As a producer, you want to make sure that the animals under your charge are always receiving the proper care.
This includes adequate nutrition, which varies for different types of farm animals.
Poultry (chickens, turkeys, quail, etc.) have their own set of dietary requirements, and signs of not receiving the proper nutrition. With a little research, you can make sure that your birds are getting what they need to perform at their best.
Indicators of inadequate poultry nutrition can include poor performance in weight gain and egg production, dull feathers or cannibalism. “It’s best to not ever let it get started,” Jess Lyons from the Division of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri said regarding cannibalism.
Producers who have experienced any of these problems in their flocks, there is a chance that their birds are not getting adequate nutrition.
Some companies offer a guaranteed analysis on their feed, so if you are feeding such a premixed formula and have problems, chances are that the nutrition is right, but the amount you are feeding might be off. Gail Damerow, in her book “The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals,” notes that one chicken will need to eat roughly 2 pounds of ration per week. Larger poultry like turkeys will eat substantially more than a chicken, and according to “Turkey Management” by Marsden and Martin, will go from eating about 0.6 pounds of feed every two weeks at 1 to 2 weeks of age, to eating more than 8 pounds of feed every two weeks at 28 weeks of age.
The Animal Sciences Department at UC Davis recommends feeding poultry different rations at different times in their life cycle, since nutrition requirements change based on the age and development stage of the birds. Chicks, for example, need a high-protein content of 20 to 22 percent, where as full-grown laying hens only need 15 to 18 percent.
Adequate nutrition for poultry does not have to come only from a premixed formula – getting outside and foraging is an all-natural way to ensure the health of your birds and cut back on input costs as well. Raising poultry on pasture in moveable “chicken tractors” is a simple way to save money on premixed feed.
“The most notable benefit of keeping chickens in tractors is knowing what’s in the food fed to the chickens,” said Greg Samuel, owner of Portable Livestock Shelters in Seymour, Mo.
“Their diet is supplemented with protein from insects and grass, cutting down on supplemental feed costs.”
Many smaller farmers raise their poultry on pasture not just to improve the health and nutrition of the birds, but also to command a higher price at niche markets for a healthy, premium product.
Jonathan Hale of Polyface Farms in Swoope, Va., a leader in the natural agriculture and local food movement, said that there is a “huge difference” in eggs and meat from chickens that have been raised in the farm’s “egg-mobiles” and portable broiler housing.
Sometimes, though, no matter how your poultry are housed, they need a little extra “pick me up” in their diets. The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals suggests adding products like calcium (often in the form of crushed oyster shell) to help combat weak eggshells, salt to avoid deficiencies that lead to cannibalism, and flaxseed to boost Omega-3 content in eggs.
As with any type of livestock, a little observation can go a long way to correcting problems. No one knows your flock better than you, and nutrition issues can be corrected quickly simply by knowing your birds and their needs.


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