Feed formulations for EU red layers in the production phase

Collection of red layer feed formulas for one extended egg cycle of the production phase (Weeks 18 to 100)

Ioannis Mavromichalis, Ph.D.

These generic formulas have been designed having a target feed intake of 110 grams/bird for the entire egg cycle. Brown layers usually have greater body size and weight, they consume more feed than white layers, and the lay slightly larger eggs. Exact energy and protein (amino acids) requirements can vary depending on genetic line, body weight, egg size and numbers, temperature, and housing system.

All the above will determine actual dietary specifications for each farm. Thus, these formulas give a reference point on how layer formulas are structured. These formulas should be compared against those formulated for white layers, as a reference of differences for these two wide classes of layers.


The main energy source in the EU is wheat, although some corn is imported and used. Soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower oils — or any other inexpensive but good-quality lipid source — are the main supplemental energy sources used to bring dietary energy levels to indicated numbers.

Energy levels drop as birds age because feed intake capacity increases faster than maintenance requirements as body weight reaches mature levels. A reduction of about 50 Kcal ME per kg feed is considered a good rule of thumb for each phase (same as with layers, but starting from a lower level overall).

Downloadable PDF: EU red layers in the production phase of an extended egg cycle - Layer 1


Soybean meal is used as the main protein source, but rapeseed meal is used with increasing frequency. The same can be said for sunflower meal of low fiber concentration. The level of 9% rapeseed meal used here is to denote its presence and not any inclusion level recommendations. These formulas are formulated so that enough soybean meal covers the requirement for digestible lysine, whereas feed-grade DL-methionine is used to cover the remaining methionine and cysteine combined requirements.

Once this is done, all other amino acids are at or above required levels. In contrast to the formulas for white layers that use DDGS (poor in tryptophan), these formulas based instead on rapeseed meal contain more than enough tryptophan — but rapeseed is poor in potassium, hence the formulas are marginal in dEB.

NOTE: Red layers with the Rhode Island gene should not be fed rapeseed meal or any other ingredient containing sinapine as this may result in eggs with a fishy flavor. Consult with your genetic supplier to find out if your hens can consume rapeseed meal without such incidence.

Minerals and vitamins

Calcium is the main mineral that affects eggshell formation and quality. Layers require large amounts of calcium and this is reflected by the unusually high levels of dietary calcium (3.8% to 4.6%) in all layer formulas. Phosphorus is supplied just above its required levels to avoid interfering with the absorption of calcium.

Likewise, sodium bicarbonate is used to supply enough chlorine, whereas the remaining sodium requirements are met by sodium chloride (salt). With enough soybean meal in the diet, total potassium levels are enough (more than 0.7%) to bring the dietary electrolyte balance above 200 mEq/kg, which is considered minimum for eggshell quality and litter quality. Note that increasing rapeseed meal at the expense of soybean meal would reduce dietary potassium levels below acceptable figures requiring supplementation with a mineral source of potassium.

All trace minerals are to be supplied by a suitable premix that is separate from the vitamins to ensure vitamin stability. This is also why choline chloride (an aggressive vitamin) is supplied outside the usual premix. Note that wheat contains more choline than corn and the same is true for soybean vs. rapeseed meals, but the exact requirements for choline are unknown. Thus, some choline chloride is still supplied in these diets.

Finally, some citric acid is included as it has been shown to improve calcium digestibility and absorption, although this is not always followed.

Downloadable PDF: EU red layers in the production phase of an extended egg cycle - Layer 2

Feeding schedule

The pullets are fed a pre-layer diet (same as the Layer 1 formula, only with 2.2% instead of 4.2% calcium) until they reach about 2% egg numbers. Then, the Layer 1 formula is used until daily egg mass starts to decline. This is determined by the genetic line used.

Then Layer 2 feed is used until week 80 (again, as determined by the genetic supplier) to be followed by Layer 3 until the end of the cycle, i.e. usually at 100+ weeks. Such an example program can be as follows:

Until 50 weeks = Layer 1

50-80 weeks = Layer 2

80+ weeks = Layer 3

It should be noted that, as hens age, their feed intake capacity increases, but their ability to digest, absorb and metabolize dietary calcium diminishes, hence the increased calcium concentration in the final feed. Keep in mind that, although these formulas contain less calcium than the formulas for white layers, brown layers consume also about 10% more feed than white layers.

Downloadable PDF: EU red layers in the production phase of an extended egg cycle - Layer 3

Alternative ingredients

Barley, rye and triticale are used frequently and mostly locally. An enzyme specific for the main cereal, usually wheat or barley, is added to improve energy digestibility and reduce dietary viscosity.

In terms of protein sources, sunflower meal is used in the Eastern parts of the EU, whereas some fish meal can still be found in some formulas, but at very low levels. Of course, more feed-grade amino acids can be used to lower the dependence on wholesome protein sources, but this is dictated by prices and preference.

When such ingredients are used, the attention should be paid to vitamins and minerals. The former because requirements are ill defined, and the latter because they can alter the dEB sufficiently to cause eggshell quality problems, especially during the summer season.

Download the spreadsheet

Layer Feed Formulations are available in a downloadable MS Excel spreadsheet, which includes four sets of formulas — U.S. white and EU red in the development and production phases — with three variations each: starter, grower and developer.

DOWNLOAD Layer Feed Formulations

Additional installments in the Layer Feed Formulations series:

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