Coming-of-age rituals are common in the human world. Celebrations and solemn ceremonies abound. For chickens, however, things are less exciting. No engraved invitations. No limos or live bands. Poor dears, all they get is a new bag of food that LOOKS just like the old bag of food, which basically looks like little pellets of corrugated cardboard. The significance, however, is profound: at the appointed time, a hen is changed over from “starter” ration to “laying” ration, the operative verb here being “to lay”. As in an egg.
Like many other aspects of chickenkeeping, there seems to be a fair amount of disagreement about when this momentous change should occur. Some people switch their chickens over to layer feed as early as 14 weeks. Most seem to favor a switch somewhere between 16-20 weeks of age. But there are also those who insist layer feed should not be given until pullets are actually laying eggs.The advice I was given at our local feed store was to change the ration when the girls turn 20 weeks, which just happens to be today. Coincidentally, as I was filling their feeder this evening, I noticed that I was scraping at the bottom of the bag of grower ration, so I will take that as an omen.
From what I understand, the biggest difference between grower and layer feed is the percentage of protein. According to the Animal Science department at UC Davis, pullet grower feed consists of 14-16% protein and should be fed between the ages of 6 and 20 weeks of age. At this point, it is recommended that the birds be switched to laying ration, which has a boosted protein content of 15-18%.
There is a survey on the Backyard Chickens web site where subscribers have shared the age at which their hens first laid eggs. Here is the data on our four breeds, including earliest and latest age at which the bird laid its first egg, color of the egg and size of the egg:
BREED EARLIEST LATEST EGG COLOR EGG SIZE
Brahma, Light (Amelia) 19 wks. 39 wks. lt. brown/cream/pink med. to extra large
Easter Egger (Autumn) 17 wks. 31 wks. mint/pink/olive/ small to extra large
Delaware (Lily) 20 wks. 22 wks. light brown medium to large
Orpington, Buff (Hope) 19.5 wks 28 wks. light brown (no data)
As you can see from the above chart, the girls are statistically in egg-laying territory. I poured the last of their old food into their feeder tonight, and tomorrow they will be officially on layer ration. Let’s hope they get busy and start laying eggs soon!