I've been very happy with the growth of my ancona x red layers and my meat hybrid x leghorns. When I bought the new commercial layers I was anything but happy with them. At nineteen weeks of age they were only a fraction larger than my twelve week old ancona x and meat hybrid x birds. I now suspect they were a little under the stated age, as their combs were also quite poorly developed for age.
To complicate things, shortly after this there came the setback with bad wheat, and all my birds suffered. While on the suspect wheat, the ancona and hybrid x birds stopped increasing in size at the rate they had, and their combs stopping growing larger. Meanwhile the commercial layers are only just starting to lay now (at 23 weeks). What a drama!
But with onset of lay comes a new problem: how to add protein without upsetting the mineral balance of layers.
My usual practice with chicks (milk based protein to offset a wheat-soy base) isn't practicable with adult layers. This is because they need a massively enriched calcium level. However while milk is high in calcium it's also fairly high in phosphorus. The problem with high phosphorus levels is that phosphorus competes with calcium for absorption; thus the wrong ratio quickly produces problems like soft shelled eggs. I probably don't need to spell out the problems that can come from soft shelled eggs, but egg yolk peritonitis is a common one and it's deadly.
Free ranging the birds is a great way to get them to find their own greens and protein, in which case the pressure on the diet to be complete is a lot lower. Not only will they find a lot of calcium via greens, but they'll also eat insects that will supply omega-3 fats and calcium from shells alongside high protein.
Thus I've been braving the goshawks and letting the adult birds out every day for several hours at a time. It's no surprise that a day after they started being let out, one and then another began to lay.
Once again, in view of milk's problems mineral-wise, I've been looking for other cheap animal protein sources. As in earlier posts I've been thinking through the gamut of choices: worms; pet mince (good but may have sulphites that need to be washed out, and is almost invariably too fatty); normal butcher mince (expensive); and of course high protein scraps.
As it happens I've found a pretty good butcher shop that sells whole lamb livers very cheaply ($1.50), so that's being given every 2-3 days in small quantities. But on other days I'm relying on either scraps or whatever the birds rummage up. They're also getting small amounts of kefir in their feed (but only a quarter of what the chicks get, per bird), and of course they have soy meal. Given that they're starting to lay after their bad wheat setback I'm pleased that this is all working. One whole lamb liver is lasting me two weeks, so it's not exactly an expensive addition, and the scraps and insect forage cost me nothing at all except a little bit of worry when it comes to goshawks.
As for goshawk deterrence, I simply haven't seen the old boy around in a while, so perhaps he's decided to range elsewhere. Or it may be that having two near-adult roosters out and about now is keeping the divebombers at bay. There's also a new trampoline giving the chickens somewhere to hide where they can still peer out at the sky. Lastly, the ancona x have inherited their father's flightiness, and are rapidly scurrying for cover at every blink. Which isn't a bad thing in this backyard!
So that's a bit of a roundup more than a proper discussion of protein, but I hope it's reasonably clear.