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Protein is of prime concern in feeding chickens, since the lose a huge proportion of their own protein when they produce an egg. The info on this page allows you to blend feed with confidence that the protein levels are optimum.

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(NOTE: In the USA where this website is written,
"CORN" means "MAIZE")

(1) Introduction to Protein
(2) Making Feeds of a Desired Protein Level
(3) A List of the Protein Levels of Different Feeds
(4) Preparing Soybeans
(5) Yellow Jackets

(1) Introduction to Protein.

Protein is like "building blocks" for making animal and plant tissue. Animals' bodies are very largely composed of protein. Whenever birds are growing, or producing eggs, or sperm as in the roosters' case, they use up a LOT of protein. This protein must be gotten in the diet. Since living organisms are extremely complex, there are literally billions of different types of protein molecules.

Protein molecules are composed of smaller molecules called amino acids. There are only 22 known kinds of amino acids. Just as the 26 letters of the alphabet can make billions of words, so the 22 amino acids can make billions of kinds of proteins.

Most of the 22 amino acids can by synthesized in animals' bodies out of other foods they eat. But eight of the amino acids cannot be synthesized by animals, only by plants. These are famously known as the "Eight Essential Amino Acids." Animals must get these by eating other animal tissue, or by eating plants.

Different kinds of plants supply different amounts of these Essential Amino Acids. The beauty of nature is that the two major plant groups, the grains and the beans, complement each other beautifully in the amounts of different essential amino acids they supply. Together, grains and beans make "complete protein." A protein food source is called a "complete protein" if it supplies all Eight Essential Amino Acids in balanced amounts. Meat, or most any animal tissue, is a complete protein, since animal tissues are made of protein. The wonder book Diet for a Small Planet has a great chart of amino acid contents of most foods, allowing you to combine for a meal of complete protein. But basically, it comes down to using grains and beans.

Protein is important for all animals. But for poultry, in producing eggs and growing to produce meat, the protein part of their feed regimen is crucial. It is also expensive! Finding good quality, cheap protein is one of the challenges of raising and keeping chickens. This is where the small farmer can increase family health through ingenuity.

Growing your own worms (solid protein, no bones!) is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to obtain high quality protein for your poultry. Using your own vegetable scraps, leaves and garden trimmings, you can produce lots and lots of best-quality protein. Oddly enough, only a few farmers seem to be aware of using worms to produce protein for chickens. Ways to do this are in our Worms section.

(2) Making Feeds of a Desired Protein Level

Many figures are given for different protein percentages for different stages of growth. If you have a few chickens that can forage for insects (and get some!), the percentage points are not so critical. The birds will balance out their needs as they forage. But if you're keeping dozens, hundreds or thousands of birds, you will of course want to consult one of the nutrition experts, such as those listed in the Online Experts section.

The feeding section in The Family Poultry Flock says: "From six to 14 weeks, the ration should contain 17 percent protein. From 15 to 20 weeks, 14 percent protein is sufficient." However, this was several years ago, when breeds were less growth-oriented. Today's breeds may need higher amounts. Nutreena starter mix is 20% protein. And commercial layer pellets are 16%. (Layer pellets have too much calcium for any except chickens producing several eggs a week.) Others have Starter feed at 20% protein, Grower and Peak phase at 17%, and tapering off from there.

Roosters need a very high amount of protein, if they're servicing a number of hens every day. About 20% is considered optimum in one source I read.

If you have a small flock, you will probably want to adjust your protein somewhere between the above ranges. Higher rather than lower might be a good philosophy. Extra protein will be used for energy instead of building tissues, so it won't hurt. It just might make the birds too fat. If they get too fat, they won't lay well. Feel between the legs for the lump of fat that forms there if they're too fat. Many farmers report that they use only layers pellets once their birds start to lay, so this formula might be good to follow.

From Colorado State University

to get a desired protein percentage
(see diagram below)

Draw a square and put the desired protein percentage in the center. Example: "finished feed 16%".

Put the grain in the upper left corner as a protein percentage . See the "Protein in Chicken Feeds" chart (below) to get amounts.
Example: "wheat 12.5%".

Put the grain in the upper right corner as parts to mix .
Example: "wheat_________ parts".

Put the protein concentrate in the lower left corner, as a protein percentage.
Example: "soybeans 37%".

Put the protein concentrate in the lower right corner as parts to mix.
Example, "soybeans ________ parts".

wheat 12.5%				 ________ parts
|	      *					*     |
|		   *			     *	      |
|			*		*	      |
|			Desired     *		      |
|			protein amount:		      |
|			   16%	*		      |
|			*	     *		      |
|		    *		 	*	      |
|		*			     *	      |
|	     *				        *     |
|	*					   *  |
Protein concentrate:===============Protein concentrate:
soybeans roasted 37%			_________ parts

Now subtract diagonally through the center, from corner to corner. Ignore changes of sign.

Going from top left to bottom right, 12.5 minus 16 equals 3.5. This number goes in the lower right corner.

Going from bottom left to top right, 37 minus 16 equals 21. This goes in the upper right corner.

The result is 21 parts of wheat to 3.5 parts of soybeans.

Kim's Rectangle
for calculating the protein in a

Of course, you will want to use a mixture of grains, we hope! To calculate the protein content of a mix of grains, do three things:

1. Multiply each grain's protein content by the number of parts of that grain in the mix.

2. Add those figures.

3. Divide that total by the total number of parts.
Say you make a mix that is three parts wheat, 
one part corn and one part oats.  You want to
know how much protein is in the mix. 

