Theresia Lavergne | 11/2/2004 8:50:08 PM
Laying hens producing table eggs or hatching eggs require a completely balanced diet to maintain maximum and quality egg production. Feed expenses, however, tempt producers to cut corners, according to LSU AgCenter poultry professor Dr. Theresia Lavergne.
Since feed represents 60 percent or more of the total cost of keeping chickens, chicken owners are tempted to overfeed whole grains or table scraps in an attempt to lower the cost of keeping their laying hens, Lavergne explains.
"Actually, feeding whole grains or table scraps can cause the chicken’s diet to become improperly balanced," the poultry professor says, noting that the result is decreased egg production, increased body fat or poorer health.
"When fed an imbalanced diet, a laying hen will eat more feed, lay fewer eggs or both," Lavergne says, adding, "Furthermore, feeding an imbalanced diet can result in other problems such as ‘egg blow-outs’ or prolapse, in which the reproductive tract is expelled." This would mean permanent and fatal damage to the hen. Thus, the cost of producing eggs increases.
For hens producing hatching eggs, improperly balanced diets can result in poor hatchability. Improperly feeding hens can result in chicks that do not hatch, chicks that die right after hatching, chicks that cannot stand or chicks that have crooked toes.
Lavergne says laying hens should be fed a complete commercial layer feed from the local feed store. The layer feed should contain at least 16 percent protein. Also, commercial layer feed will be balanced in all other required nutrients, including carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins.
Hens will eat about 1/4 pound of complete feed per day. The light breed hens (such as Leghorns) will eat a little less, and the heavy breed hens (such as Rhode Island Reds) will eat a little more. For commercial feeds, follow the manufacturer’s feeding recommendations.
Additionally, it is important to offer the laying hen a source of supplemental calcium at all times. Calcium is an important nutrient for the laying hen, since calcium is used in the formation of the egg shell. When a hen does not eat enough calcium, she will use the calcium from her bones to make the egg shell, and her skeletal structure can weaken.
Also, the egg shells will be thin. Oyster shell is an excellent calcium source and should be provided to the laying hen at all times. The supplemental calcium source should be fed in a feeder separate from their complete feed, or it can be sprinkled on top of their complete feed.
Do not forget the clean, fresh water," Lavergne emphasizes. "Hens need to have water available at all times."
If done correctly, table scraps, whole grains or scratch can be used as a "treat" or supplement to the laying hen’s regular diet. These can be offered to the laying hen in an amount that will be eaten within five to 10 minutes and only one time per day. Remember, however, that some table scraps can cause off-flavor in the eggs.
For practical information on related topics, visit the AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com/. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.