What to Feed Laying Hens

Raised Feeder

Fig 1: Suspending the feeder so that the base is at the same level as the bird’s back will help reduce feed wastage & prevent dirt from entering the feed.

Laying birds need feed that are nutritionally balanced because of their high level of production. Imagine a laying hen laying 230-300 eggs per year. To maintain this high performance, they need well balanced feed. Let’s look at quality and quantity of feed.

Quality of Feed

For maximum/optimal productivity, your layers will need feed that are specially formulated to meet their nutritional requirement. The feed should be fresh and free from mould.

Throughout their life, your birds might need starter, grower, developer, pre-lay and layers feed. But the most common among these feeds are starter, grower and layers feeds. A change is made from one type of feed to the other only when the birds have attained a target body weight & uniformity. Adhering to this is very important if you want to maintain high egg production.

Pullets' nutritional recommendation

Table 1: This spec applies only to Hy-line brown hybrid. You can get yours by consulting the management guide for your bird type. Source: (2011) P. 13

Starter Feed: Starter feed helps the chicks to develop frame. Nigerian farmers usually give starter for the first 8 weeks of the chick’s life. The actual duration will depend on the birds’ body weight & uniformity, the hybrid and the energy level of the feed (See table above). You’ll need to consult the management guide for your own hybrid to see what applies to you.

Generally, do not change to the next feed when the chicks have not attained the target body weight and uniformity set by the management guide for your hybrid. For Hy-Line Brown layers, target body weight before change to grower feed is about 500g (for birds in cages) and 480 (for birds on deep litter) as shown in table 1 above. If yours is not Hy-Line Brown, visit your breeder’s or hatchery’s site and download their management guide. That for Hyline brown, Isa brown and Shaver brown can be found here.

Grower Feed: This is the next feed in line after the chick starter. In Nigeria, it is usually given until 5% of the birds start laying. If you’ll be giving optional feeds like developer and pre-lay feeds, then you should give grower feed until about 12 weeks or when the target body weight and uniformity are achieved. After the grower feed, you can switch to developer feed. Grower feed is usually cheaper than starter and layer feeds.

Developer Feed (Optional): This feed is not popular among Nigerian farmers. Developer feed contains lower energy level than the grower or layer feed. It is optional but it comes with an advantage. One of the main objectives of the growing period is to develop the bird’s digestive tract. To accomplish this, you need a feed that has low energy level. Note that birds eat to satisfy their energy requirement. Therefore the lower the energy level in the feed, the more feed the birds will consume and this helps to develop their digestive tract. The bird’s crop will expand to accommodate more feed and when the birds eventually start laying eggs, they’ll be able to eat enough feed to maintain a high level of egg production.

Developer feed can be given up to 16 week of age. But you’ll need to follow the recommendations in your hybrid’s management guide.

Pre-Lay Feed (Optional): This also is not popular among Nigerian farmers. It is optional but it comes with its own advantages. Pre-lay feed contains higher level of calcium than either the grower or developer feed. It is usually given from 17 weeks until 5% lay. This feed prepares the birds for egg production by ensuring proper development of the medullary bone – a bone that act as a reservoir for mobilizable calcium during egg formation.

Layers Feed: This is given when the birds start laying (5% lay) until they are sold off when they’re about 72-80 weeks of age. Commercial layers feed usually contain enough calcium so that supplementary calcium is not needed (as long as your birds feed only on commercial or properly formulated feed and you don’t give them  a lot of treats).

Changing Feed: When switching from one feed to the other, do so gradually by mixing the previous feed with the new feed. For example, if you want to switch from starter feed to grower feed, start by mixing the starter feed with a little quantity of grower feed. Do so for about 1-2 weeks and as the day progress, gradually increase the quantity of grower feed in the mixture. This helps the birds to get use to the new feed without stress to the digestive tract.

Quantity of Feed

The quantity of feed birds requires depends on their age and body weight. Hens will become fat if you over-feed them and fat hens are poor layers. Every commercial hybrid has a feed consumption chart that gives you an estimated quantity of feed needed in relation to age and body weight. There are feed consumption and body weight plan for layers which will help you to estimate feed cost. You can get the feeding chart for Hyline Brown, Isa Brown and Shaver here.


  • In hot weather, panting lead to loss of CO2 and bicarbonates in blood plasma. This delays oviposition time. So maximum feed have to be given at midnight and early morning to maintain production and shell quality. See How to Combat Heat Stress here and here.
  • The best possible diets should be fed in the first few weeks of life. This will result in to better egg production.

In commercial flocks, avoid treats since it dilutes the nutrition of the feed and causes egg production to drop. In extreme cases, it can lead to poor shell quality.

Calcium Supplement

Calcium is one of the most important minerals needed in layers diet. Layers need calcium for egg shell formation. About 10% of the total weight of the egg is shell and shell is almost 100% calcium carbonate.

Calcium supplement is needed only when you give your birds a lot of treats or when you allow them to forage (avoid these and feed only formulated layers feed if you want more eggs). It is not needed when the birds are maintained on commercial or formulated layers feed.


Chickens need insoluble grits in their gizzard to grind food particles. Some people think that grits are not needed when the birds are fed mash diet as the feed has already been grinded. This is true when the birds are kept in cages, but if the birds are on litter, they will frequently eat litter materials, feathers and other foreign materials that require grinding. Birds on litters & those that are fed whole grain will need grits.

Different types of grit and shell hoppers are available. They are usually divided into two compartments – one for grits and the other for a source of calcium. If needed, grits and calcium can be available in the feeder at all times.

Also Read:

Types of Poultry Feeds for Layers, Broilers and Cockerels

Feed Consumption Plan and Body Weight Target for Laying Hens

Works Cited

Aviagen Limited. 2002. Download Ross_Broiler_Manual_09.pdf. Aviagen.com. [Online] Nov. 2002. http://en.aviagen.com/assets/Tech_Center/Ross_Broiler_Manual_09.pdf.

  1. Download 2009_Hy-Line_Brown.pdf. PoultryHub.org. [Online] March 2011. http://www.poultryhub.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/2009_Hy-Line_Brown.pdf.
  2. van Eekeren, et al. 2006. Downlad AD4.pdf. Journeytoforever.org. [Online] 2006. http://journeytoforever.org/farm_library/AD4.pdf. Agromisa: 90-8573-069-4.


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