Broilers provide a significant supply of meat for many people world over. The current global craze over healthy food options has placed pressure on producers of broiler meat, hence some farmers struggle to meet the demand. Successful broiler development relies on optimal feed intake throughout the growing period. Feed intake is dependent on various factors such as prevailing weather patterns, environmental conditions and diet nutrient density. Note that feed intake varies according to the maturity of the broilers. Farmers should provide different types of broiler feed suitable for the maturity level of poultry. In addition, broiler feed should be highly nutritious and contain trace elements necessary for health maintenance and carcass growth.

Characteristics of Broiler Feed

There are various types of broiler feeds and these vary according to the protein requirements of birds at different levels of maturity. Broiler feed are categorised as starter, grower and finisher feeds. Unlike ruminant feeds, broiler diets are usually complete feeds and supply the total daily requirements apart from water. Broiler feed often comes in 3 different types; mash feed is normally used for chicks due to its loose, fine texture, hence it is easy to digest. Mature birds can sometimes be fed mash too. The downside of mash types of broiler feed is that its texture often results in an increase of incidental waste. Pellet feed is another type of broiler breed. Pellets are generally a modification of mash. Pellets can then be crumbled into smaller particles to allow the chickens to consume the feed efficiently. The greatest advantage of using pellets is that there is little waste in feeding. Crumbled feed is a coarse variety of mash. It is very similar to the texture of oatmeal. Crumble is a semi-loose variety of chicken feed that is slightly easier to manage. This feed acts as a gap between mash and pellets as most birds prefer the crumbly texture.

Starter Feed

Starter feeds are essential in establishing good appetite and maximum early growth so as to reach the targeted 7 days body weight of at least 170g. This type of broiler feed is therefore necessary for chicks within the brooding period of 0 to 10 days of age.  Starter feed is a protein dense variety of chicken feed designed to meet the dietary requirements of baby chicks. Protein requirements during the brooding period should be about 20 to 24% of the overall diet. Carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins and minerals make up the rest of the cast of nutrients needed by growing baby chickens. Feed rich in high nutrients, especially protein help in the faster development of baby chicks. It stimulates muscle growth, tissues and organs. In fact, Next to water, protein, both plant and animal, is the second most essential nutrient for young chicks. Types of broiler feed categorised as starters include commercially produced crumbles, wheat, oats or barley although it is best that the oats or barley be limited to 25% of the starter diet. In wheat-feeding areas the use of some maize may be beneficial.  The recommended starter feed for broiler is one that contains coccidiostat to protect broilers from rampant diseases that often cause intestinal damage. In addition, the levels of digestible amino acid are of the essence thus must be considered when purchasing feed. Take care that baby chicks are provided with fresh clean water at all times. Baby chicks ought to have starter feed for about 10 days after which they are provided with a different, more advanced type of broiler feed.

Grower Feed

This type of broiler feed is generally provided for approximately 14 to 16 days following the starter dietary plan.  Starter to grower transition involves a change of texture from crumbs or mini-pellets to pellets. It may be necessary to first provide grower feeds as crumbles and gradually increase the size of pellets. Take note that this depends on the pellet size of grower feeds. Commercial feeds are most popular types of broiler feed. These include grower mash and crumble/pellets. Most grower mash can be mixed with maize at a ratio of 2:3.  Note that when using this type of broiler feed, maize should be milled through a 3mm screen instead of being crushed. Another important point to note is that there may be need to slightly increase feed when using mash grower feeds. As previously mentioned, pellets can also be fed as grower feed. Pellets are designed to finalise the development of organs and stabilize growth. Some farmers opt for home-made types of broiler feed. These are usually a mixture of easily accessible grain feed such as maize, oats, whey, fish meal, kelp, wheat and grit. Grains should be ground to a suitable poultry size feed. Greens can be included in both home-made and commercial feed. High protein greens such as alfalfa, clover, bean, pea and lentil greens are recommended. According to the agricultural community, grains should only be used when mixed with a protein rich feed.  This is because most grains contain extremely low protein therefore only fill up birds without providing the most essential nutrients. Also, over feeding grain reduces broiler intake of protein, vitamins and minerals necessary for the development of broilers. Whether its commercial or home-made feeds, the most important aspect is to make sure that it contains sufficient amount of nutrients. This is done to meet the different nutrient need of growing broilers, particularly protein. As a matter of fact, types of broiler feed are distinguished by their protein value. As such, farmers should be aware of the protein value of feed versus the nutritional value of birds. Broilers in this growing phase require at least 16% protein.

Finisher Feed

Broiler finisher feed are aimed at achieving a higher growth rate, higher feed utilization rate, and low disease incidences at the early stage of the life of a chicken. They must be provided from 25 days until the point of slaughter. The finisher types of broiler feed must have a balanced nutritional value necessary for health maintenance and proper growth. Similar to grower and starter feeds, broiler finisher feed can be store bought (commercially produced) or home-made. Home-made feeds include wheat, maize, sorghum, bran and pollard and combination of protein meals such as pulses, cottonseed meal, soybean meal, canola meal and sunflower meal. When using home-made feed, it is important to grind feed until it is about 4mm. Good uniformity of particle size is essential because mature birds prefer bigger feed particles. Dominant birds tend to quickly consume larger particles leaving finer particles for other chickens thereby affecting carcass weight and productivity.  In addition, it might be necessary to mix some commercial feed with grains at a ratio of 1:2 respectively. Note that the ratio is subject to change based on the type of broiler feed used. Caution must be practised when using grain supplements as they have little protein value. For the same reason, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that home-made grain feed is combined with protein rich supplements.