Importance of High Protein Food for Chickens

Chickens are one of the most popular domesticated birds worldwide, and their nutritional requirements are essential for their growth, health, and productivity. One of the critical components of their diet is protein, which is necessary for their muscles, feathers, and egg production. Protein also plays a vital role in maintaining their immune system and overall health. Therefore, it’s essential to provide chickens with a balanced diet that contains a sufficient amount of high-quality protein sources. In this context, the importance of high protein food for chickens cannot be overstated, as it directly impacts their overall well-being and productivity.

Chickens feeding on scattered grain

A chicken’s diet needs to be balanced in terms of carbohydrate, vitamin, protein, and mineral content. The birds should have a constant supply of commercial pellet food to nibble at during each day, as well as table scraps, grit, corn, and treats.  Feeders need to be topped up daily otherwise dominant chickens will prevent others from accessing their share of food.

Importance of Proteins in the Daily Diet of Poultry

Before answering this question, let me start by defining protein.

Proteins are one of the key nutrients a chicken’s body requires to function. Proteins are made of building blocks called amino acids. In total, there are 22 amino acids out of which 9 are essential amino acids.

Essential amino acids refer to amino acids that the body cannot make. The body can only get them from food.

The 9 include lysine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine, arginine, isoleucine, leucine, histidine, phenylalanine, and valine.

Lysine, methionine, threonine, and glycine are the three of the most important essential amino acids for chickens.

Just like with humans, proteins are the most important nutrients for a chicken.

Some of the roles of proteins in a chicken body

  • Growth of body tissues
  • Egg production
  • Antibodies and enzymes are all proteins
  • Adaptation to the environment
  • Ability to maintain body weight
  • improved growth performance
  • Making body parts such as beaks, feathers, and toenails
  • improving the carcass quality

Your chickens will most likely need you to help them out by providing more protein at certain times.

When to feed chickens high protein

1/ During winter– This helps in keeping their body warm. The protein also improves general health conditions to withstand winter stress.

2/ When molting– When chickens are replacing old and weak feathers they will require more protein than usual. Feathers are primarily made of protein.

3/ 0-6 weeks stage-Young chickens between up to 6 weeks require the highest amount of protein of between 20 and 22%. During this stage, there is a lot of growth and development of muscles and body systems.  This growth requires protein.

4/ When stressed– When the conditions are stressful such as during winter, chicken requires slightly more protein.

5/ When they show signs of protein deficiency– There are many signs that are a sign of a protein deficiency. They include

  • Slow growth
  • Curled and missing feathers
  • Decreased egg laying
  • Small egg sizes
  • Weight loss
  • loss of pigmentation in feathers
  • If they are meat birds and game birds

6/ Meat and game birds require more protein.

7/ If they are roosters– Roosters require a higher amount of protein

How much protein should I feed my chickens daily?

As chickens grow their protein nutritional requirements change depending on the specific body needs during the different stages.

Chicken feeds contain different compositions of different components, such as proteins and calcium, depending on the age of the chickens.

0 to 6 weeks old chicks require the highest amount of protein more than during the laying and breeding stages.

For instance, laying chickens require a higher amount of calcium to aid in the development of eggshells. Therefore, layer feed shouldn’t be fed to chicks since they don’t require high levels of calcium.

Rooters require more proteins, similar to young chicks, but require less amount of calcium.

The table below shows the right amount of protein for different ages.

Egg production chicken

PulletsAgeDietCrude protein%
 0-6 weeksStarter20-22
 6-14 weeksGrower16-18
 14-20 weeksDeveloper14-16
LayersAbove 20 weeksLayer15-19

From the table above, you can see that the protein requirements are higher for young chicks, and the requirements reduce as the chickens grow older.

For egg-laying chicks up to 6 weeks old, they require starter feed with between 20-22% crude protein.

High Protein Food for Chickens

This is because at this stage, there is a lot of growth happening. Almost every body part and system is growing and developing. The chicks at this stage are developing organs, bones, and muscles.

That’s why their amino acid requirements are quite high.

Because chicks at this stage cannot forage for foods on their own, make sure the starter feed has at least 20% crude proteins.

From 6–14 weeks, the protein requirements go down to 16–18%. At this stage, the chicks are fully feathered and can now be transferred to the coop. There is also rapid growth happening, but not the same as during the first six weeks.

From 14 to 20 weeks, the protein requirements go down to 14–16%. The requirement rises again to 15–19% after 20 weeks.

Mature egg-laying chickens require between 14 and 18% protein daily.

The table below illustrates how chickens between 20-42 weeks and 42 plus weeks utilize their proteins.

Note how the body requirements change depending on age.

