Before we talk about how to feed chicken for egg production, let us talk about the eggs the comes out.
What Is In An Egg?
The egg has a protective, external, porous shell. This shell is mainly made of calcium carbonate which is covered by an invisible protein barrier called the cuticle. The cuticle's main function is to shield the interior part of the egg from bacterial contamination
These structures, along with the inner membrane, surrounds a cloudy albumen, also known as the egg white which is mostly composed of water and protein. The albumen in turn envelopes the egg yolk which is the egg's main nucleus of protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. The average chicken egg will contain about 6 grams of proteins and 6 grams of fat.
The easiest and simplest way to feed a small flock of chickens is to purchase commercial complete feed from a feed store. Complete feed contains all the nutrients in the right proportions for the chicken to to grow and optimally and for egg production. If a well balanced diet is being fed to a flock of chickens, supplementing with other items might upset the balance of the diet.
Here are some of the common mistakes with feeding supplements to the chickens:
Adding the vitamin and electrolyte supplements for more than 10 days
Adding on the complete feeds with cracked corns, oats or other grains
Supplementing low nutrition ingredients such as green chops and lettuce to the diet
Giving unnecessary amount of medication
The amount of feed the chicken will consume in a day will very much depends on the composition of the diet. Chickens will adjust the feed intake accordingly to meet their energy requirements. For example, as the energy content of diet increases, the feed intake of chickens will decrease, likewise, if the energy content of the diet decreases, the feed intake of chickens will increase.
There are other factors affecting the feed intake as well such as environment temperatures. During hot weather, feed intake is generally lower. During cold weather, the feed intake of chickens will increase as they will need to consume more to supply the extra energy needed to maintain regulation body temperature.
In general, chickens would be compelled to scratch the floor. They will use their toes to mix up litter or scrape the ground to search for seeds, greens and or insects to eat. By spreading scratch grains in the form of cracked, rolled or whole grains (such as corn, barley or oats), this will encourage the chicken to scratch at the ground.
It is not encouraged to feed scratch grain with complete feeds to the chicken as they will dilute or affect the well balanced diet. If the chicken consumes too much scratch grain, they will have less appetite for more nutritious food. Therefore, if one must feed scratch grains, feed them in the afternoon after the chickens have eaten the complete feed and provide the amount just enough for the chickens to finish in around 20 minutes.
It is important to provide grit when feeding scratch grains to chickens. This is to help the chickens grind and digest properly as they do not have teeth. Usually, the chicken will find enough grit in the form of small rocks if they have access to the ground. With that being said, it is still very beneficial to provide commercial grit.
Scraps in the form of peelings, stale bread and leafy vegetables are also often fed to chickens as treats. However, excessive table scraps will affect the balanced diet already being fed to the chickens. It is encouraged to feed the chickens scratch grains that can be consumed under 20 minutes.
Pasture and lawn clippings make good source of nutrients to chickens. With pasture and lawn clippings being supplied to chickens, the amount of complete feed can be reduced. It is best to feed chickens with young and tender plants rather than old, fibrous plant as the chickens will have difficulty digesting them. Grass clippings from lawn that have pesticides being applied recently should also be avoided.
Laying chickens will require a constant supply of fresh and clean water as chickens require water for several physiological function. Besides that, water also comprises more than half of an egg's volume. It is important to ensure that the chickens have reliable source of water for both hot and dry periods or else the egg production will be affected.
Feeding And Storage
It is just as important to have enough feeder space for all chickens to eat at the same time. This is because limited feeder space will cause some chickens to not have enough to eat. It is encouraged to place the feeders so that the trough is at the level of chickens' back to avoid or reduce feed spillage.
Feed used to feed the chickens should not be stored for more than two months as older feed can lose its nutritional value. It is also important to ensure that the feed is being kept in a dry and cool place.
A well balanced diet with supplements and ample supply water is not enough to ensure great production of eggs. A well built and properly ventilated chicken coop is crucial for chickens to produce eggs. It will offer the birds shelter from weather and predator as well as a safe spot to roost at night. If a bird is cold and wet, it will spend its energy reserves trying to keep warm rather than focus on egg production. This will naturally cause a decrease in the rate of egg production.
