DIDN’T HAVE THE FEED OPTIONS WE HAVE TODAY
The big governing factor in those early rations was the availability or otherwise of the basic ingredients as the variety of grains and protein sources varied widely depending on what country you were in, and your climate. Diets varied greatly across the areas, especially between the hotter and colder regions of Europe and North America; a breeder in warmer climes could use corn or maize, but that was hard to obtain for farmers in Britain or northern Europe where wheat and oats were used instead.
After WW2 it became more common for milling companies to mass produce commercial feeds due to their ability to buy in or import bulk supplies of grains and protein sources. This made commercial feed more easily available to commercial farmers and small backyard breeders or poultry keepers, who were then able to expand the size of their flocks to produce eggs for the increasingly urbanised population. It meant big (18-30 weeks+). The specialist meat poultry farmer may use up to three different diets to fatten a meat (or broiler) chicken in its five to seven weeks of life before it is ready for eating. The laying poultry farmer may use three different diets again to get a chick from one day old to laying age, and then another one or two through its 12-month laying cycle as its needs change according to the rate of lay.
Whether you have a flock of heritage breeds, ‘farm yard specials’ or commercially-bred layers, you need to choose what to feed them according to their size and age, whether you fully feed only a commercially-made balanced feed, a combination of feed plus kitchen scraps, or a mix of scraps, pellets and what birds can pick up while free-ranging.
KNOW QUALITY IS BETTER THAN QUANTITY
Many poultry keepers with a small mixed flock feed what is available to them: maybe a handful of of layer pellets supplemented with some grain, probably wheat, and possibly leftovers from the
likely to overeat a commercial, high protein layer feed. In their case you can reduce the amount of high nutrient pellets and add in bulkier things like vegetable waste from the garden, kitchen scraps that are high in bulk and low in nutrients like bread and rice, give them access to a grassy free range area, and offer a daily handful of lower protein energy grains like wheat or oats*.
You can also reduce the amount they are fed as the consequences of over-eating in a heavy breed usually means the excess is laid down as fat. A fat bird is not usually a very fertile bird, meaning less eggs and poorer hatchability. *Whole grains should only be about 10-15% of a bird’s daily diet, and are best fed after the bird has consumed its daily ration of balanced feed. They can easily over-fill birds, lack the key nutrients a bird requires for good health, and when not ground are far more difficult for a bird to digest and gain nutrition from.