The production of poultry was originally practised on general farms whereby livestock foraged for food. With the growth and widespread of the industry, there developed a need for poultry specific feeds which allow animals to grow, maintain health and improve on productivity. Also, with consumer preferences now leaning towards low calorie foods and healthier lifestyles, the poultry industry is expected to undergo further growth within the next decades. The demand for poultry basically translates to increased profits, provided the agricultural venture is practiced properly. Since productivity depends on animal nutrition, it is of the essence that farmers provide chickens with nutritious feed options at all levels of maturity. An important factor to keep in mind is that poultry demands different types of feed with varied nutritional needs at different stages of growth, hence the need for awareness on various types of poultry feeds.

Starter Feed

A starter feed is a protein dense type of poultry feed designed to meet the dietary needs of chicks. Starter feeds are generally aimed at establishing good appetite and improve on early growth in order for chickens to mature within the required timeframe of about 6 weeks. It is often fed to chicken from birth until they are about 10 days old. Some farmers continue on a starter diet until 20 days, however mixing it with suitable supplements. For layers, starter feeds are often used from birth, up to about 8 to 10 weeks. Chicks that are provided with adequate starter feed at least double in size during this period. The starter type of poultry feed consists of approximately 20 to 24% proteins. Starter feeds are often in form of commercially produced mash and crumbles. Home-made starter feeds comprise of wheat, oats and barley. These should not exceed 25% of the overall dietary plan. Also, they should be provided with protein rich supplements. An ideal starter feed should contain coccidiostat to protect poultry from rampant diseases that often cause intestinal damage.

Grower Feed

Grower types of poultry feed are meant to maintain growth as well as health. Grower feeds often consist of about 16 to 18% protein level for layers and 14 to 16% for broiler chickens. In addition, broilers are provided with grower feeds at around 20 to 35 days of age whereas layers start on grower feeds at 8 to 20 weeks. Grower feeds for egg producing chickens are also rich in calcium to allow a successful laying period. Note that calcium levels tend to be higher than at starter level but slightly lower in comparison to layer specific feeds. Also, grower feeds can either be in form of crumbles or pellets. Pellets are designed to finalise the development of organs and stabilize growth. Particle sizes are expected to be uniform and about 3mm for easy digestion. Mash is sometimes used, however should be combined with grain supplements such as maize at a ratio of 2:3 respectively. Grower types of poultry feed can also be home-made. These usually comprise a mixture of readily available ingredients such as maize, oats, whey, fish meal, kelp, wheat and grit. Note that grain feed should not exceed 25% of the overall poultry diet as excess grain hinders effective uptake of essential nutrients. Furthermore, grains are low in protein and so it is advisable to provide them with a protein rich supplement. High protein greens such as alfalfa, clover, bean, pea and lentil greens are recommended supplementary feeds. These can also be combined with commercially produced feeds.

Layer Feed

Layer types of poultry feed are designed for chickens kept for egg production, hence the term ‘layer’ feed. These are provided to hens when they start producing their first eggs. This is usually round 20 weeks of age. Layer feeds have an indigenous balance of protein, vitamins and minerals among other nutrients to encourage top tier laying abilities. Layer feeds are also characterised by improved calcium levels in order to enable improved productivity. It is advisable for farmers to strictly adhere to the recommended rations as excess calcium can compromise the health of chickens as well as their productivity. To add on, layer feeds should not be given to non-layers. This is because high calcium levels can potentially cause liver and kidney failure.

Shell Grit

Shell grit is often ignored by most farmers. It is however of great importance, mainly severing 2 essential purposes. Shell grit consists of an ideal amount of calcium that helps hens to produce delicious eggs with sturdy shells. Hens with a shell grit enhanced dietary plans have been reported to produce superior quality eggs in comparison to their counterparts. Chickens with a diet lacking of shell grit are at risk of producing a range of egg oddities with lower market value. Shell grit is also among the most important types of poultry feed due to its role digestion. Chickens store shell grit in their gizzards which assists in pulverising feed for ease of digestion. Various agricultural research states that deficiencies in shell grit result in health complications such as sour crop. For this reason, poultry farmers should ensure that chicken dietary plans are inclusive of shell grit.

Home-made Feeds

These types of poultry feed are quite popular and can be combined with commercially produced feed for improved dietary plans. As previously mentioned, home-made feeds are formulated using readily available ingredients such as farming waste and are often used as starter and grower feeds.  When formulating home-made feed, there is need for adequate knowledge about the nutritional value of the ingredients versus nutrients required by poultry. In addition, particle size should be considered. Supplementary feeds should be provided when there are nutrient deficiencies which is usually the case with home-mad feeds. The recommended home-made types of poultry feed include soybean meal which provides poultry with high energy fat necessary for development.  It is also advisable to provide chickens with vitamin rich feeds such as alfalfa leaves, hulls, and brans. Minerals, although not present in high levels in plants, are provided in fish meal and kelp (seaweed). High energy grains are inclusive of wheat, oats and barley. Bean, pea and lentil greens make great supplements for protein deficient meals.