As chicken keepers, many of us worry if our flock is getting enough of the necessary minerals, vitamins and nutrients. Modern, pre-mixed feeds tend to lessen that concern for many, yet if you have a mixed flock, these premixed feeds may present another danger.
For those that have a flock comprised only of laying hens, Layer Feed may work just perfectly. For those who have roosters and younger birds that are not yet laying mixed in with laying hens, premixed Layer Feed may not be the best thing for your whole flock.
The reason behind this conundrum is the calcium content of commercial Layer Feeds.
The calcium content in chick starter / grower feeds and general flock feeds usually falls between 0.5% and 1.5%.
The average calcium content of Layer Feed ranges from 3.25% to 4.8%. If a bird is laying regularly, these calcium levels are fine as the calcium is used to create the shell of the egg… but for any bird that is not laying, these levels may be too high, and might actually cause harm to some birds.
If a chicken is not laying and using excess calcium to produce egg shell, the kidney must filter out the excess calcium. Over time this can cause kidney failure.
Too much calcium, or Hypercalcaemia, can also result in calcification of the soft tissues and organs (including the liver and heart), pancreatitis, egg binding, dry skin, appetite loss, lethargy, confusion, depression, slowed growth in pullets and cockerels, dehydration, diarrhea or constipation, and even death.
So how do you feed a mixed flock of chickens without causing calcium deficiencies in laying hens, yet not overdosing young birds and roosters?
Many long-time chicken keepers who use commercial feed use “Grower” or “Flock Raiser” products designed for non-laying birds aged 10 to 18 weeks, and then offer free-choice oyster shell. Chickens won’t overdose themselves on calcium when it is fed free-choice. You will almost never see a rooster picking through oyster shell unless he just saw a bug jump into the dish.
It should also be noted that vitamin D3 is absolutely essential to the proper absorption of calcium. Most living critters obtain the bulk of their D3 through sunlight – so make sure your flock is getting plenty of rays! Not enough sun can cause laying hens to be unable to absorb the calcium in their diet. This can be just as dangerous to laying hens as too much calcium in the food would be to non-laying birds.
I will also note that other long-time chicken keepers report no ill effects from feeding layer feed to their entire flocks for many years.
Every bird is different and every breed of chicken is different. Some may be more sensitive to higher calcium levels, and others may be just fine with it. Those that get tons of natural sunlight may properly absorb much higher levels of calcium than those that stay inside for long periods.
My personal philosophy is that if I can do something that may help avoid long-term health issues in my flock without additional expense, it’s worth doing. I have always offered free choice oyster shell anyway, so switching feeds to the lower calcium feed made sense in my case. You be the judge and do what will be best for you and your flock.
And special congratulations to the winner of the Nest Box Blend Giveaway: Marianne Cowan. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, Marianne!