Throughout the lifetime of your chickens, their dietary needs will change. When they’re little and still developing, they need a high protein feed that supports their rapid growth and developing feathers. As development slows and your chicks grow into pullets (chickens that haven’t reached laying age), their protein requirement decreases. Once laying age is reached, the overall protein requirement levels out, with occasional increases during times of molt. When deciding whether to give your laying hens a 16% or 18% layer feed, it often comes down to your own preference.
Higher protein feeds, such as those that are 20% or more, tend to be reserved for meat birds (broilers) or game birds. The higher protein level promotes the faster muscle growth that is desired in birds raised to be consumed. For laying birds, like what most backyard chicken keepers raise, higher protein only becomes necessary during times of molt. Too much overall protein in a chicken’s diet could lead to kidney failure, so it’s best to stay within recommended protein levels for your birds.
Recommended Protein Levels for Chickens:
Chicks: 20 – 24%
Pullets (chickens over 8 weeks that haven’t begun laying): 16% – 18%
Laying Hens: 15% – 20%
Mature Hens: 16%
But Let’s Get Back to 16% or 18% Protein Layer Feeds
So how do you decide if you want to feed your flock a layer feed that is 16% protein versus a layer feed that is 18% protein? Again, it really comes down to what you believe is best for your flock. Although our 16% protein feeds are properly formulated for laying poultry, some chicken keepers want a higher protein percentage for colder months, times of molt, egg quality, or convenience. For most backyard chicken keepers, though, we recommend providing your layers with either our Naturally Free Organic Layer Feed 16% or Organic Layer with Corn 16% as the foundation of their diet, then building upon that.
How to Achieve Higher Protein for Your Flock
Although our feeds are formulated to be healthy and balanced as dry feed, fermenting our feed gives a little extra nutritional kick. Fermenting helps increase the absorption of protein, and increases Vitamins B, C, and K. If using our Naturally Free Organic Layer 18% and Organic Layer with Corn 18% feeds, you may notice more fines than our standard 16% layer feeds. That is due to the extra macronutrients in the higher protein feed. Fermenting is a great way to ensure your flock consumes every last bit of goodness, because the fines are incorporated into the wet feed.
Black Soldier Flies are becoming more and more recognized as the power protein source for chickens. Our Cluckin’ Good Grubs are dried Black Soldier Fly larvae that have been sustainably-raised in North America on pre-consumer waste food, and they promise a minimum of 34% protein! During molting times, we recommend supplementing mealtime with a sprinkling of Cluckin’ Good Grubs. Chickens get very excited at the sound of a bag of Cluckin’ Good Grubs being opened; it’ll bring a smile to your face to see them come running. These little buggers are treats, though, so shouldn’t ever exceed more than 10% of your flock’s daily diet.
You know what bugs are rich in? Protein. And you know what your chickens love? Bugs! Let your flock roam about during the day to enjoy a smorgasbord of insects that will help them get a bit more protein in their diet. Plus, pasture raising your birds gives them time to play and explore like they love to do.