Most books recommend that
you lower the protein content of your chicken and duck feed from around
20% protein (starter feed) to about 13 to 18% protein (grower/finisher
feeds) when the youngsters pass their peak growth period (by the time
they’re two to three months old). You don’t want to just change
the pullets over to laying pellets at this time, even though the protein
content of the feed is right, because excess calcium before a bird
starts to lay can damage the birds’ internal organs and skeleton.
And even though I’ve raised pullets all the way to laying on chick feed
in the past, this option isn’t the best either since it can make birds
grow too fast and not develop properly (and since chick feed is more
expensive than lower-protein feeds).
While it seems simple to
go to the feed store and pick up some grower/finisher feed, ours only
stocks three kinds of poultry feed — chick starter, laying pellets for
adult hens, and scratch feed (which is just mixed grains, appropriate
for treats only). We don’t have the storage area needed to mix our own feeds, so I was glad that Storey’s Guide to Raising Ducks
suggested a simpler option. The author recommends adding whole,
rolled, meal, or pelleted oats to your ducks’ rations at a rate of 5% by
volume the first week, then an additional 5% each week until you’re
feeding 25% oats and 75% starter feed. Since oats are 12% protein, that drops the protein content of your mixed feed to 18% (if my math is right).
I went back to check on
our pullets and cockerels a few hours after giving them their mixed feed
to see if they pecked around the oats. To my surprise, I found
that they’d actually broken apart their automatic feeder so they could
eat up all the oats first
— I guess the chickens knew they needed more carbs in their diet and
were itching for the extra grain. That was at 10% oats by volume,
so I guess I’ll move the chickens right up to 25% grain and see how they
do. The ducks, on the other hand, are younger and are reputed to
be pickier about changing feeds, so I’ll keep tapering their diet down
to a lower protein level over the next few weeks.