Sunday, July 17, 2016

Poultry Feeds Explained

One of the most confusing things for a first-time flock owner is what to feed their birds! It seems like it would be so easy, just go to the store and buy "chicken feed," but when you get to the feed store, there are dozens of different types! What are all these different types of feed used for? Each of these feeds have a different purpose, and several of them may suit your flock.

Layer Feed

Layer feed is specifically designed for the laying hen, making sure she gets enough protein, calcium, and other minerals to keep her eggshells strong and her body and bones healthy. Layer feed is available in crumbles and pellets. There is a common misconception among holistic and organic bloggers that layer feed has hormones in it to make the hens lay more, but this is untrue. In fact, layer feed will not make hens lay more at all; it only keeps them healthy and keeps eggshells strong! 
Layer feed is best for hens who are more than 16-20 weeks old or laying, whichever comes first. Layer feed will not make them lay, so there's no rush! Do not feed it to young chicks, as their developing kidneys cannot handle the extra vitamins and minerals. Some believe that layer feed may cause kidney disease in roosters, which is a valid concern. However, many people have fed their roosters layer feed with no problems, myself included. Because of this, I believe that a rooster can handle the extra minerals as well as we can handle a multivitamin that gives us a little too much. 

Medicated Chick Starter

Medicated chick starter is for young chickens. This feed has a small amount of the drug amprolium which helps the chicks as they are exposed to coccidia without getting too sick. Coccidia is the single-celled parasite behind coccidiosis, a word which gives chicken keepers quite the headache. When using medicated feed, the chicks are exposed to the coccidia in the dirt, may contract a very mild infection which the amprolium in the feed helps them fight off before it gets too bad. They can still get a severe infection, however, if their waterers, feeders, and environment are not kept reasonably clean. Amprolium has no withdrawal time and there is no evidence that it is harmful to humans, although it cannot be used in an organic setting. 
Medicated chick starter is recommended for a minimum of 8 weeks of age, but you can feed it up to the point that you switch to layer (or other adult feed). It is mainly for chicken chicks. Game bird chicks (like guineas, turkeys, pheasant, quail) will need a higher protein feed than chickens, but you can still find a medicated version of these feeds. It is commonly said that medicated feed is poisonous to ducklings. This is both true and untrue. Previously, medicated feed was made with a different type of drug which waterfowl could easily overdose on. Now, that amprolium is mainly used, medicated feed will not hurt them, but it is not necessary. Waterfowl are extremely resistant to coccidiosis, so they don't need and help preventing it. However, if you are raising them with chicks that eat medicated starter, it will not hurt the ducklings. Just remember to at a niacin supplement for ducks!
*UPDATE* Medicated feed is now controlled by the Veterinary Feed Directive and requires a prescription by a veterinarian in order to obtain. 

Unmedicated Chick Starter

It is as it seems - a basic chick starter with no drugs to control coccidiosis. It is nutritionally complete for the growing chicken! Chicks can develop immunity without the help of drugs, but it is more difficult on the chicken keeper! When feeding unmedicated feed, you must slowly expose them to coccidia by introducing them to dirt when they are around 2 weeks old, and gradually increase their exposure. The organic/med-free keeper must also take extra care to keep waterers, feeders, and bedding very clean, as a dirty environment exposes them to more of the coccidia's oocysts, which causes infection. 
Chicks and ducklings can eat starter up until it's time to switch them to layer feed! If using for ducks, remember to at extra Niacin (B3). Using brewer's yeast (NOT bread yeast!) is a good way to supplement for Niacin.

Game Bird Starter

This feed is for baby "wild" fowl, like turkeys, pheasant, and quail, and is available in medicated and unmedicated versions. Game bird starter is very high in protein. Game birds require more protein than chickens or ducks, so it is important that they have a higher-protein diet. They are generally fed this feed until about 8 weeks of age. 

Game Bird Feed

This is mainly for adult game birds. It provides turkeys, quail, pheasant, and other wild fowl with adequate protein and nutrition in their adult years. It is also often used for chickens and ducks during molting, to help regrow feathers quicker and easier. It can be given to ducks and generally is higher the the niacin they need, but may be too high in protein and cause angel wing in younger ducks. 

Grower/Finisher Feed

Although Purina started marketing this for layers, it was originally only for broilers, like the Cornish Cross. It is designed to lower protein to prepare these broiler chickens for butchering, and is usually given to them at 6 weeks old. 

Purina Flock Raiser

Purina's Flock Raiser is meant for the mixed flock of different ages and species. At 20% protein, is is nutritionally similar to most unmedicated chick starters. A mixed flock is difficult to feed, and a general flock raiser is a good solution, although some of them may need a supplement! For ducklings, you may need to add a bit of Niacin. Leave out free choice oyster shell for the layers (don't worry! The others won't eat it unless they need it). This feed is pretty well-rounded and a good choice for those who raise a mixed flock. 

Nutrena Feather Fixer

Feather Feather Fixer is designed for the molting bird to grow in strong, shiny feathers. It can also be used for birds which are exhibiting signs of protein deficiency, such as feather-eating. According to Nutrena, Feather Fixer has extra protein, vitamins, and greens for ideal feather regrowth. Many people have found that their birds grow more healthy-looking feathers and get through molts quicker when using this feed. 

Waterfowl Feed

Waterfowl feed is ideal for ducks, geese, and swans. With most other feed, they must have niacin added or suffer a painful deficiency or risk getting angel wing, a deformity of the wing caused by a too high-calorie, high-protein feed. When using waterfowl feed for adults or young, you don't have to worry about adding supplements because it is complete for them. If you are raising waterfowl separately from other species, and this type of feed is available to you, it is highly recommended to use feed specifically for waterfowl!

We hope that we helped clear up some confusion! What feed do you use for your birds? Leave a Comment! Remember to check out our Facebook Page and our Instagram for regular updates and cute pictures!

"NatureWise Feather Fixer Poultry Feed for Molting." NatureWise Feather Fixer Poultry Feed for Molting. Cargill, Incorportated, 2016. Web. 17 July 2016. <>.

Gerhold, Richard W., Jr. "Overview of Coccidiosis in Poultry." : Coccidiosis: Merck Veterinary Manual. Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp, 2009. Web. 17 July 2016. <>.

"Metzer Farms Duck and Goose Blog: Can Medicated Feed Be Used for Waterfowl?" Metzer Farms Duck and Goose Blog: Can Medicated Feed Be Used for Waterfowl? Metzer Farms, 30 Nov. 2011. Web. 17 July 2016. <>.