Continuing on from my post last week about feeding chicks, I’m now turning my attention to the correct feeding of ‘growers’ of which I’m assuming most will be (or will hopefully be) pullets!
When chickens are between the age of 6 and 18 weeks, we normally refer to them as ‘growers’. Before this age they are ‘chicks’ and after this age, ‘cockerels’ (males under one year of age) and ‘pullets’ (females under one year of age). Pullets are often referred to as being at point of lay (abbreviated to POL), which, if you buy chickens at ‘POL’ is when they are ready to go to their new homes, settle in for a few weeks and then start to lay their owners lots of eggs!
Most breeders, myself included will sex chicks as soon as possible, usually leaving very few males in the growing flock. More than one male cannot easily be kept in a flock and will usually fight and most people keeping chickens cannot keep a cock due to the noise he makes.
We therefore have mostly pullets in the flock and need to provide them with the correct diet to grow but also to prepare them for what lies ahead: egg laying!
Chicks are started off on a high protein crumb which helps them to put on weight quickly although if this level is maintained in growers, they can get too fat and be out of condition, finding it difficult to lay eggs.
Growers pellets are a small pellet, bigger than a crumb and slightly lower in protein that they can eat ad-lib without putting on too much weight.
Continue to feed growers pellets until point of lay. Don’t be tempted to switch to layers pellets too soon since these contain high levels of calcium which is great for making egg shells but has been linked with weak legs (due to bone formation problems) and even kidney damage in growing pullets.
As your growers reach POL, (a few weeks before laying) or even as you start to find the first eggs, change their ration over to layers pellets.
Different breeds of hen will require different amounts of food to reach POL. Some larger pure breeds take up to 25 weeks compared to hybrids that are usually around 18 weeks.
Larger breeds not only take longer to reach egg laying age but eat more as they grow as well making them more costly to raise. This usually explains the £25 to £35 per hen price tag when buying POL large fowl pullets.
Eggs contain protein and nearly all of this comes from the diet of a laying pullet. Lots of newcomers ask me when their chickens will start laying and try to encourage them to lay. I always tell them to be patient and wait a few more weeks.
Everyone is keen to get their first egg, however a pullet that isn’t large enough when she starts laying cannot obtain enough protein to continue growing to her full size and to lay eggs, so the eggs she will lay will be very small and she won’t lay as many. It’s better to be patient and feed her well so that she is a good size when she finally starts to lay eggs.
Not only will you get larger eggs but you’ll get more of them!