Though they are sometimes upside-down on the bag, all commercially available farm animal feed bags have nutritional labels on them. This will help you make informed decisions about what to feed your poultry based on factors like type of poultry, their age, and your preferences for food sources.
Chick Starter : Baby chicks have different nutritional requirements than adult chickens so their food is somewhat specialized to have a little more protein (usually around 20%) and a little less calcium (usually 2% or less). Chick starters will often be in the form of crumbles, (think Grape Nuts) which are easier to eat.
Medicated and Non-medicated : Oftentimes, the medication included in a medicated Chick Starter is Amprolium, but there may be different medication depending on where you live and who makes the feed. Medicated feed reduces the chance of birds developing coccidiosis, a parasitic intestinal tract condition that can kill chicks and adult birds if not controlled. Pay special attention to the medicated ingredient, which will be listed first on the label. Some medications are unsafe for other animals if they get into it.
Grower : You may or may not want to transition young birds using a Grower feed, which usually has slightly less protein than a starter feed, and still not yet as much calcium as a layer feed. If you have a slow-growing breed, Grower feed might be a good choice once the chicks are mature enough to no longer be in danger from coccidiosis, but don’t really need the extra calcium because they aren’t at the point of laying eggs yet. Some feed producers create Starter/Grower blends that you can use up until your poultry is mature enough for adult feed.
Layer Feed : Hens that are old enough to begin laying will generally be transitioned to a Layer feed that maintains a decent protein level but boosts the calcium to 3 or 4% to assist with healthy egg production. Roosters generally don’t need this calcium boost, and some veterinarians advise against feeding layer feed to your rooster(s), but others report no issues with their roos as they seem more inclined to let the hens eat their fill of the feed first.
Egg Ration : Sometimes you might want a protein boosted egg-ration for your flock if you notice behaviors that indicate they need more protein, or egg conditions that indicate they need more calcium. Feeds that are formulated especially to help with egg production are usually labeled as Egg Ration or Egg Booster or something similar.
Broiler Feed : If you’re raising meat chickens, you might be looking for a specific feed mix. Many Broiler feed formulations are so similar to Layer feed formulations that the label might say “Broiler/Layer Feed.” Many Broiler/Meat bird formulas offer increased protein and fat content because birds like Cornish Cross grow so fast. Some formulas also offer extra fiber to aid in digesting all that food they eat!
Organic : If you’re looking for Organic feeds, you probably already know that means the feed is developed using non-GMO food sources. Theoretically, any of the above styles of feed can be organic but the most common organic feed is Layer feed.
Pellets or Crumbles : Whether to use pellets or crumbles is up to you – or your birds. Some folks have flocks that prefer one form to another, while some flocks could not care any less about what kind of food they get as long as they get food! Generally speaking, crumbles are easier for baby birds to eat.
Let us know if there’s a feed type or labeling terminology that you have some tips for, or that you need explanations for – we’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Here’s a more in-depth reference article that explains label requirements too, in case you want to know why certain ingredients are listed and others are not.