Delaware County Cooperative Extension

Poultry Nutrition

Poultry Nutrition
Earl H. Ward, NE Area Livestock Specialist

A balanced nutritious diet is essential to all living things. Just like many animals, the nutrients requirements of poultry vary drastically depending on genetics, environmental conditions, growth, productivity,prevention of deficiency symptoms, and feed efficiency. Poultry require a balanced diet that consist of at least 38 different dietary nutrients.

The first nutrient that must always be address is water. Just like any animal, a bird’s water requirement changes depending on many conditions and circumstances. Depriving a bird for 12 hours or more of water has had adverse effects on growing or egg producing birds. Depriving birds of water for 36 hours
or more will result in an increase in mortality. Therefore, it is recommended to provide this wet nutrient cool, clean, and available at all times.

Birds are different than any of our other farm animals in the fact that they will adjust their feed intake depending on the energy density of the ration. Therefore they will eat until they satisfy their energy requirement. This means that the remaining nutrients must be adjusted accordingly based off of the available
dietary energy (metabolizable energy).

For birds in an uncontrolled environment, there is a seasonal effect on the animal’s energy uptake, which also effects the animal’s feed intake. During winter conditions, a hen may consume up to 340 kilocalories of metabolizable energy per day to keep warm, but during warmer conditions may only consume up to 260 kilocalories a day. This means that during the warmer weather, or any other time that the energy intake is influenced the other nutrients in the diet must be adjusted according to avoid any deficiency or toxicity. As the feed intake decreases, the percentage of crude protein must increase to supply the required amount of protein to keep the animal in a productive stage. Growing birds will require a higher protein diet than mature birds will due to the lower amount of feed consumed, but also because they are trying to add protein to their skeleton. The
animal’s genetics will also influence the protein level in the ration. Birds that are bigger meat-type birds will require more protein than lighter egg-producing birds.

Minerals always play an important role in a balanced diet. The two largest macro-minerals we need to consider are phosphorus and calcium. A lot of the phosphorus that is contained in feed ingredients is bound with phytate, which makes the phosphorus unavailable to poultry. Therefore, it is critical to formulate poultry rations based off of available phosphorus and not total
phosphorus. The appropriate levels of calcium not only depends on the amount of calcium in the diet but also its ratio to the amount of available phosphorus. For growing birds the ratio should be right at 2:1 calcium to phosphorus. The calcium requirement is much higher for laying hens and older or more productive hens require a higher level of calcium.

Balancing rations has its complexity for every animal and the understanding of a healthy poultry diet is too complex to be able to cover in this article. Luckily, for the largest majority of poultry producers, there are commercial complete feeds that are already formulated and balanced for each stage of production for the bird. This balanced diet will ensure that your birds are happy, healthy, and productive.

Resources: Nutrition for Backyard Chicken Flocks. Alabama Cooperative Extension Factsheet ANR – 1317. http:// Accessed 1/30/2018.
Nutrient Requirements of Poultry. Klasing, Kirk C.
-and-management-poultry/nutritional-requirements-of-poultry. Accessed 1/30/2018.

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