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Why nutrition is so important for your hens

Andrew Fothergill, National Poultry Advisor at Farmgate Feeds, gives his guidance on how poultry feed supports your hens complete health

Poultry feed may not be something you give a great deal of thought to – you go and buy a good quality bag for your hens without necessarily understanding what goes into it and why. Feed manufacturers spend a lot of time researching and developing feed to incorporate exactly what your hens need- their feed is definitely more than just food. If your hens are supported by the best feed, you will be rewarded with healthy birds who lay high quality eggs and produce lots of healthy chicks.

Benefits of a well-balanced diet for poultry

It is important to feed your laying hens suitable feed from hatch through to their productive years, to gain maximum productivity. Feeding incorrectly at any stage can induce poor egg production and impact their health.

Animals eat to gain the energy and building blocks they need to live and grow. There are six fundamental elements to poultry nutrition: water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals and vitamins. These nutrients are required or the development of bone, flesh, feathers, and eggs. Each component is key and a diet that combines them in the correct quantities will help to maintain poultry’s normal breathing, eating, digestion, growth, reproduction and egg production. A shortage of one can lead to negative health consequences.

Afbeelding: Free range hen close up small

Good feed promotes good behaviour

Feed affects a hen’s behaviour and wellbeing, which influences their laying, quality of eggs and the health of their offspring.

If you are keeping hens for egg production, then a good feeding regime is imperative to provide them with the correct nutrients. The feed should have a balance of good quality protein and fibre to keep your hens full and provide beneficial bacteria in their gut. It’s also important that it contains enhanced levels of vitamins for regular egg production, good fertility, hatchability and chick viability. A lack of specific nutrients can impact egg production, shell quality and even the bird's health.

It’s crucial to focus on providing new chicks the best foundations, as this can significantly impact their future development and laying capacity. Early feeding has a positive effect on poultry production by improving yolk utilisation, growth rate, development of digestive and immune systems which result in an overall superior performance.

Feed quality is another crucial matter for the appropriate development of chicks in their first week. Chicks come from a different environment in the embryonic phase, and they depend on various factors to start adjusting to new conditions.

Poultry diets should be supported by environmental factors

Water is regularly overlooked, but it is one of the most imperative nutrients- an animal can live longer without food, than it can without water. Hens drink more than we may realise and in a laying flock, a lack of water for even a few hours can lead to lower egg production. Water consumption also plays a significant part in the start of a chicks’ life. From the first day of a chick’s life, the water to food ratio should be 2:1 as chicks need water to eat their food, because they do not produce a lot of saliva. Therefore, fresh, clean water should be available at all times. There is no exact quantity of water required, because multiple factors affect how much a bird needs: age, body condition, diet, temperature, water quality, and humidity. As a general guideline, poultry consume twice as much water as feed.

Pay attention to the way you supply the feed to your hens, ensuring that a fully balanced diet which meets the requirements of the bird is equally received, whilst also reducing feed waste. Feeding and watering equipment must be designed, built, positioned and upheld so that contamination of food and water and the harmful effects of competition between animals are minimised. Gravity fed drinkers are a good way of keeping your birds hydrated and should be suspended to avoid soiling. Body weight, body condition, egg quality and production can all be used to observe the success of your feeding regime.