Feeding Chickens

Feeding Chickens

Feeding is the biggest expense for poultry producers. The feed represents around 60 – 70% of the production cost. Thus, it is important to make sure that the right feeds are supplied to the right animals at the right time.

Chickens can be categorized into layers and broilers. Broilers are produced for meat whilst layers are for table egg production. Feeding for broilers and layers differs. The age of the bird also influences the nutrient requirements: younger chickens need a high protein diet to promote muscle growth and to produce antibodies and enzymes for the body.

Thus, chickens have different nutrient requirements according to production purpose and age, and this needs to be taken into account when feeding. 

Commercial broilers (that were genetically selected for growth) are mostly infertile and will not produce eggs nor will they likely reach the point of lay due to rapid growth. Broilers reach slaughter weight between 32 to 42 days (and it is not advisable to keep them longer due to welfare issues). In contrast, commercial layers are designed for egg production. They need to grow slower than broilers so that the egg organs are able to develop fully.

In both cases, phase feeding is used, which essentially means supplying specific nutrients for that specific age and production status. There are three phases:

 

  1. Starter
  2. Grower
  3. Finisher/Layer mash

 

Commercial broiler diets:

  • Broiler starter: High in protein, low in energy
  • Broiler grower: Medium protein and energy
  • Broiler finisher: low in protein, high in energy

 

Commercial layer diets:

  • Pullet Starter: High in protein low in calcium
  • Pullet A: Medium in protein and calcium
  • Layer Mash: Low in protein and high in calcium

 

What to feed:

  • Carbohydrates: They are the energy supply, excess goes to fat formation or egg production
  • Fats: Present in practically all feed materials, however excess of fat can lead to digestive upset and crazy chicken disease.
  • Protein: Needed to grow. May come from either plant or animal source. Should not be given in excess.
  • Minerals: Needed for the wellbeing of poultry as well as egg production and bone formation
  • Vitamins: two types of vitamins. Fat soluble and water soluble. Vitamins are needed for normal growth and egg shell development
  • Fibre: not fully digestible in poultry however, it is needed for wellbeing and for optimum digestion.
  • Water: poultry can't live without water. Lack of a constant supply of fresh water hinders their growth.

 

What not to feed:

 

There are certain foods that should not be given to Chickens - due to their toxic nature;  the effect they have  on eggs or meat; or food that chickens cannot digest:

 

  • Apple seeds
  • Raw potato or potato peels
  • Avocado pip or skin
  • Chocolate
  • Onions and garlic
  • Citrus
  • Dried rice
  • Dried beans
  • Raw eggs
  • Salt in excess

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