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Good quality feed is the key to producing quality, nutritious eggs.Eggs just don't happen, well...sometimes they do, but good quality consistent production of eggs takes attention to the health, care, and welfare of the chickens that produce the eggs.  Good quality feed is at or near the top of the list.

When choosing a poultry laying feed, looking at the guaranteed analysis can help you determine if the nutritional content of that feed is appropriate for the producing layers. Many would think that two products that both contain 16% protein, 2.5% fat, etc. would be pretty much the same feed. Not necessarily true.  The fact is, feeds with similar guaranteed analysis may be manufactured using very different formulation strategies and have very different formulas. This can affect the nutritional value for your laying flock. Most commonly, feed formulation strategies are “Least-cost” formulas and “Fixed” or “Locked” formulas. Both of these strategies have benefits and draw backs. There is a third strategy however, which can be termed “Constant Nutrition” formulation.  This third strategy will result in more consistent feed nutrition than either of the other strategies.

Least-cost formulas allow a manufacturer to adjust the ingredients in the formula based on cost of those ingredients. As long as the formula still meets the guaranteed analysis, the manufacturer can change the ingredients used in the formula. In some circumstances, the change in ingredients doesn’t change the effectiveness of the diet, so it makes sense for that feed manufacturer to attempt meet the nutritional needs of the animal in the least expensive way it can. There would be no benefit to making a more expensive ration to achieve the same results. For small-scale backyard egg producers who are being paid by the dozen of eggs produced, it might seem to make more sense to go with the formulation that is less expensive to feed.  This seems to make good business sense.

However, in some cases, a major change in ingredients can dramatically alter the effectiveness of the diet, even when the nutrient levels don’t change. A good example of this would be substituting cottonseed meal for soybean meal in a layer diet. Soybean meal and cottonseed meal may both have similar total protein content and could be interchangeable in a formula to meet the protein guarantee, except cottonseed meal does not provide the same quality of protein to support reproductive health in a laying hen.  Eventually rate of lay will begin to suffer – let alone the actual quality of eggs produced. 

I personally experienced a problem years ago when I foolishly decided to switch to a less expensive feed that had the same protein levels as the feed I had been using.  Not only did the number of eggs produced go down, to my horror my hens began picking each other to the point that I lost one of the layers!  I went back to my former feed and the picking stopped.  So, in this case, the least-cost formula was less expensive per bag, but the loss I experienced in animal performance negated any cost savings. Another potential can also be reduced palatability or digestive upset when large shifts in ingredients can occur in the feed.

With a fixed or locked formula, the same ingredients and amounts of ingredients are used every time the feed is made, regardless of price or nutritional variation of those ingredients. This sounds like the most consistent way to make any livestock feed however, there is a big draw back. All ingredients - even very good quality ingredients, have some variation in nutritional content. All corn will not have the same protein or mineral content. If the formula is completely locked and not taking into account the nutritional content of the individual ingredients, the level of nutrition provided in the finished product can vary. The primary purpose of ingredients used in a laying ration is to provide nutrients the hen needs. So, while a fixed formula does provide the same amount of ingredient in every bag, it may not provide the same level of nutrition. Using the average book values for these ingredients does not always result in a good laying feed. The typical range in protein content of soy beans for example, can result in an end range of 12.4% to 21.1% protein. Other nutrient levels will vary as well. So, while a fixed formula does insure a consistent ingredient profile, it may not provide the most consistent level of nutrition for the laying hen.

My feed manufacturer uses a “Constant Nutrition” formulation.  (I will be happy to let you know who my feed manufacturer is if you e-mail me privately. I don’t want to get into a back and forth dialogue if someone thinks I’m not giving fair “air time” to their favorite formula. This is MY blog, afterall.) I am of the firm conviction that this strategy provides consistent, reliable nutrition in every bag of lay feed I buy. When ingredients arrive at my feed company’s manufacturing facility, all ingredients are inspected, sampled and analyzed for nutrient levels. This is really more accurate than using published book values or supplier averages for nutrient levels of ingredients. If an ingredient is approved, then the tested nutritional content is entered into the formulation system, which makes small adjustments in amounts of ingredients to maintain a consistent nutrient level in the finished feed. There are strict restrictions as to how much adjustment is allowed to ensure consistency in formulation. For example, the amount of soybean meal may be adjusted slightly to compensate for a lower protein in another ingredient, but cottonseed meal couldn’t be substituted for soybean meal. This formulation strategy ensures that laying hens receive the most consistent nutrition possible.

And, in case you may be a person who thinks that just because a feed is labeled “Organic” it automatically means it is a better feed, here are the facts: Feed ingredients can be called organic if they are certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. (Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.)  Just because a crop has been labeled ‘organic’ does not mean it is nutritionally superior.  Most people don’t realize this, but a certain amount of pesticide can be found on organic crops through analysis.  The USDA allows a certain amount of pesticides that may be considered “drift” from a nearby non-organic crop.

What interests me is whether or not I am producing the best eggs I can possibly produce nutrition-wise.  An abstract published in December of 2012 in the United Kingdom (who has already outlawed battery cage egg production) concluded that after stringent scientific testing:

“There is no evidence that the cholesterol content of eggs is lower in organic than in regular eggs, although the fatty acid (FA) profile may be more favorable. Contamination with Salmonella and other food-poisoning organisms is not consistently different between organic and regular eggs, and may be higher in organic eggs. All commercial poultry - free-range, barn or caged - are fed diets free of antibiotics therefore residues are unlikely to be different. Little or no contamination of regular eggs with chemical residues has been reported, although contaminated soils in parts of Europe are known to cause residues of dioxins in the eggs of hens allowed to range outdoors.

Most of the research on nutritional composition of organic eggs has been directed at the FA composition. Some findings indicate that the PUFA content is enhanced by organic feeding, but the effect is not consistent and can be achieved by the use of appropriate dietary ingredients. In other respects the nutritional composition of organic and conventional eggs appears to be similar, although the organic eggs may be smaller.”

So…my point is, one has to look at the BIG picture when deciding what feed to purchase for your own hens or how one goes about determining who they should buy their ‘farm fresh eggs’ from. 

Investigate, investigate, investigate!

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