As you start your journey on raising chickens, it is important to look forward to the various milestones and celebrate them. Starting from chick to retirement, there are 6 important growth stages where each stage signals nutrition changes. Here are the 6 stages:
1. Week 1 to 4: Baby Chicks
Start out by providing a complete starter growth feed with a minimum of 18% protein to help support growth. Ideally, the feed should also include amino acids for chick development as well as prebiotics and probiotics for immune health, and vitamins and minerals to help improve bone health.
If the chicks are not vaccinated for coccidiosis by the hatchery, choose a medicated feed as the chicks are susceptible to illness.
2. Week 5 to 15: Teenage Birds
During week 5 onwards, there will be visible growth changes for the chicks as they will start growing feathers. A pullet is the term for teenage female birds while young male is called a cockeral. From week 7 to 15, the physical differences between male and female will become even more obvious.
At this stage, continue to feed starter growth feed. Besides ensuring 18% protein, it is also important to limit the calcium % to less than 1.25 as too much calcium will have an adverse effect on growth.
3. Week 16 to 17: Anticipating For Eggs
Around week 16 to 17 is when people start to anticipate for the chick's first egg. Consider changing to layer feed to ensure smooth transition. As compared to starter-grower, a layer feed has less protein and more calcium. Added calcium is crucial for egg production. There are many types of layer feed in the market. Ensure that the layer feed you choose is simple, wholesome ingredients, have at least 16% protein, minimum of 3.25% calcium as well as key vitamins and minerals.
4. Week 18: The First Egg
During week 18 or when the first egg arrives, slowly transition to layer feed. Ensure the transition is gradual to avoid digestive upset.
It is encouraged to transition slowly rather than all at once. Start mixing the starter and layer feed evenly for four to five days. If the birds are used to crumbles, start with crumble layer feed. This works the same for pellets. The general rule of thumb is the more similar the two feeds are, the smoother the transition will go.
5. Month 18: Molting
At around month 18 is where feathers will start to drop. This means molting season has arrived.
The first molt will usually occur during the fall when days become shorter. Your flock will take a break from egg laying and feathers will start dropping for a few weeks.
During molting season, protein is a key nutrient in the flock's diet as feathers are mostly made up of protein whereas eggs are primarily calcium. Therefore, when molt begins, switch to a complete feed with a minimum of 20% protein to help regrow feathers. Once birds start producing eggs again, switch back to layer feed to match their energy needs.
There will come a time where the hen will stop laying eggs. Although the hen no longer lay eggs, she still plays an important role in the flock as a steady companion. At this point, transition back to higher protein feed.