When picking a commercial chicken feed for your laying flock, there are several different kinds of feeds available. Each brand-name feed may have slightly different requirements and different ingredients and protein and other nutrient content. Besides these rations, you can feed your birds supplements and treats. You might get brave one day and make or grow your own chicken feed, too.
Types of Feed
Chick starter. Exactly what it sounds like, chick starter is for the first, usually six, weeks of your baby chicks' lives. This is typically 22 to 24 percent protein for meat birds (called broiler starter) and 20 percent protein for laying breeds.
You can get medicated or unmedicated chick starter. Most people use a medicated feed but organic and pastured small farms will often use unmedicated feed.
Grower pullet. After chick starter, young pullets destined for a laying flock are put on a lower-protein diet to slow growth to allow strong bones and adult body weight before laying begins. If the protein is too high, development happens too fast and the birds will lay too early. Grower pullet rations typically have 18 percent protein and are fed until 14 weeks of age. Pullet developer or finisher. At 14 weeks, young pullets can be lowered to a 16 percent protein feed until they begin laying. Some feed lines don't distinguish between these two stages and just have a grower-finisher that is somewhere in the middle protein-wise.
Layer rations. Laying hens at maturity at around 22 weeks of age require a 16 to 18 percent protein level and extra calcium and minerals for strong eggshells. Don't feed layer rations to birds less than this age as it will damage their kidneys due to the high amounts of calcium and phosphorus. But roosters can eat laying rations.
Broiler rations. These high-protein feeds are for meat birds, particularly Cornish X Rock crosses that grow extremely fast. Broiler rations are typically 18 to 20 percent. This is sometimes called "grower-finisher" instead.
For heritage and pastured meat birds, protein content can be lowered to 16 percent after 12 weeks of age until butchering. Some may choose to keep the heritage meat birds on the higher grower-finisher rations until slaughter.
Forms of Feed
Chicken and poultry feed comes in three forms: crumbles, pellets and mash. Crumbles are excellent if you can get them, but pellets are sometimes the only form available. Mash is usually used for baby chicks, but can be mixed with warm water to make a thick oatmeal-like treat for chickens. However, it must be fed right away or else it can get spoiled and moldy, so don't let mixed mash sit around.