The growing popularity of hen keeping has resulted in an ever growing hen feed industry. The days of backyard hens living off a handful of grain or kitchen scraps have long gone and the responsible chicken keeper is now faced with a bewildering array of different feeds and often no idea which to choose.
In the same way that it would not be recommended to feed kitten food to senior cats or puppy food to elderly dogs, hens require different food throughout their lives. Essentially hen food is divided into:
This article will concentrate on the nutritional needs of the commercial laying hen and backyard ex commercial hens. Commercial broiler birds have their own particular requirements.
For the first 6 to 8 weeks of life chicks are fed on chick crumb or mash. Rearing diets are designed to meet the nutrient requirements of a growing bird, which develops in a sequential fashion, with the respiratory and digestive systems being primary, followed by skeletal growth, feather, muscle and fat. The growth rate of a layer type pullet (a pullet bred specifically for the egg laying industry as opposed to a broiler pullet which reaches maturity and slaughter weight between 5 and 7 weeks of age) is relatively slow and therefore the diets are of medium energy density, with a falling protein content through the series of starter to grower diets, which reflect the increasing feed consumption capacity and decreasing rate of daily gain of hens (Figure 1).