What Chicken Grower Feed is Right For You?
Picking the Right Chicken Feeding Schedule
Chicken grower feed and adult feed rations are a critical part of raising healthy, productive chickens. Once your chicks pass the 20 weeks of age mark, they’re really not chicks anymore and shouldn’t be fed as if they still were. Juvenile birds require a different feed ration to perform, grow and live well. That feed ration is a chicken grower feed and which one you use will largely depend on what kind of birds you’re growing, and for what purpose.
For layer or dual-purpose birds like the Leghorn or Rock, you need to feed them a poultry feed formulation for layers to get the best results. Starter, grower or combo rations will be way too high in protein for your layer type birds and will not have the calcium levels to support strong shells. For these birds, which constitute the vast majority of backyard birds, a standard chicken layer feed with an advertised crude protein level between 15% and 17% is ideal. At this point, maintaining the same brand and feed ration is critical to keeping your birds in lay. Any sudden change to a different brand of feed may bring your layers to a screeching halt in production. Additionally, if you feed a ration that is “too hot,” or higher than 18% crude protein, you will see abnormal behavior in your birds. A feed that is too high in protein can cause birds to become agitated, self-mutilate by pulling feathers and all sorts of odd behavior.
If you’ve gone the miniature chicken route with fancy Bantam breeds, then you should consider your options. Back when I started with show chickens, most feed companies offered a breeder formula meant for show birds. That’s becoming harder to find these days because most feed companies have combined their game bird and show bird formulas since they were closely related anyway. These feeds range between 15% and 22% crude protein typically, and you should research what feed ration is recommended by your chosen feed company. Don’t rely on the store associates recommendations; follow the feed mill’s advice since they know the product far better than any store clerk.
Chicken Grower Feed
If you’re growing birds for meat, you have options. Many feed companies offer different stages such as chicken starter feed, chicken grower feed and possibly a “fat and finish”. I’ve used fat and finish rations with my turkeys and my broilers and have found it to be largely undesirable. These fat and finish rations were prevalent in the days of caponizing (castrating roosters, typically of a “dual purpose” breed), but today’s modern meat breeds don’t require such a ration. If you do use a fat and finish ration with your modern meat birds, expect to be disappointed with all the wasted fat on the inside of the body cavity.
One exception may be the newer “slow grow” meat birds like Red Rangers. I maintain my commercial broilers on a standard grower feed until slaughter, which is at six weeks of age. Many feed companies now suggest using their grower or one of their lower protein game bird rations for meat chickens. Expect a ration recommendation with a crude protein between 17% and 24%.
Your typical turkey grows much larger and faster than your typical chicken. As such, your turkey poults need a feed ration that is considerably higher in crude protein than your chickens to support their growth. A feed ration around 30% crude protein is an appropriate benchmark for a turkey starter, and many feed companies will offer this feed labeled as a “Game Bird and Turkey” ration.
Feed like a Pro
Using the right chicken feeders is almost as important as feeding the right chicken grower feed. I’ve tried all sorts of feeders, and I’ve come to some realizations after spending more money than I ever should have. For my situation, I’ve completely abandoned chick feeders of every style and description. I have found that buying a high-quality commercial grade adult feeder (such as Kuhl) is a far more effective use of my time and money versus buying the retail-grade stuff they offer at your local feed store, with one exception.
For small batch brooding, I have found the small gravity fed feeders to be exceptionally useful. These are those small screw base feeders usually sold under the brand of Little Giant, but they’re not perfect. When I use these feeders, I use a hole saw to cut a large hole in the top of the “jug” or “jar” to make it into a real gravity feeder. This is the only time I suggest an off-the-shelf chick feeder to anyone, otherwise, an adult-sized feeder is the best option.
When using a standard gravity feeder, be sure the lip of the feed tray is hung at the same height as the height of the back of your shortest bird. This reduces feed waste and spoilage in both juvenile and mature birds. For day-old-chicks however, set the feeder on the ground and ramp up to the feed tray lip with your pine shaving bedding. This will let your day-old-chicks gain access to the feed. Your industrious little charges will soon be digging the shavings from around the tray, and by then it will likely bring the lip to the right height for the time being, or they’ll just jump in.
Use What Works
Have you found an easier way to feed chicks? Do you have a favorite grower feed for your meat birds, or have you fallen in love with a particular show bird feed? Let us know in the comments and join the discussion!