What to do when hens turn 18 (weeks old)
When you turn 18, you can do a lot of new things. You can vote, buy fireworks and even try your luck with the lottery. The magical number means — welcome to adulthood.
For backyard chickens, the number 18 means the same thing. Eighteen weeks is the age when most egg-laying breeds are considered adults. Most excitingly, it’s the time when many breeds will lay their first egg. At this key milestone, flock raisers are encouraged to transition hens to a complete layer feed.
Patrick Biggs, Ph.D., a flock nutritionist for Purina Animal Nutrition, said this feed switch is an essential step in the road to farm fresh eggs.
“When hens begin laying eggs, they require different nutrients than when they are growing,” he explains. “To produce an egg each day, hens need high levels of calcium, vitamins and minerals. Hens transfer many of these nutrients directly into their eggs, so layer feed plays an essential role in the eggs that hens produce.”
To transition to a complete layer feed, consider the following steps.
1. Choose a feed that matches your goals.
Select a complete layer feed before the transition begins. Ideally, the layer feed decision should be made by week 16, so the transition can be planned.
Biggs recommends looking for a complete layer feed. This means the feed should be formulated to provide everything hens require without a need to supplement.
“There are many complete layer feed options available,” Biggs said. “From organic to rich in omega-3 fatty acids, look for a complete layer feed that matches your goals. In any case, be sure the layer feed is made with simple, wholesome ingredients. The feed should include: 16 percent protein and at least 3.25 percent calcium as well as key vitamins and minerals.”
“These are just the essentials,” Biggs adds. “Look for additional ingredients in the layer feed to bring hen health and egg quality to the next level.”
A few next level ingredients to look for include the following:
- For rich, yellow yolks: Marigold extract
- For strong shells: Oyster Strong™ System
- For immune and digestive health: Prebiotics and probiotics
- For vibrant feathering: Essential amino acids such as lysine and methionine
- For omega-rich eggs: Added omega-3 fatty acids
2. Transition over one week.
When birds reach 18 weeks old or when the first egg arrives, slowly begin transitioning to a layer feed. Biggs’ advice is to make the transition over time to prevent digestive upset.
“For our backyard birds on our farm in Missouri, we have found it’s best to make the transition over time rather than all at once,” he said. “We mix the starter and layer feed evenly for four or five days. If birds are used to crumbles, start with a crumble layer feed. The same goes with pellets. The more similar the two feeds are, the more smoothly the transition will go.”
Biggs said that many hens will eat the mixed feed without noticing a difference. When hens are eating both feeds, flock owners can stop feeding the starter feed and make the complete switch to all layer feed. It is important to give your birds enough time to adjust to the new diet. Most birds will adjust within a couple of weeks but some can take a month or longer to fully transition to their new diet.
3. Keep it consistent.
Once the transition to layer feed is complete, it’s best to maintain a routine.
Biggs recommends providing free choice layer feed to hens and switching out the feed each morning and evening. If birds are free-ranging, offer the complete feed to hens before they go out in the morning. This will help them consume the nutrients they require before filling up on less nutritious insects and plants.
“It’s important for the complete feed to make up at least 90 percent of the hen’s diet,” Biggs said, listing Purina® Organic layer feed, Purina® Layena® Plus Omega-3 and Purina® Layena® pellets or crumbles as his top choices. “We feed complete layer feeds on our farm because they are formulated to provide all the nutrients hens require at the correct levels. It’s reassuring to know that each bite of feed is balanced to keep our hens healthy and producing quality eggs.”
Flock raisers are invited to celebrate egg laying season during Purina® FLOCK-TOBER™ 2016. In September and October, participating Purina retailers will offer free tin coop signs with the purchase of Purina® layer feed.