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    The Difference Between Starter, Grower and Layer Feeds

    Authored by Jodi Helmer

    Choosing chicken breeds, setting up the coop and welcoming home a new flock is exciting—but deciding what to feed them can feel overwhelming.

    What are the different types of chicken feed

    Chickens have different nutritional needs at each stage of their growth. Stores are stocked with feed labeled as “starter,” “grower” and “layer” to ensure that chicken-keepers are offering the right nutrition to their chicks at the right time.

    Feeds also come in different consistencies, including mash, crumbles and pellets. Mash is ground feed; pellets are made from mash that has been compressed into a pelleted shape; and crumbles are pellets broken into smaller pieces. Chicken foods may also be certified organic or non-GMO. 

    As long as you choose the right chicken food for the right age and stage of development, the decision to feed organic or non-GMO food whether to choose pellets, crumbles or mash is a matter of personal preference.

    Learn about the differences in each type of food and when you should choose each one for best flock health.

    Starter chicken feed

    Newborn chicks have specialized dietary requirements. Between birth and six weeks old, chicks need starter feed. The feed has 20 to 24 percent protein and chicks need the protein-dense food to support rapid growth during their first weeks of life.

    Broiler chickens being raised for meat need a special “meat bird starter” that is higher in protein—up to 22 percent—to maximize growth. Do not feed meat bird starter to newly-hatched laying hens.

    You’ll notice that starter food comes in medicated and unmedicated varieties. The medicated varieties were designed to prevent Coccidiosis, intestinal parasites that make it impossible for chickens to absorb the nutrients in their food. 

    Some chicks receive Coccidiosis vaccinations and don’t need medicated feed; ask the hatchery or farm store where you buy chicks about their vaccination status and choose unmedicated feed for vaccinated chicks.

    Shop starter chicken feed >

    Starter/grower feed

    Some companies manufacture starter/grower feed that was designed for chickens from birth until 20 weeks (about 4 and a half months) of age. You’ll transition your chickens from starter/grower to layer feed.

    When do I switch to grower chicken feed

    Once chicks reach six weeks of age, it’s time to transition from starter feed to grower feed. The protein content in grower feed is around 18 percent to support continued growth and build strong bones until chickens reach maturity. 

    At this age, chickens need less protein and calcium than chickens at different growth stages. Ignoring this developmental stage and skipping straight to layer feed will add too much calcium to your chicken’s diet, which could cause kidney damage.

    Shop grower chick feed >

    What is layer chicken feed

    Layer feed was designed to meet the nutritional requirements for chickens that are old enough to lay eggs. It has 15 to 18 percent protein, which is less than starter or grower feeds and all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that your chickens need to start laying eggs.

    Calcium is one of the most important nutrients in layer feeds because higher levels of calcium to ensure that chickens lay eggs with strong shells.

    You can transition your chickens to layer feed around 20 weeks (about 4 and a half months) old (or sooner, if chickens begin laying eggs earlier).

    Shop layer chicken feed >

    What do I feed rosters

    Roosters have different nutritional needs than hens. You’ll need to feed grower and starter feed until roosters reach 20 weeks (about 4 and a half months) of age, but mature roosters need less calcium and more protein than hens, so transitioning mature roosters to layer feed isn’t the right choice. 

    Instead, choose a “flock raiser” or similar feed that was designed for the special nutrient needs of your cock-a-doodle-doo crew.

    How do I feed rosters and hens together

    Feeding a flock of mixed roosters and hens? You can separate them at feeding time or offer flock raiser to the entire flock and add “free choice” oyster shells to ensure your laying hens get the calcium they need to lay eggs with strong shells.

    Knowing which food to offer your chickens at which ages can ensure you’re supplying the best nutrition for growth and development of the entire flock.