       GRAIN   PARTS  PROTEIN % (see list below)	
	Wheat	3   X 	12.5	=	37.5
	Corn	1   X	 9	=	 9
	Oats	1   X	12	=	12
	TOTALS	5			58.5

	58.5 divided by 5	=	11.7% Protein
					      in mix
After getting the protein percentage for your mix of grains, next use PEARSON'S SQUARE (above) to calculate how much protein concentrate to add to this mix. Where it says "Grain" in the Pearson's Square, just put in your amounts for the total mix.

(3) A List of the Protein Levels of Different Feeds


Dried fish flakes	76
Dried liver		76
Dried earthworms	76
Duckweed		50
Torula yeast		50
Brewers yeast		39
Soybeans (dry roasted)	37
Flaxseed		37
Alfalfa seed		35
Beef, lean		28
Earthworms		28
Fish			28
Sunflower seeds		26.3
Wheat germ		25
Peas & Beans, dried	24.5
Sesame seed		19.3
Soybeans (boiled)	17
Wheat bran		16.6
Oats, whole		14
Rice polish		12.8
Rye			12.5
Wheat			12.5
Barley 			12.3
Oats			12
Corn			9
Millet			9
Milo			9
Rice, brown		7.5

(4) Preparing Soybeans

When hens stop laying in the Fall, many just attribute it to a natural slow-down that cannot be avoided. But we've found that the simple addition of boiled soybeans to their diet restored cold-weather laying to full capacity throughout the entire Winter. This may be due to the fact that as the weather cools, insects disappear, so the hens' protein is not being well-supplied. Soybeans provide this protein. Furthermore, soybeans perfectly complement the large amount of grains that the hens consume, making a complete protein in the diet. About 10 hens will eat around 2/3rds of a cup of prepared soybeans per day.

(1) Soak dried soybeans (start with perhaps 2 cups of dried beans for 10 hens) overnight in several times their depth of water.

(2) Next day, bring to full boil (in the soaking water, to save vitamins), then slow boil for 15 minutes with cover on loosely.

(3) Dump beans into a strainer to cool.

(4) When cool, put into refrigerator.

This makes enough for a few days of feeding. Either scatter in front of birds, or give in a dish and let them chow down.
We like to give a "catered" protein feed every few days that our chickens love. It is a special time to talk to the gals and build that rapport that makes for fun farming. We mix boiled soybeans with a few sunflower seeds and sesame seeds, some dry instant oats, and a bit of milk. Use about 1 cup of this special feed per fifteen hens for a protein and "TLC" addition to your gals' lives.

NOTE: The trypsin in all beans is toxic to the lining of the birds' intestines. It can scar their intestines, making them less able to absorb their food. Any beans fed to chickens need to be at 180 degrees for 15 minutes to destroy the trypsin . Keeping the soybeans at or above 180 degress F for 15 minutes destroys the trypsin. The best way to do this is by boiling.

Soybeans can also be dry-roasted (no soaking), at around 250 degrees. But this is more cumbersome and less certain of destroying the trypsin, as the beans in the oven must be continually turned to insure that all the beans are reaching the 180-degree temperature.

(5) Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets can be an excellent source of wild, natural protein for chickens, if collected from traps around restaurants or other places. Be sure to let the insects stand in open air for a day or so after collecting them out of the trap, to let the attractant dissipate.

The attractant is not a poison, and the yellow jackets don't consume it, but it may be in their system from evaporation in the trap. It's like a perfume --- it's volatile, so will dissipate into the atmosphere quickly. The yellow jackets die in the trap, but their death is not caused by the attractant.

NOTE: Follow trap directions meticulously. Never get the tiniest amount of attractant on yourself or any living area, for obvious reasons!!!

I fed my new chicks on these yellow jackets from a few weeks old, and they thrived. A little girl had the family job of emptying the yellow-jacket traps at her parents' outdoor restaurant. She had to bury the dead beasties; she was happy to give them to me instead. She brought them to me in sealed sandwich bags every week. At first sight of the boldly-striped insects, the baby chicks drew away from them, but after they realized they were safe and delicious (which took about 5 minutes), they gobbled them up forever after.

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More Protein Info

Feed Instructions
from The Family Poultry Flock

See the Topics page for several articles on protein

Composition of Foods Search


Mash: a blend of feed ingredients, ground to a small size but not to a powder; mash can be in pellet form

Pellets: small kernels of compressed mash

Concentrate: a blend of protein-rich foods, plus any other nutrients desired; usually fed together with a grain ration

Scratch: grains fed separately to chickens, usually scattered on the ground or litter of the coop

Grit: angular, hard crushed rock, preferably from granite, used by the chickens in place of "teeth" --- seashells and bone CANNOT substitute for grit; grit should be free-choiced several times a month at least

Calcium: provided by sea shells, crushed bone, and fresh or dried greens --- amounts need to be measured closely, if not free range

Protein: any food high in amino acids, used to build tissues; protein quality is determined by the "completeness" of the amino acid varieties in the food source; basically, meats, nuts, seed germs, and soy concentrates are protein sources

Amino acid: a molecule that is one building block of protein; there are many different amino acids, most of which can be manufactured in the body; the few that cannot must be supplied by foods

Vitamins: a general term meaning "life-giving"; see RECIPES section for which ones to use

Minerals: inert chemicals found in nature; kelp of all kinds supplies the complete spectrum of minerals

Free range: not controlled by fences, able to get to fresh greens and insects; as commercially used, this term allows fences, with minimum amount of space per bird being set by definition

Pastured poultry: hens kept in movable, usually wheeled, pens, moved daily over fresh pasture, creating delicious meat and nutritious eggs

Organic: inspected by government agencies, organic food sources must not contain traces of harmful chemicals; the term as currently used does not insure that poultry has been raised in the best possible way, only that it has near zero harmful ingredients

Pullets: female chickens in their first year of lay, or prior to their first moult

Hens: female chickens in their second year of lay, or after their first moult

8:34 AM 5/29/02