Keeping The Coop Clean
It is of utmost importance to ensure the coop is clean. Hygienic conditions will promote healthier hens and so will paying attention to biosecurity issues such as limiting visits of other chickens to your farm.
Providing Nest Boxes
If the goal is to get eggs that are nice, clean and intact, you have to persuade the chicken to lay the eggs where you want them to lay instead of some corner in their coop or hidden in the tall grass. It is important to provide plenty of covered nest boxes for your flock. It is advised to get one for every four hens.
Setting Up Lights
Light is another important factor which affects the egg production. The egg production of chicken is correlated with the number of hours of light per day. There is no doubt that artificial lighting will maximise the egg production during winter. With that being said, there will also be problems caused by artificial lighting. Laying eggs takes a lot of energy and puts a lot of stress on a chicken's body. They will need time to rest and focus their energy elsewhere, such as on raising chickens, growing feathers or keeping warm during winter. If the chicken is forced to lay eggs in the winter, they will often wear out in a short period of time while hens that were allowed to rest will continue producing eggs seasonally for many more years.
Laying Hens Once your chickens start laying eggs (typically around 20 weeks of age), they should be switched to a layer feed. Laying hens need certain nutrients, not only to produce eggs, but also to maintain health and stress free. Here is a basic breakdown of what a typical layer hen diet should be:
Protein: 16 - 18%
Lysine: 0.75 - 0.79%
How much to feed would very much depends on the laying hen's breed, how much forage is available and how warm are they. in the summer, there will be more grass and insects to eat, so less feed is needed. In the winter, there will be fewer opportunities to hunt for extra calories and the chickens will be using the stored energy to try to keep warm. Hence, more feed is needed during cold weather. In general, laying hens would require somewhere between a quarter of pound to a third of a pound of feed per day to keep them in good health if they don't have access to pasture.
Every year, a chicken will molt (losing its feathers) and grow new ones. Egg production usually ceases until the molt is completed. There is a considerable variability in the timing and duration of a molt. "Late molters"would lay eggs for 12 - 14 months before molting. As for "early molters", they typically begin to molt a few months after production. For early molters, they drop a few feathers at a time and can take up to 6 months to complete the molt whereas for late molters, they shed feathers more quickly, usually over the span of 2 - 3 months. The late molters will lose feathers and their replacement will take place simultaneously. Therefore, this will cause the hens to go back to full production sooner.
During the nonproductive molting period, there will be many physiological changes in the chicken. There will be significant body weight loss. 25 percent of it will be due to the regression of reproductive tract to the pullet state. The remainder body weight loss will be due to loss of body fat, feathers, liver tissues, musculature and skeleton. The egg production levels, shell thickness, and egg quality will improve after molting due to the regression of the reproductive tract which plays a significant role in the improvement of egg quality in the second production cycle.
Back in the olden days, farmers will induce molt in a flock by removing feed. Due to the perception that feed removal is equivalent to starving the chickens, many countries now prohibit fasting as a method to induce molt. In the 1960s, researchers discovered a new way of initiating molt by giving chickens "low nutrient" diets. The diets were meant to be full fed but with the reduction of protein, calcium or other important nutrients. This reduced the egg production to less than 5% and induced a molt. However, after molting, the improvements to the egg production is comparable to those of chickens induced to molt through fasting
There are other methods to induce molt without removing the feed. One of the method is to include wheat middlings, a diet that will combine wheat middlings and corn, a corn-gluten feed, soy hulls or alfalfa. The egg production levels achieved using this method is lower compared to inducing molt through feed withdrawal. With that being said, the method is acceptable and does not cause tremendous harm to the chicken. Any molting procedure should cause the entire flock to rapidly go out of production. Therefore, the flock that goes through molting procedure should be kept out of production until it has adequate rest period and rapidly bring back into production after resting.