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Nutrition requirements and feed for laying hens

Nutrition requirements and feed for laying hens


Laying hen nutrition is key for happy chooks and healthy egg production. 

But what do you actually need to feed chickens to meet their nutrient requirements? 

Whether you’ve got backyard chooks or are producing on a bigger scale, we’re going through the nutrient and energy requirements of egg-laying chickens, plus a chicken feeding guide for each life stage to help them develop into productive, healthy egg layers. 


Nutrient requirements of egg-laying chickens

Meeting hen laying nutrition requirements ensures your chickens have everything their body needs to grow, lay and reproduce. 

Whether they are free range or in a chicken run, there are a few key nutrients chickens need in their diet for optimum production. 

  • Protein

Protein is one of the most important nutrient factors for laying chickens. 

There are varied scientific conclusions on exactly how much protein chickens need in their diet. However, there is no argument that it is one of the most important nutrient factors for laying chickens. 

Their feathers are made up of 75% protein, and eggs are basically little balls of protein potential. These metabolism functions don’t even include what a chicken needs to grow and exist without egg production and malting. 

Sharpes Hi-Lay Pellets contain meat and bone meal as an excellent source of protein for your flock. It is the perfect mix to support chicken growth and egg laying!

  • Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are one of the main sources of energy for chickens (like a lot of living creatures). 

Poultry pellets give chickens a lot of their carbohydrate requirements through starch and non-starch grains. A good blend of different types of carbohydrates, like we have in our poultry pellets, gives your chickens good variation in their diet. 

  • Vitamins and Minerals 

High quality chicken pellets include a lot of essential vitamins and minerals that laying hens need for egg production. 

Some important trace minerals they need for optimum egg laying are:

  • Calcium 
  • Phosphorous 
  • Vitamin D

These all contribute to bone strength, as well as egg production. 

  • Water

Water is an essential part of laying hen nutrition requirements. It supports overall chicken health, as well as food intake.  

If chickens don’t have enough water, they won’t eat enough food, and will therefore produce less. 

  • Energy

The energy content of chicken feed is just as important as the protein content. 

Ideally you want to pick chicken feed that has ingredients that balance energy dense grains and protein sources.

For example, wheat is energy dense, but low in protein and essential amino acids, so is insufficient by itself. 

It is also important to consider the energy content of the food scraps you are giving your chickens. Although they will enjoy it, green food scraps alone do not always give chickens the vital nutrients they need for good egg production and growth. 


Energy requirements for laying eggs

Producing eggs requires a significant amount of energy. 

Chickens (and other poultry) metabolise feed relatively quickly. which means they have higher nutrient needs than a lot of other farm animals. 

You can help chickens in this process with the right ratio of energy sources in their food. 

  • Amino acid requirement

In general, chickens will adjust their feed intake based on how much energy is in the food. 

So, if their feed has a lot of usable carbohydrates and proteins, they will eat less of it. 

However, their amino acid requirement stays relatively stable regardless of how active they are. 

Amino acids are usually added as DL-methionine and L-lysine (their purified form) so that chickens can get the nutrients they need without increasing protein and therefore the cost of feed. 

  • Vitamins and minerals

The primary vitamins that chickens need in their diet are vitamin A, D and E. 

These help to bolster the chicken’s immune system, as well as promote healthy cell function and metabolization. 

Laying hens also need plenty of calcium in their diet for egg production, as well as a balance of phosphorus that helps them to absorb calcium properly (approximately a 2:1 ratio). 

  • Protein

Protein is an important part of chicken energy requirements as it contains amino acids. Birds can only naturally create 10 out of the 20 essential amino acids, so the rest needs to come from protein dense feed. 

You can use different sources such as animal proteins (e.g. meat and bone meal) as well as corn and soybean. Chickens are omnivores so it is usually not recommended that you feed them an entirely vegetarian diet. 

  • Water

While water doesn’t have any kind of macronutrient energy properties, it is an essential energy requirement for laying hens. 

Water intake can be affected by a number of environmental factors so it is hard to say exactly how much they need each day. However, low feed intake can be a sign of dehydration and result in nutritional deficiencies in chickens. No water for around 12 hours can affect growth in young chickens and early layers. If you raise that to 36 hours it can increase mortality rates no matter what age the chicken is. 

Make sure they have plenty of water at all times! 


Feeding poultry at every life stage

No matter what stage of their life they are in, chickens need plenty of high quality feed and water. 

The difference is the ratio of protein, vitamins and minerals that they require for different growth functions at each stage. 

Here’s what you should be feeding your chickens at each week of growth. 

  • 0-6 weeks

Newborn chicks should have access to food as soon as they hatch. 

Chick starter feed needs plenty of protein for growth (at least 18%, more for meat birds). At this stage, they do not need things like grit for calcium as they are not yet producing eggs. 

To avoid behavioural issues like pecking and cannibalism amongst chicks, you should opt for a chick feed that includes methionine and lysine. 

If they are separated from their mother at birth, it can be a good idea to “teach” them how to peck food by tapping their feed and water containers. 

  • 6-17 weeks

This is the stage where chickens have developed their own immune system. 

To minimise stress during feed transitions, you can gradually change food from chick to grower feed in this time. Sharpes Chick Crumbles can be used from day one to 6-8 weeks as a good source of protein and minerals. 

You’ll notice that feed for this age group is sometimes cheaper as it is lower in protein (about 16%). 

  • 18-25 weeks

From 18 weeks, you should expect to see hens laying their first eggs. 

The best diet for laying hens ensures they have enough protein and minerals to support egg production. This means you’ll need feed that is about 16% protein and 3.5% calcium.

You can transition them to layer feed from around 16 weeks, but any earlier and the higher calcium levels could affect their kidney function. 

  • 25 weeks

At 25 weeks, even slow developing breeds should be fully laying hens. 

Their primary diet should still be poultry pellets as this will ensure they get the nutrients they need even if they are free range most of the time. 

You should not restrict access to food during their laying stages as it is important for them to get their adequate energy intake for this new stage. 

  • Adult (more than 25 weeks)

From adulthood, the most significant change you’ll see is chickens moulting once a year. This requires a lot of protein (chicken feathers are very protein dense!) so it can be good to move them to a meatbird crumble or non-medicated chick feed to increase their protein intake during this time. 

Whether you choose pellets versus crumble doesn’t make too much difference, it is more about personal preference. 


Effective feed handling

Even the best chicken feed can go off if you store it incorrectly. 

Here are a few tips for handling chicken feed so that it maintains its nutrients for longer: 

  • Keep it off the floor – make sure it has air circulating underneath it and that it can’t pick up moisture off concrete 
  • Don’t store it in metal containers – invest in plastic or other non-metal containers that are airtight so the feed doesn’t go rancid or overheat in the sun 
  • Buy what you need – chicken feed will usually only keep for about 1-2 months depending on how hot the weather is, after that the minerals can decrease and fats can go bad 
  • Never feed chickens mould – mouldy feed could pass on toxins to your chooks, keep feed fresh



Common sense and care for your chickens is an essential part of nutrition requirements for hens at any age. If you want productive, happy hens, you need to give them the right energy sources and trace minerals to do what their body needs to do. 

Sharpes Poultry Feed supports your chickens at any life stage. With a range of balanced and complete feed for maximum growth, health and egg production, you know that you are giving them the best when you choose Sharpes chicken feed. 


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