Friday, December 7, 2012

Ask Bee - What Protein Levels Do My Chickens Need?

Dear Bee –
I’ve heard talk about protein levels - how people modify them for the health of the flock.  I am not good at math. I do read the labels to see what the protein levels are in the feed (though those numbers leave my brain as soon as I close the chicken binder) and I've lookes over the list of foods (on the FermentedFeed Tab) with protein levels as reference.

What is the right protein level for laying hens?  When should it be higher or lower?  If they are not laying what level should it be? 

Bee's Answer: 

These types of questions are why this blog was started.  No one should have to ask these questions because the variables are too many for one person to state how much anyone's flocks should eat.  The premixed, milled feeds have the optimum protein and nutrient levels that have been considered appropriate to keep layers fit and producing and I have found that they work.  That's the beauty of having such things around to take all the guesswork out of it.  I never advise new flock owners to play around in mixing their own feed mixes and such because it takes some time and experience to learn how your individual flock responds to different types of feed throughout the individual seasons. 

The complicated percentages of nutrients being bandied about the internet was one of the reasons I started helping folks.  It's not even necessary to worry about these things when you first get into chickens.  Your first priority is to just keep them maintained and healthy for a year or two before you start trying to run with the big dogs on improving nutrition, bloodlines, incubating your own chicks, etc.   When you can successfully keep some birds healthy on formulated feeds ~ which should keep them healthy enough ~ then I can advise experimenting with feed mixes and seasonal changes that might work with your flocks.

Fermenting the regular feed rations is enough of a boost to the total nutrition and value of the feeds, so I wouldn't worry about tweaking anything right now.  It's really easy to get the nutrition levels off kilter, as I have recently inadvertently done with my own flock.  I tweaked too much in my desperation to get them conditioned before winter, but I went overboard and it's just that easy ~ even for someone who’s been at this for awhile. 

Luckily, I have experience in spotting it (even without killing a chicken to see it) and already knew by watching them move and by lifting them when I cared for them that they are simply fat enough.  Then slaughtering a chicken from my flock showed me that, not only are they fat enough, but I had let them go beyond fat enough into too fat.   

Just watching them walk and run should have sent those alarm bells going in my head but I was still so pleased to see them fluffy, clean and plump to remember why they are here.  They are not here to look good or plump, they are here to live out a healthy, natural life while producing food.  Nothing more. 

Rest easy.... it's not that hard to do this thing called chicken.  

Bee -

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