The Ins and Outs of Hen Nutrition

As discussed in one of our previous articles, egg development is a rather complicated process that is completed in a mere 25 hours. Proper egg development, however, begins long before the actual formation of the egg. Nutrition and general maintenance throughout the early life stages of the bird are what truly sets the bird on track for good or poor production throughout the rest of its life. Quality nutrition is crucial for good gut health, which affects nutrient absorption and overall vitality.

The immune system, skeleton, digestive tract, and physical attributes of a chick develop rapidly within the first few weeks of life (King). Since chicks are small in size and their digestive tract is still developing, most starter feed products are a fine grind or fine crumble. This prevents blockage from occurring within the crop or other parts of the digestive tract and ensures better breakdown and absorption of nutrients. A 21% protein diet is generally recommended to accommodate a chick’s accelerated growth and energy needs. It is important to ensure chicks get just the right amount of minerals for their life stage of development, as feeding adult poultry feed or an imbalanced feed can lead to developmental problems in their legs, reproductive organs, and other parts of growth. We formulate our Starter Feed with fresh organic grains, kelp, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics that fully meet chicks’ developmental needs. Chick grit and an abundance of fresh water are also crucial to proper digestion and vitality.

Once chicks reach 5 weeks of age, they are ready for a chunkier, lesser protein feed. While similar in composition to the Starter Feed, our Grower/Broiler Feed is 19% protein, which is 2% lower protein than the Starter Feed but still high enough protein to meet feather production needs. This decrease in protein aids in a slower growth for better-controlled weight and structural development while also allowing the reproductive system time to develop properly. At 16 weeks of age, pullets are ready to be slowly transitioned to layer feed.

Our Layer Feeds are 17% protein and formulated with higher calcium than the Starter and Grower/Broiler feeds in order to sustain the body’s production demands. Calcium is crucial to egg development, as the eggshell is comprised of approximately 94% calcium. Since gut health affects nutrient absorption, probiotics and balanced vitamins and minerals are crucial to strong production. Dr. Kayla Price, poultry technical manager with Alltech Canada, explained in a webinar on egg health how minerals functioned in egg development:

“Selenium is used for cellular protection of the reproductive tract. Copper is used for eggshell development, pigment, and collagen formation. Manganese is important for the eggshell membrane and helps with the formation of bone and the organic matrix of eggshells. Zinc can be used for bone and eggshell calcification, keratin shell membrane formation, and eggshell carbonate production.” (King)

While feed quality greatly influences productivity, water is the #1 forgotten nutrient in any livestock operation, particularly during the winter and summer seasons. Every function in the body utilizes water, particularly cell communication and function. While trudging water buckets up to the barn or out to the hen house may be tedious, this step should never be overlooked. Poultry and other livestock are less likely to drink water if it is dirty or if it has ice. Dehydration can lead to poor nutrient absorption, which will then lead to decreased productivity and vitality.

Good management of the flock area reduces the risk of disease and bacteria build up. With quality nutrition at every stage of development combined with good management, your flock will remain healthy and productive. How can we help you create the best management program for your farm? Give us a call at 540-469-0694.

Works Cited

King, Deven. “How hen nutrition impacts egg shell quality.” WATTAgNet. WATTAgNet, 12 Nov. 2017. Web.