Backyard Poultry

How to Feed Laying Hens for Organic Eggs

Flock Management : Layer Nutrition

Flock Management : Egg Production

Patrick Biggs, Ph.D.

Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions

What should you feed laying hens for organic eggs? No matter where you are in your journey raising chickens, it’s always possible to produce organic chicken eggs in your backyard. 
 
Do you want to raise a conventional or organic flock? Both options of raising chickens are fun for the family, good for the environment, and produce healthy, nutritious eggs. The difference comes down to the feed you choose.
 
Both traditional and organic chicken feed options provide the same nutritional value. However, organic chicken feed ingredients are sourced differently. For chicken feed to be considered organic, all ingredients must be raised and manufactured according to the requirements established by the National Organic Program.
 
Feeds that meet these criteria, like Purina® Organic Chicken Feed, are typically certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and will carry a seal or statement from the certifying agency that verifies their authenticity. Choosing between traditional and organic chicken feeds comes down to personal preference.
 
Two reasons to transition to an organic chicken feed include: to produce eggs for your family from organic-fed hens; or to market certified organic eggs. The distinction between these two options is very important and will impact your transition process.
 

Producing organic eggs for your family

If you are looking to produce certified organic eggs solely for your family and friends, the process is simple.
 
To produce eggs from organic-fed laying hens, start chicks on organic starter-grower or transition to an organic layer feed later in life. If you are making a transition, the process can happen quickly. Simply mix organic chicken feed with your previous feed over the course of 7- 10 days.
 
  1. Start by sprinkling a handful of the new feed on top of the flock’s current feed.
  2. Over the next several days, increase the amount of organic chicken feed being added each day. Stir the feeds together, so the laying hens are eating both old and new feed.
  3. By the end of the 7-10-day period, the feeder should contain only the organic chicken feed. From there, you can begin collecting organic eggs to eat or hatch.
Remember, this process results in eggs from laying hens fed organic chicken feed, but the birds and their eggs are not considered ‘certified organic.’
 

Selling certified organic eggs

The second reason for feeding organic chicken feed is to sell certified organic eggs. Raising organic chickens has a longer commitment with specific requirements.
 
If you would like to start a certified organic flock, the rules are more in-depth. The USDA requires that for organic farm fresh eggs or meat to be certified, it must be from birds that have been under continuous organic management beginning no later than the second day of life.
 
This means chicks must be fed organic feed from the beginning for farm fresh eggs to be considered fully organic. Organic poultry, including birds used for meat or eggs, lose organic poultry status if they are removed from the organic farm and managed on a non-organic operation. You can return them to organic chicken feed, but they cannot be rotated back into certified organic production.
 
In either case, the choice to feed traditional or organic chicken feed comes down to personal preference.
 
No matter the way you choose to raise your flock, it’s important to choose a complete feed that matches your birds’ stage of life and provides the calcium needed to stay healthy and lay strong-shelled eggs. Complete feeds – whether they are conventional or organic – are formulated to provide everything birds need. Feed a complete starter-grower feed to layer chicks from day 1 to week 18 and then transition to a complete layer feed at week 18 or when the first egg arrives.
 
Purina® Organic includes organic starter-grower, organic layer feed (which includes the exclusive Oyster Strong® System for strong eggs and strong bones) and organic scratch.
 
Want to see for yourself? Take the Feed Greatness® Challenge to try Purina® Organic layer feed.