Feeding Chickens

What To Feed chickens

Besides a proper reception with water, heat and adequate space, feed is probable one of the most important factors in a successful poultry operation weather it be large or small.

“You are what you eat” is what they say, well, this goes for chickens too. If you feed your birds a proper feed with all its nutrients, vitamins and minerals and supplements and an adequate energy level, you will most likely produce a beautiful flock of broilers or layers. On the other hand, a feed deficient in any of those mentioned above, could have serious problems during growing and / or production.

Feed deficiencies can cause many diseases. A feed lacking in certain amino acids, vitamins or even energy levels, will cause a flock to grow abnormally, to have muscular or motor abnormalities, and even bird mortality.

Chicken rations are broken down depending on the age of the birds. Birds should be fed two to three different rations during their life cycle.

From Day old to three weeks of age, the young chicks should receive a medicated or non-medicated starter ration. This feed should come in either crumbled or mash. It should not come in pelleted for as the chicks will not be able to eat it.

The protein level for a starter ration for broilers is usually 20-23%, and 18-20% for layers. Once broilers have reached their fourth week, you provide them with a grower / finisher feed. This feed has a lower protein percentage, 16-20% and can be in either mash, crumble or pellet form. This is the feed they will eat until slaughter time. Layers receive their second feed type when they reach six weeks of age, pullet grower, which has a 16-18% protein level, and when they are fourteen weeks of age they should eat a pullet developer ration which has a 14-16% protein level. Once layers have reached 20 weeks of age or more (when they start laying), they should be given a layer ration with 16-18% protein. See Table 1 below for more information.

Because feed has a very high impact on the bird’s performance, I suggest you feed them using commercial feed, this way you are almost sure they are going to get a balanced diet according to their age and type.

Feed Presentation

Feed normally comes in three presentations; mash (powder), crumbled or pellet.

Mash feed is probably the one to be used for baby chicks as it has small enough particles that the chicks can eat it without any problems. One small drawback on this feed is that it has not gone through a high temperature process which is needed to produce pelleted feed. This high temperature process helps to kill any pathogens that could possibly be in the feed.

Crumble feed is basically pelleted feed which is them cracked and broken down in size without turning it into a powder. The feed fragments are small enough for starting chicks to eat and it has gone through the high temperature process.

Pellet feed comes in small pellet size rations, small enough for a three week old bird to eat but not for baby chicks. This presentation provides for less feed waste but can be the onset to poor bird uniformity as the larger birds will be able to eat more than the smaller or lighter birds.

For uniformity reasons, it is a good idea to either feed mash or crumble feed, unless you have ample feeders throughout the house.

If you believe your birds are not receiving the nutrients, vitamins and minerals they need through the feed, you can always supplement the feed with water soluble vitamin and mineral packs which are sold commercially at agriculture stores.

If your birds are eating and not growing according to the chart, then your feed might be lacking in energy. One of the biggest signs that a feed is low in energy is that the birds eat their daily ration in a shorter time period and they are then desperately looking for more feed. If you see this, you should contact the feed producer. In order to see if it is the type of feed, switch to a different feed supplier for a trial period and then make a decision on who has the better feed.

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