An important part of raising chickens is feeding – feeding makes up the major cost of production and good nutrition is reflected in the bird’s performance and its products.
The most convenient way of feeding chickens is with a balanced pelleted ration, whether the birds are confined indoors or allowed to rove outdoors. Most diets contain corn for energy, soybean meal for protein, and vitamin and mineral supplements. Commercial rations often contain antibiotics and arsenicals to promote health and improve growth, coccidiostats for combating coccidiosis, and sometimes mold inhibitors. However, it is possible to obtain unmedicated feed-check feed labels to see if they contain feed additives.
In the industry, the feed is pelleted so the bird can eat more at one time. Chickens are nibblers and make frequent trips to the feed trough for small meals, which requires energy. Pelleting reduces the amount of energy required for a bird to feed. However, many producers of pasture-based, “natural” poultry believe that the meat is better when the bird receives more exercise.
If the bird is eating a fibrous diet, grit such as oyster shells is supplied to aid in grinding up coarse feed in the gizzard. Industry birds usually don’t use grit because the diet is low in fiber. Outdoor birds also pick-up small stones. Different rations are often used, depending on the production stage of the bird. Starter rations are high in protein – an expensive feed ingredient. However, grower and finisher rations can be lower in protein since older birds require less. A starter diet is about 24 percent protein, a grower diet is 20 percent protein, and a finisher diet is 18 percent protein.
Layer diets generally have about 16 percent protein. Special diets are available for broilers, pullets, layers, and breeders. Whole grains can also be provided as scratch grains. Daily Times, Pg. 20.