Nutrition is critical to efficient poultry farming. Not only does feeding account for about 75% of poultry production costs, but it can directly impact bird performance and production. Whether raising chickens for commercial egg or meat production, each flock requires certain poultry nutrition considerations depending on its end use. The same diet does not suit all types of birds through every stage of growth.
Here’s what you need to know about the nutritional differences between feeding broilers and layers.
The difference between broilers and layers
Broilers are chickens that are raised for meat production. These meaty birds grow quickly, requiring diets high in energy and protein to sustain their rapid weight gain.
Layers are chickens that are raised specifically for egg production. These hens require specific nutrients, like calcium, to steadily produce high-quality eggs throughout their laying lifespan.
Breeders, on the other hand, are birds raised to lay fertilized eggs that will hatch into healthy chicks and eventually grow into broilers or layers themselves—perpetuating the flock through the next generation.
Depending on its market use, each type of chicken has specific poultry nutrition requirements to meet its particular health needs and production goals. The National Research Council (NRC) established standard Nutrient Requirements for Poultry to specify the recommended amounts of protein, energy (carbohydrates and fats), and other vitamins and minerals in chicken feed formulations. The ideal nutrient ratios may vary from week to week and flock to flock.
Poultry nutrition requirements
After chicks hatch, they’re fed a “starter” diet for the first few weeks. Starter feed is high in protein to support the chick’s early growth, but as the chicken matures, it requires less protein in its diet. Adjusting the feed formulation for each growth stage ensures that chickens get the right balance of nutrients to support healthy function and production as they age. Plus, since protein is generally one of the most expensive feed ingredients, poultry farmers can control their cost efficiencies by adjusting the protein levels in their flock’s diet as the birds mature.
The feeding schedule for broiler birds might include:
- Starter feed containing up to 24% protein for the first four weeks.
- Grower feed with a slightly reduced protein content of about 20% and energy levels of 3200 Kcal/kg for the next couple of weeks.
- Finisher feed with even less protein, about 18%, during the last few weeks of production as chickens reach market weight—as early as 6-8 weeks in, depending on the breed and feed.
The feeding routine for laying hens might look more like this:
- Starter feed containing 18-20% protein for the first 6-8 weeks.
- Grower feed with a reduced protein content of 14-16% for the next 6-12 weeks.
- Layer feed to prepare the pullet hen to begin laying her first eggs, typically around 16-18 weeks of age, by providing protein levels between 12-14% and maintaining steady energy levels of 3000 Kcal/kg.
Most hens start laying eggs commercially around 18-19 weeks and can continue laying until 72-78 weeks (18-20 months). Some poultry farmers may adjust the layer feed formulation around 30 weeks to support the maturing hen’s nutritional needs. During laying, certain nutrients in the hen’s diet may impact the color of the yolks and the concentration of vitamins and minerals in the eggs.
Laying hens also require sufficient calcium in their diets to produce strong, thick eggshells—which contain about 90% calcium. Deficiencies can result in weak, thin eggshells, lower egg production, and even egg eating among hens. Many farmers supplement this important shell-hardening ingredient by adding crushed oyster shells or limestone to their flock’s feed routine.
Broilers also require specific amounts of calcium and phosphorus for healthy bone formation to ensure that their legs can support their bulky weight. A properly balanced diet is vital to optimal poultry nutrition and production—whether the goal is to produce big, meaty birds or strong, consistent eggs.
Producing poultry feed
Although ingredient selection may vary from one region to another, most U.S. poultry diets contain about 50-60% corn for energy, 20-30% soybean meal for protein, and other vitamin and mineral supplements as needed. Depending on crop availability and specific poultry nutrition requirements, other energy sources might include wheat, barley, sorghum, or other grains. Whereas oilseed meals (like peanut, sesame, sunflower, and cottonseed) can be substituted to supply protein.
Soybeans and other legumes must be properly heat-treated before consumption to deactivate trypsin inhibitors that can interfere with the chicken’s nutrient uptake. Some processors simply roast the soybeans during processing, but too much heat can destroy valuable proteins along with the protein inhibitors. A mechanical screw press like the Anderson Expeller® Oil Press generates some mechanical heat while crushing soybeans—but not enough to thoroughly deactivate these anti-nutritional factors.
Many processors utilize an extrusion system like the Anderson Dox™ Extruder, which works ahead of the screw press to cook, dry, and shear the flaked soybean material. The heat inside the extruder can reduce trypsin inhibitor levels while retaining the quality of the proteins in the meal. A recent poultry feed trial showed that soybean meal processed using the Anderson Dox™ Extruder and Expeller Press is nutritionally equivalent to other soybean meals on the market.
And, because no chemicals are involved in the mechanical pressing process, extruded and expeller-pressed meals can even provide natural, organic soybean meal and other feed options for organic poultry nutrition.
Quality in, quality out
Preparing a balanced poultry diet can be complex and costly, requiring specialized knowledge about poultry nutrition and feed formulation. Feedstock ingredients must be sourced, milled, and blended according to exacting rations that determine a flock’s health and overall performance. If chicken diets are not correctly rationed or balanced, the birds may suffer from deficiencies, disease, and disrupted production—ultimately undermining the poultry farm’s profitability.
The quality of the feed ingredients, particularly the protein, is essential to proper poultry nutrition, as it provides the amino acids that chickens need for optimal health and maximum yields. Meal quality doesn’t begin at the feed mill where it’s blended but further upstream in the oil mill where the meal is first produced. By starting with the best quality ingredients and processing methods, poultry farmers can optimize their flocks’ performance with the ideal feed formulations.
Contact Anderson’s extraction experts to learn more about processing soybean meal to meet specific poultry nutrition requirements.