For most backyard chickens, 18 weeks of age is when most egg-laying chickens are considered adult. This is the time where they will start laying their first egg and it is also the suitable time to switch to layer feed.
Changing the feed is a crucial step for the laying hens as they require different nutrients to lay eggs as compared to when they are growing. The laying hens need sufficient amount of calcium, vitamins as well as minerals in order to lay eggs. The hens would also transfer these nutrients to their eggs, hence the nutrients in the layer feed plays a very important role in the eggs that hens produce.
Here are some of the things to consider when changing to layer feed:
1. Choosing a layer feed formula that suits your needs
It is important to select a complete layer feed before the transition begins, ideally by week 16 so that the transition can be planned.
The first step is to look for a complete layer feed which provides all the required nutrients for the hen without a need to supplement. There are many complete layer feed in the market. Ensure that the feed you choose is made with simple, wholesome ingredients. Feed should include 16% protein and a minimum of 3.25% calcium as well as the key vitamins and minerals.
Additional ingredients in the layer feed that will improve the layer hen's health and egg quality include:
Marigold extract for rich and yellow yolks.
Prebiotics and probiotics for improved immune and digestive health.
Essential amino acids such as lysine and methionine for vibrant feathering.
Omega-3 fatty acids for omega-rich eggs.
2. Transition over one week
When the birds reach 18 weeks of age or when they start laying eggs, you can start switch your chickens to a layer feed. It is important to make the transition over a period of time gradually in order to prevent digestive upset.
One good way to do this is to mix the starter feed and layer feed evenly for 4 - 5 days. If the chickens are used to crumbles, then start with a crumble layer feed. The goal is to ensure a smooth transition, hence it is recommended if the two feeds are similar.
Most hens will eat mixed feed without noticing the difference. When they are eating both feeds, you can stop feeding the starter feed and make a complete switch to layer feed. It is important to allow sufficient time for the birds to adjust. The birds usually will take a couple of weeks to adjust. Some will take up to a month or longer.
3. Ensure consistency
Once the transition to layer feed is complete. it is encouraged to keep a routine.
Providing free choice layer feed and switching out the feed every morning and evening is recommended. If the birds are free-range, it is a good idea to offer the complete feed to hens before they go out in the morning as this will ensure the birds will consume the nutrients required rather than filling up with less nutritious insects or plants.
It is very important that the complete feed is at least 90% of the hen's diet. This is because complete layer feed is formulated to provide all the sufficient nutrients for the hens at the correct levels to lay eggs.