I feed all my birds as I used to feed them when I was a youth well over 50 years ago.
My birds are free-range and have the run of the farm when not in breeding pens in spring. They get out in the morning and return to roost late afternoon. I rarely get any problems feeding without pellets. My birds are ultra fit and lay and breed strong chicks. My egg numbers are very good and the shell quality is perfect.
While they are out and about they get a feed from any grass/weeds and whatever they can find in the way of bugs,grubs and worms,what you will agree is a normal diet, except for grain, that poultry have been eating for hundreds of years (and still are in some countries) and not a pellet in sight.
The mix I use is 3 parts wheat, 1 part cut maize and 1 part rolled barley. The cod-liver oil is added to the wheat and mixed in by hand, just enough to coat the grains. I then add the cut maize and mix again and then the rolled barley. Fish meal is added as required to the mix.
On the face of it they get about 10-12% protein from this feed, but get the rest free-range with grass and insects/grubs/worms ect. Pellets and for that matter mash were both ‘designed’ for the commercial poultry industry. It is fed add lib in most cases and that’s all they have except water and other additives to keep them alive and laying.
I don’t want to feed my poultry on chemicals and cannot see any reason why a natural feed won’t keep my birds healthy. I don’t need yoke colour enhancers, they get that from the cut maize and grass. I don’t need what ever they put in it to make the birds lay more, that’s down to breeding and the strain of birds. You will not make a poor layer from a poor laying strain lay more eggs than she is bred to lay and feeding a high protein feed will cause serious internal problems.
Mash and pellets contain calcium,up to 4% in some mixes and unless a hen is in full lay producing eggs that use up the calcium the rest goes into the liver and kidneys and can kill them. Poultry need about 2% maximum, which can be got from a mixed grit containing oyster shell.
I don’t need a feed that pushes my birds into laying more eggs. I prefer to have them lay what egg numbers they were bred to archive and that’s down to breeding, not feeding.
You need to be aware that if you start feeding pullets layers pellets that are not in full lay, you are pushing them into laying before the bird is physicly ready to do so.
Keep them on growers if you must until they are well into lay, usually around 3 weeks to a month depending on breed after they start laying.
I use Cider apple vinegar in every water font,just a cap full in a 3 ltr drinker every time its cleaned and refilled.
I start the chicks off on it from day 1 and this helps lower the ph of the gut and helps to prevent coccidosis and gut worms.
The only other thing they need is mixed grit and fresh greens if penned and not out on grass.
All birds need grit to process the intake of food and grind it down in the gizzard.The grit should be given add-lib in a container and -replenished when needs arise.
Mixed poultry grit is available at most poultry related outlets. I would advise not feeding ground up egg shells.
Soft Shelled eggs and moulting.
Calcium is needed by laying hens to keep eggshells strong. The amount of calcium a hen needs varies with her age, diet, and state of health; older hens, for instance, need more calcium than younger hens. Hens on pasture obtain some amount of calcium naturally, but illness may cause a calcium imbalance. In warm weather, when all chickens eat less, the calcium in a hen’s ration may not be enough to meet her needs, and a hen that gets too little calcium lays thin-shelled eggs. On the other hand, a hen that eats extra ration in an attempt to replenish calcium gets fat and becomes a poor layer.
Eggshells consist primarily of calcium carbonate, the same material found in oyster shells, aragonite, and limestone. All laying hens should have access to a separate hopper full of crushed oyster shells, ground aragonite, or chipped limestone (not dolomitic limestone, which can be detrimental to egg production).
Phosphorus and calcium are interrelated —a hen’s body needs one to metabolise the other. Phosphorus is a naturally occurring chemical element needed by hens to metabolise calcium. Without an adequate amount of phosphorus, calcium cannot be absorbed and hens may experience calcium deficiency and lay thin-shelled eggs despite the availability of a calcium supplement.
Range-fed hens obtain some phosphorus and calcium by eating beetles and other hard-shelled bugs, but they may not get enough. Sources of phosphorus include defluorinated rock phosphate and charcoal (biochar). The correct ratio of phosphorus to calcium is 1:2. When both supplements are offered separately and free choice, the hens will ingest the correct balance.
I have a heap that the wood ash and charcoal from my wood burning stove get emptied onto each morning in winter and the birds frequent it daily. They use it as a dust bath and I often see birds picking bits up.
Feeding and the correct protein is not a one size fits all. Chicks need high protein up to about 15 weeks. Breeding birds need it to produce strong hatchable chicks and the eggs need to be of quality inside and out.
Layers and males will do very well on a protein of around 16%, easily achievable with a grain diet and free range. Any more and they pack the spare into fat and reserve it.