Backyard Poultry

Mapping Your Chicken Feed Program

Starting a Flock : Chick Nutrition

Flock Management : Layer Nutrition

Patrick Biggs, Ph.D.

Nutritionist, Companion Animal Technical Solutions

What do chickens eat? Chickens require 38 unique nutrients each day to start strong, lay strong and stay strong. Purina® complete chicken feeds include all the nutrients birds need – no need to supplement. Choose a complete chick starter feed from day 1 to week 18 and then transition to a complete layer feed when the first egg arrives around week 18.
 
Just as humans’ nutritional needs change from infancy to adulthood, backyard birds require different nutrients as they grow from baby chicks into hens or roosters. To help your flock thrive, map your chicken feed program from the start. Select a complete poultry feed that is formulated specifically for your bird’s age, species or stage of production.

We’ve made it easy to feed your backyard flock through the Purina® Flock Strong® Feeding Program. This program helps your birds start strong as chicks, lay strong starting with the first egg around week 18 and stay strong through molt. Each feed in this program includes all 38 unique nutrients birds need, in the right balance.
 
Simply choose one complete Purina® starter-grower feed from day 1 to week 18. Then transition to a complete Purina® layer feed when the first egg arrives around week 18. That’s all your chickens need – no need to supplement.
 
How old is your flock? Scroll down to find the feed that will keep your birds Flock Strong®.

What to feed baby chicks from day 1 to week 18 Infographic showing Purina<sup>®</sup> poultry Flock Strong<sup>®</sup> Feeding Program and feed recommendations by chicken age

Strong chicks grow into healthy hens. Early nutrition is important because baby chicks double their hatch weight in the first week and grow up to seven times their hatch weight in the first month. Start chicks strong by choosing one complete chick starter feed. Keep feeding that same feed until the first egg arrives around week 18.  
Each of these complete chick starter feeds provides all 38 unique chicks need to start strong, including: energy for proper growth; 18 percent protein for skeletal, muscle and feather development; plus vitamins and minerals for chick health. Start & Grow® products also include probiotics and prebiotics for healthy digestive and immune systems.

Continue feeding the same chick starter feed from day 1 to week 18. We recommend waiting to introduce treats or scratch to the diet until week 18. If you are feeding a complete chick starter feed, your chicks do not need grit.
 
If you start chicks on a medicated starter-grower feed, keep feeding that same medicated feed until their first egg. Do not transition layer chicks to a layer feed before 18 weeks of age, as the extra calcium in the feed can cause permanent kidney damage and even death.

What to feed laying hens starting at week 18

Most hens will lay their first egg around 18 weeks of age. To help them lay strong, transition to a Purina® complete layer feed at this time.
 
The biggest difference between a starter-grower feed and a layer feed is calcium. Hens need roughly 4 grams of calcium per day to form an eggshell; 2 grams of which must come from their layer feed. If the feed does not provide high enough calcium levels, hens may pull the nutrient from their bones, eventually causing a weak skeletal structure.
 
Purina® complete layer feeds are the only feeds available that include our exclusive Oyster Strong® System. This mix of vitamins, minerals, small-particle calcium and large-particle calcium in the form of oyster shell provides all the calcium hens need over the 24- to 26-hour egg formation process, so there’s no need to supplement.  Each of these complete feeds include all 38 unique nutrients hens need to lay strong, including: calcium for strong shells; amino acids, vitamins and minerals for enhanced egg quality and hen health. Layena® products also include probiotics and prebiotics to promote optimal digestive function.
 
Both pellets and crumbles provide the same nutrition, so feed choice comes down to personal preference. Many have noticed less waste by feeding pellets.
 
Once hens are laying, you can introduce treats and scratch grains. Be sure to limit treats to no more than 2 tablespoons per bird, per day. Any more than this can dilute the essential nutrients provided in their layer feed. If you are feeding a complete layer feed, laying hens do not need grit.

What to feed molting chickens

At around 18 months of age and then annually thereafter, most chickens go through a molt. This means chickens are losing their feathers and growing new ones.
 
This period typically occurs when days become shorter and temperatures drop. Molting is a healthy process that usually results in a reduction in egg production and a shiny, new set of feathers for the winter
 
To help hens stay strong through molt, follow these steps:
  1. Switch to Purina® Flock Raiser® for more protein and less calcium. The higher protein levels in this feed can help with feather regrowth.
  2. Place a dish of Purina® Oyster Shell as a free-choice supplement near the feeder. The laying hens will eat the calcium they need. Molting chickens will begin eating the supplement as they get closer to laying eggs again.  
  3. Once hens start laying eggs again, gradually transition back to a complete layer feed.

What do roosters eat? Feeding mixed flocks

Have roosters, ducks or other poultry in your flock? Your flock is then referred to as a “mixed flock.”

If you have hens and roosters in the same flock, you can feed them separately by using two different feeders. Roosters require higher protein and less calcium than laying hens. We recommend feeding roosters a separate feeder of Purina® Flock Raiser®. To do this, you can either feed roosters in a separate pen or raise one of the feeders so only the roosters can reach it.

If you'd like to feed one feed to all adult birds, you can also feed Flock Raiser® to both hens and roosters and then supplement with oyster shells to give hens the added calcium they need. Purina® Flock Raiser® with supplemental oyster shell is also a great feed choice for mixed flocks with multiple poultry species. 

Feeding other poultry

Many backyard chicken enthusiasts add new species to their flocks as they get more experienced. If you are considering other poultry, check out these Team Purina articles for tips on how to feed them Flock Strong®: Want more tips on how to start your chicks strong? Visit our Flock Strong® resource hub for local poultry events, a guide to raising chickens and much more!