One of the most important aspects of raising any animal is the feed that is fed to them. When you’re considering livestock and poultry, roughly 70% of your overall cost of raising those animals is tied up in feed costs. With that being said, feeding poultry the proper ration is key to the success, viability and productivity of your flock. In this article, we’ll discuss a few things to consider when trying to decide what’s the best feed to feed my birds.
Like all livestock species, each state of development has specific needs. For instance, young chicks require more protein than older birds while laying hens require an elevated amount of calcium in their diets to support shell formation. We call this concept, life-stage feeding. We’ll start from the beginning.
Chicks should be fed a diet consisting of 18-23% crude protein. This, along with elevated amounts of amino acids helps spur growth and vitality. Diets for chicks should be low in calcium, around 1%. Too much calcium for chicks is not good for kidney function. The option then remains, should I feed my chicks medicated or non-medicated feed. Medicated feed contains Amprolium which helps prevent the protozoa Coccidiosis. This protozoa is transmitted through the ingestion of infected manure and attacks the gut of the bird causing improper absorption of nutrients and blood is noted in the manure. Because chicks are susceptible to coccidiosis, I would recommend using medicated feed. Amprolium is a Class C drug meaning that there is no withdrawal period before meat or eggs are consumed from birds fed amprolium.
When feeding chicks for meat production, a starter, grower and finisher ration should be used. This type of feeding is characterized by lowering the amount of protein from 22-23% in the starter phase to roughly 18% in the finisher phase. When no such step down program exists, maintaining the birds on a 20% protein feed from hatch until harvest will suffice. Many brands of feed labeled for broilers or meat chickens are typically around the 20% crude protein mark.
For pullet chicks destined for egg production, you may feed the chick starter up until they start to lay eggs which is typically around 20 weeks of age. As soon as they start to lay, the ration should be switched to a 16-18% crude protein feed containing roughly 4.5-5% calcium. This extra calcium serves as replacement calcium for the bone from which the hens are extracting calcium to be used in egg shell formation.
Obtaining feed is fairly simple. Many farm supply stores sell bagged feed labeled for each growth stage. I will say, that cheaper is not always better when it comes to feed quality and obtaining the maximum growth of the chicks. Depending on the size of your flock, it may be cheaper to buy your feed in bulk and mixed from your local elevator if they do that. Nutritionists on staff may be able to help you formulate and mix a diet that suits your flock’s needs. Finally, depending on your end result, allowing outdoor access to grass, insects and other foods may be beneficial to your flock. This allows for the expression of natural scratching and searching behaviors and promotes a flavorful egg. Due to the intense growth needed for meat chickens, it’s recommended that they stay on a commercial feed from hatch until harvest.
Feeding ducks and geese is similar to chickens. Ducklings and goslings should be started on a roughly 23% protein feed and should be NON-MEDICATED. Amprolium in feed labeled for chicks but fed to ducklings and goslings has shown to have adverse affects in young waterfowl. Goslings also readily accept grass as a supplement to their diet and prefer it in some cases but should not be the bulk of their diet.
Adult waterfowl destined for harvest should be fed an 18% protein feed after being fed the starter diet for 3-4 weeks. They will finish on the 18% protein feed. Laying birds should be fed a similar diet to the laying hen chicken. Although the laying period for ducks and geese is short in some cases. Only lasting a few months. After laying has ceased, you may switch them to a maintenance ration which is roughly 14% protein ration and 1-2% calcium. Geese also prefer to graze on grass if given the chance.
Lastly, monitor the amount of “extra” feed items you’re feeding your birds. Items such as vegetable table scraps, corn, and other grains can dilute the essential nutrients that the complete feed has to offer. These items should be given in moderation. Finally, always provide fresh, cool drinking water at all times. As well as providing fresh, insect and mold-free feed. Keep feed in tightly closed containers such as metal or plastic garbage cans or other bins that eliminate the chances of rodents and insect from contaminating the feed and limiting moisture exposure which promotes mold growth.