Body functionPhase 1 20-42 WeeksPhase 2 42+ Weeks
Egg production12.2 gr/day13.5 gr/day
Maintenance of daily body protein3.03.4
Daily body growth1.40.0
Daily feather growth0.40.1
Total daily protein requirement17.017.0

The table below illustrates the protein requirements for dual purpose-type chickens.

Meat Production (Dual purpose-type meat and egg crosses)

 AgeDietCrude protein%
Broilers0-4 weeksStarter20-23%
 4-8 weeksGrower19-20%
 Above 8 weeksDeveloper15-18%
Pullets0-4 weeksLayer18-19%
 4-12 weeksGrower17-18%
 12-22 weeksDeveloper15-16%
LayingAbove 22 weeksLayers14-16%

How to give your chickens a protein kick

There are two ways of raising the protein intake of your chicken

1/ First, you can change the feed to one that has a higher protein content. For instance, if you are currently feeding 18% crude protein, you can change to a feed with about 20% crude protein.

However, changing the feed poses the risk of feeding more proteins than necessary. Also, the chickens will be getting more of everything else in the feed. This is because the feed does not just have protein.

2/The next thing you can do is provide protein-rich snacks. Some of the best high protein foods for chickens include

  • Meal worms – fresh or dried
  • Kelp
  • Freshwater prawns
  • Crickets
  • Grubs
  • Raw, unsalted nuts – chopped walnuts, almonds, peanuts
  • Oats – raw or cooked, whole or rolled
  • Seeds – sunflower, pumpkin
  • Quinoa
  • Herbs – coriander, basil, dill, fennel, parsley, saffron, marjoram, oregano, tarragon, spearmint

High Protein Snacks for Chickens

Chickens love a treat. As well as those mentioned above, you can try offering them these foods for molting chickens in moderation – but be very careful not to overdo it:

  • Cooked eggs – try omelette or scrambled eggs
  • Shellfish – raw or cooked meat, shells, and innards of prawns, lobster and other shellfish
  • Cooked turkey or chicken is high in protein – when you have a roast chicken, give your chickens the carcass to peck at
  • Meat scraps – pork, lamb or beef, either raw or cooked and including the bones can be given to chickens
  • Fish – tuna, sardines (no additives including salt or oil if tinned)
  • Sprouted lentils – mung beans, peas, beans, alfalfa
  • Chick feed
  • Hemp seeds
  • Cauliflower, Broccoli, Spinach

Too Much Protein in Chickens

Yes, if you are not careful with the protein content of the chicken feed, you risk feeding the chickens too much protein.

The highest risk of feeding your chicken too much protein comes from using the wrong feed.

The other risk is feeding too many snacks, such as mealworms.

How to add Protein to Chicken Feed

Signs of too much can include:

  • Rapid growth and weight gain
  • Avian gout
  • Laying too soon (before 16 weeks)
  • Organ failure
  • Skeletal issues
  • Double-yoked eggs more than very occasionally
  • Laying more than one egg per day
  • Laying a second egg with a thin or soft shell
  • Reduction in rooster fertility

Do chickens need more protein in winter?

During winter, chickens tend to feed more to keep their bodies warm and deal with winter problems. They will also require more energy as they grow new feathers.

However, this does not necessarily mean they have a crazy high protein requirement. In fact, during winter, chickens will require more carbs to provide energy.

The right amount of protein will depend on age. Since the chickens will be eating more, they will get enough protein most of the time.

Instead of changing the chicken feed, it’s better to feed them protein-rich snacks. Also, make sure the coop is well insulated. If you can, provide additional heating. It’s also a great idea to provide warm water using a heater water basin.

This will slightly make it easier to keep their bodies warm.

Do chickens require more protein when molting?

Chicken feeding from self feeder

Chickens start losing some of their old and weak feathers just before winter. They grow new and stronger feathers that can provide reliable insulation during the winter.

Just like with reptiles, this process is called molting.

And since feathers are made of proteins, the chicken will require slightly more protein for this additional process.

While some people recommend changing the feed to one that has a higher protein content, it’s better to provide protein-rich snacks on top of their normal feed.

Importance of High Protein Food for Chickens

In conclusion, providing chickens with high protein food is crucial for their growth, health, and productivity. A balanced diet that contains sufficient amounts of quality protein sources can help maintain their immune system, support muscle growth, and promote optimal egg production. As responsible chicken owners, it’s our duty to ensure that our feathered friends receive the right nutrition they need to thrive. By understanding the importance of high protein food in their diet, we can keep our chickens healthy, productive, and happy. So let’s make sure to give our flock the best care possible and provide them with a balanced and nutritious diet.