of energy (kcals), they will eat until the daily allowance is achieved. If you feed them a diet which is high in what they are seeking in terms of energy and protein, they will need to eat less quantity than if the diet is low in these ingredients.
For example, if all you fed your flock was wheat (around 10% crude protein) and a hen needs 17g of protein a day, she would need to eat 170g of wheat. If she also got vege scraps and grass, then she would miss out on the correct type of protein her body actually requires – vegetable protein lacks the necessary amino acids, so she could become protein-deficient.
But feed her a commercially-made balanced ration (17% crude protein) formulated with the correct amino acids and she only needs to eat 100g to get her daily requirement of the correct protein. If you went for a cheaper feed with 14% protein, you would have to give her 121g. Feed is usually priced by quality and availability of ingredients, so buying the cheapest can mean a bird has to eat more to get the same benefit.
The big-framed, heritage heavy breeds and the large commercial meat breed hybrids used to produce your typical roast chicken are more driven by appetite than what they actually need, so they are more