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Getting your flock nutrition right

Andrew Fothergill, national poultry adviser at Farmgate Feeds looks at the impact of poultry nutrition on supporting positive flock behaviour.

NUTRITION is of crucial importance to ensure that our hens are healthy, and we get the most from their laying throughout the season. With the current focus on our own health and wellbeing, it’s interesting to also look into the marked effect that nutrition has on our hens as we reach the peak laying season. 

Spending time at home gives us the opportunity to observe our poultry and see how changes in diet can improve their wellbeing and egg production.

The best foundation when considering the nutrition of our hens is to check that they’re receiving the right balance of protein in their diet. A lack of protein can be a reason for feather pecking, as feathers contain protein, and too much protein can also cause digestive upsets. 

DEVELOPMENT: Different life stages require different nutritional inputs
DEVELOPMENT: Different life stages require different nutritional inputs

Mixed corn and greens are great complementary feeds and encourage natural behaviours, but on their own will not provide all the correct nutrients and can lead to eggs with pale yolks, soft shells, or even reduced egg production.  
Any changes that we make to our hen’s diets need to be tailored to their size and life-stage to ensure that they are gaining the best nutritional support.

For example, if you feed your Bantams with a standard size pellet, this can cause palatability issues due to their small beaks and oesophagus. Larger pellets can be difficult to digest and can cause them to choke. Bantams also have smaller appetites, so making sure that each mouthful gives them the right nutritional balance is even more important. 

We are all conscious that our chicks need a different diet, but it’s important to be aware of how crucial what you give them in the early stages can impact their future growth and laying capacity. 

For laying pullets, they should have a chick crumb until they are six weeks old, with a specially-formulated diet comprising of all the essential vitamins and trace minerals. 

A hatching chick needs to develop its vital systems – intestine, heart, lungs and the skeleton and muscles, and then a covering of feathers too. Without a healthy intestine, heart and lungs, the bird could be compromised for life, so the starting period is key.

The rearing period is equally as important as the starting period, so from approximately six-to-seven weeks of age, a well-balanced poultry grower should be fed. Optimal levels of amino acids  
and minerals are required for strong, healthy growth, good skeletal structure and also feather development. 

The chicken has evolved a unique skeletal structure which allows it to make short-term withdrawals of calcium from specific bone storage depots for immediate eggshell formation, which are replenished shortly after laying, as part of the daily cycle. These bones develop most rapidly in the mid-to-late teen weeks of growth and are of vital importance to having a robust and resilient chicken for the years ahead. Investment in your rearing nutrition rewards many times over in wellbeing and productivity.

With laying hens, a layer pellet or mash should be fed from up to four weeks before the onset of laying until depletion. Make sure the balance is right between protein and fibre – which is important to provide good bacteria in the gut.

Having an understanding of your hen’s nutrition will enable you to support happy, healthy birds, while giving your family the added luxury of enjoying delicious eggs that are rich in colour throughout the year. 

Farmgate Feeds has an unrivalled range of products suitable for all stages of your flock’s life. This is supported by the  team’s wealth of knowledge and expertise on all aspects of poultry nutrition and welfare.

Handy hints

Afbeelding: Pellet image
  • Check your hens are receiving the right balance of protein in their diet. 
  • Mixed corn and greens are great complementary feeds. 
  • Remember the ‘pecking order’; you may find some birds are being greedy and some going without.
  • Insoluble grit is a very useful aid in a laying hens’ digestive system.
  • Water, water, water… drinkers should be filled with fresh water daily.
  • Poultry feed comes in various forms: pellets, mash and crumb.