The practise of layer farming has increased tremendously over the past decades. This is due to relatively low investment costs and high profitability of chickens. For every animal there is an optimum amount and balance of foods or nutrients that produces peak physical condition, growth rates and productivity. As such, in order for farmers to attain higher levels of production, layers must be provided with a well-balanced feed. Adequate feed should be given at all stages of production to facilitate early sexual maturity. Morden layer mash ingredients consists of grain and protein supplements along with a variety of feed additives. Different types of nutrients must be provided for energy as well as the building blocks needed for the development of bone, flesh, feathers, and eggs. These nutrients include: water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals, and vitamins.

Grainy Feed

Grain makes up a significant amount of poultry feed, with no exception to layers. There are a variety of grainy feed that are suitable for layers; these include maize, wheat, oats, barley and rye among others. Maize is the most commonly used for the formulation of layer mash followed closely by wheat. Some farmers prefer to use maize and sorghum interchangeably as they have a similar nutritional value. An important point to be aware of when making use of grains as layer mash ingredients is that although they are highly palatable and contain excellent energy levels, they are considered as poor sources of protein among other nutrients. As such, it should be combined with a suitable complimentary feed such as soya bean meal. The following are some highly famed grainy layer mash ingredients:

Wheat

Wheat is very palatable for poultry, hence its popularity in layer mash feeds. Although deficient in proteins, content levels are generally higher in comparison to maize. Also, wheat is characterised by high energy levels of approximately 94% than that of maize. The high energy levels found in wheat is of the essence in facilitating carcass growth thereby allowing early sexual maturity. However as stated, wheat is severely deficient in some amino acid, thus should contribute only half of the grain in the overall feed ration. An alternative feed for wheat are oats. Keep in mind that oats are a good grain for growing chickens where rapid growth is not critical. Oats generally have a higher fibre content compared to other grains and so should be provided to layer in highly limited quantities.

Maize

Maize is a commonly used layer mash ingredient. It is the standard feed in commercial meal preparations. Maize plays an important role in grinding feed. Nonetheless, when used in layer mash production, it is finely ground therefore it may be necessary to add grit for easy consumption and digestion. Another important point to note is that similar to most grain feed, maize also requires sufficient supplementary feed rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals. It is recommended to mix maize with soybean meal or fish meal high in lacking nutrients accompanied feed additives. Maize is an expensive layer mash ingredient due to the increased demand by both humans and animals. For this reason, some farmers opt for rye or barley. It is not advisable to provide rye to layers because it is generally known to inhibit growth and barley is less fibrous. Oats and barley need to be limited to 25% of the starter diet.  Mixing a 35 to 40% protein supplement in the correct proportions with grain is said to produce a balanced 16 to 19% protein layer ration.

Soybean Meal

Soybean meal is preferred by commercial producers hence constitutes a significant amount in poultry diets. Soybean meal is the by-product of the extraction of soybean oil. High protein types are obtained from dehulled seeds and contain 47 to 49% protein and 3% crude fibre. On the other hand, hulls contain approximately 47% protein or less and more than 6% crude fibre. In mixtures for layer mash, soybean meal can approximate to 40%. Through the laying period, hens ought to receive mash containing 16 to 18% protein. However research indicates that a 15% level is sufficient to maintain high levels of production as long as the essential amino acid content are well-balanced. The protein of soybean contains the considerable quantity of lysine, but value of protein is limited by methionine and cystine content. Caution should be practised when providing soybean meal to animals. This is because it contains anti-nutritional factors. The anti-nutritional factors such as trypsin inhibitor, lectins and lipoxygenase must be destroyed by toasting prior to feeding chicks. Excess toasting may denature proteins hence the need for the procedure to be conducted skilfully.

Fish Meal

Fishmeal is a natural balanced feed ingredient that is high in protein, energy, minerals, calcium and phosphorus; a natural source of vitamins including choline, biotin and vitamin B12, A and E; as well as micronutrients, selenium and iodine. As such, it is among the widely used layer mash ingredients. Fish meal provides layers with nutrients necessary for maintenance of a healthy immune system thereby allowing increased productivity. According to some agricultural research, its inclusion in poultry diets improves disease resistance in birds. In addition, calcium available in fish meal helps in the production of superior quality eggs. Bone development of chicks have also been reported to improve following the inclusion of fish oil in layer mash. Fish meal should not exceed 10% of the overall layer diets. An overdose may cause a fishy aroma to eggs, sometimes chickens can reject the feed.

Layers Mash Feed Additives

Feed additives are provided to improve laying capacity, prevent disease and improve feed utilisation. There are variety of feed additives added in layer mash. Some are administered when the need arises by dissolving them in poultry drinking water or mixing with bird feed. Feed additives can be in form of nutrients, minerals or medication. Different types of antibiotics are used to facilitate early maturity and protect birds from rampant diseases. It is advisable to select medicated feed. The following are various feed additives used as layer mash ingredients:

Antioxidants: Oxidation is a rampant problem in poultry farming. Oxidation stress has a negative impact on animal health which in turn diminishes egg production. For this reason, antioxidant are necessary. Compounds with antioxidant properties include ethoxyquin, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

Feeding Enzymes: Although animals and their associated gut microflora produce numerous enzymes, they are not necessarily able to produce sufficient quantities of specific enzymes. Neither are they able to produce them at the right locations to facilitate absorption of all components in normal feedstuffs nor to reduce anti-nutritional factors in feed that limit digestion. Some cereals contain anti-nutritional factors that need to be managed with use of feed enzymes. Feed enzymes have been developed to break down these anti-nutritional factors thereby increasing the potential of various supplementary grains.

Mould inhibitors: Cereals are highly susceptible to mould growth even after proper post-harvest handling. Mould an affect the health of birds so most layer mash contains mould inhibitors or a mycotoxin binders aimed at preventing mycotoxins from being absorbed.