Just thought I'd give a rundown of what I'm feeding the layer chicks. They're now 4-5 weeks of age, and have been on commercial starter entirely. They've been on the ground for some time, out in the tractor. But it's time to wean them off medicated feed. I don't like it (it helps breed resistant organisms) and I don't want to continually seed my backyard soil with resistant coccidia. I'd rather keep medicated starter for use in cases where birds that are raised without medications actually develop a need for it; indeed in the past I've treated mild coccidiosis simply by using some medicated feed.
So here's what I'm making up for the chicks now, using my handy 'Sprint' grain mill. First I make up the dry mix:
sunflower seeds 4%
The above grains are milled coarsely together. Then I add:
lucerne chaff (alfalfa) 5%
soy meal (full fat) 16%
This dry mix is then formed into a crumbly mash using kefir (as a methionine supplement as well as probiotic and B vitamin tonic). I also add a pinch of salt and a larger pinch of seaweed meal.
Excluding the kefir, the mix above averages out at around 18% protein. On top of this the birds are on fresh pasture including clover, chickweed and other beneficial weeds.
At 5 weeks of age the birds can easily handle 18% feed. Technically the kefir lowers the percentage slightly but only because much of it is liquid (which tends to pass through, as birds don't absorb a lot of liquid in their colons, unlike some other animals). In fact I feel kefir enhances the birds' digestive system and probably makes up for a percentage point of protein in its own right.
Now I'm not feeding the above mix completely to these birds; they're still getting commercial chick starter to pick at for the next little while. This will be a gradual shift over the course of a couple of weeks, and I'll move the tractor every 48 hours and then every 72 hours during this time. This should help them get used to being on the ground without medication.
I've noticed in the past that having more than a handful of birds in the tractor can put more cocci-pressure on the system, with oocysts building up too quickly for them to handle, and in that case all it takes is a sudden period of warmth and wet weather for things to get out of hand. At the moment I have 20 chicks in the tractor. That's probably as many as I want in the one spot while I'm reducing medication in this way.
Next time I raise chicks (which will be soon, as I've now got a full dozen meatie eggs), I'll start the tractor on different ground so the home hatched ones aren't picking up much of the cocci oocysts these current chicks have shed. And I'll also be going medication free from the start, with an emphasis on management. As I found with the meat chicks earlier, I'll have to pay attention to the weather, crowding, timing of movement from the brooder to the ground, and many other factors. But I know now that these things can be managed. And as another benefit of doing things this way, there's always medicated feed as a backup. I won't be robbing that medication of any of its potency by using it all the time.
I'm not trying to push my feed recipe in any way, shape or form... I do things a little experimentally here, and can't vouch for a perfect result every time. But I am starting to feel more confident that I'm supplying what chicks need, and I'm also learning that feed recipes are a moveable feast. In fact, I believe that one of the keys to health is in varying the diet, for instance seasonally, or when certain ingredients become available. At the moment I'm able to source full fat extruded soy meal, and I feel it's a useful supplement (full fat soy meal from local beans isn't yet GMO).
So on the whole, while it's easy to get hung up on protein percentages, I feel some give-and-take is not only possible but wise. And at the moment, with both breeder pens producing fertile eggs and the layer chicks happy on the grass, I'm pretty much where I want to be.