Poultry Nutrition

Poultry Nutrition

Poultry NutritionFree-ranging birds supplement their diet with varying quantities of grass. Birds obtain nutrients from pasture, from insects and other small invertebrates and from small seeds, fruits and berries. Currently it is not known how important each of these sources of nutrition is likely to be, although it has been estimated that the potential contribution of pasture (grass, insects and worms) is not negligible (except in winter), but it is probably small (ADAS, 2005; Charles, 1984, Hill et al., 1988). Of course, there are also other benefits beside those concerned with meeting the birds’ nutritional needs, such as those related to product quality (Ponte et al., 2008) and bird welfare..

Nutritional Benefits of Pasture

Pasture consumption is influenced by a number of factors, including the amount of time spent outdoors, foraging behaviour, plant species, stage of growth, palatability, and nutritional content of the plants and nutritional needs of the birds (Moyle et al., 2014). Breed may also be important and slow-growing breeds adapted to outdoor conditions will utilise forage more effectively (Nielsen et al., 2003).

The quality of the pasture will be related at least in part to the plant species composition. It is likely that the pastures used by many free-range poultry flocks will have been established for use by cattle or sheep and may well contain species that are not ideal for poultry production (Moyle et al., 2014).
If poultry consumed largely grass, the nutritional value derived is likely to be relatively poor. Whilst it would constitute a source of energy and fibre, the protein contribution would be low at 0-5% of the total requirement (Walker and Gordon, 2003). However, birds that are allowed to freely range will also consume a higher proportion of insects and seeds than those that are enclosed but with access to forage (Amaka Lomu et al., 2004). It has also been shown that pasture intake promotes growth by improving the consumption of the cereal-based feed, even though the intake of forage dry matter may be low (Ponte et al., 2008).

Providing Forages

Providing chickens with forages to supplement their diet can have positive welfare impacts. Feeding both pea and maize silages, and carrots, were all shown to significantly reduce mortality, feather pecking, including severe pecking and to improved plumage quality of layers (Steenfeldt et al., 2007). Providing straw as forage and feed in mash form has also been shown to reduce feather pecking (Aerni et al., 2000).

The American Pastured Poultry Producers Association (APPPA) is a membership based organization that provides education and producer networking opportunities for pastured poultry farmers http://apppa.org/

Nutritional Deficiencies

Many nutritional deficiencies of poultry show similar symptoms, such as reduced growth, poor feathering and weakness. Consequently, it is not always possible to determine from symptoms the precise deficiency. Diet analysis, examination of the management system and necroscopy may be required to enable accurate diagnosis. When evaluating the compositional quality of diets, it is important to note that some ingredients may be unstable or unavailable in various forms, and that there may be associative effects whereby the availability of some nutrients depends on the presence or availability of others. Environmental conditions, the presence of toxins, the incidence of disease and the production status of the birds may also be influential in determining the availability and requirement of specific nutrients.

Some nutritional deficiencies are temporary and reversible upon diet correction.

There are more than 36 nutrients that are absolutely critical to poultry that must be present in diets at appropriate levels and balance.
The nutrients required by poultry can be divided into four categories:
• The major nutrients: water, energy, protein, essential amino acids and essential fatty acids;
• The major minerals: calcium and phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride;
• The trace elements: including iodine, selenium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc and many others;
• The vitamins: vitamins A, D, E and K, folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyrodoxine, biotin, vitamin B12 and choline.


is an open access information system on animal feed resources that provides information on nature, occurrence, chemical composition, nutritional value and safe use of nearly 1400 worldwide livestock feeds www.feedipedia.org.


Poultry Nutrition References


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  • Livestock should be land-based and integrated with farm cropping enterprises
  • Animals should be provided with conditions that enable them to exhibit natural behaviours
  • Dependency on veterinary medicines should be reduced without jeopardising the well-being of animals


outdoor access

Animals having outdoor access, shade, shelter, lighting and sufficient space for them to undertake free movement and to exhibit natural behaviors.


Using breeds and strains well-suited and adapted to the prevailing conditions.

Health Plan

Implementing herd and flock planning based on sound ecological practices and epidemiological knowledge.


Undertaking good practice with regard to biosecurity.

closed herds

Maintaining animals in closed herds and flocks and at stocking rates that enables free-movement, reduces risks of disease spread and minimises environmental damage.

forage and grazing

Forage and grazing being the main source of nutrients for ruminants, and continuously available to non-ruminants.

production practices

Avoiding the use of mutilations as standard production practices.


Improved understanding and responsible usage of veterinary medicines.