Archive for the ‘Gamefowl Care’ Tag

Chicks   Leave a comment

Feeding Poultry

By Scott Shilala

How’d you get your chicks?

If you hatched your own, just give them Medicated Chick Starter Crumbles, sprinkled about on the brooder floor for the first couple days, then in a feeder. Non-medicated starter is probably a better idea, it’s a matter of choice, and availability.

Give them all they can eat, and keep fresh water in carefully cleaned waterers at all times. Now that’s easy! For a quick “pick me up”, crumbled hard boiled egg yolk is excellent for them.

A tiny sprinkle of probiotics in their feed is always beneficial. A sprinkle of freeze-dried kelp can also be an excellent edge to a good start.

Got them by mail?

Chicks arriving by mail have been stressed pretty heavily. Give them feed and water as if you hatched them yourself, and watch them closely. If they take to the feed and water quickly, you may not want to bother with anything else. They should be fine.

If they do not take to the food and water, you can help them along by dipping their beaks. You can also peck at the feed with your finger, it stimulates them to eat.

If they are still not responding, put marbles in the waterers. Show them how to peck, and keep their attention. Once you get a couple chicks to eat and drink, the others will quickly follow. You may want to add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to each quart of their water. Electrolytes will also help get them back on track. We are very proactive when it comes to shipped chicks. We take great care in offering everything we can to get them over the stress of shipping. Because of all the extras, we’ve never lost a chick that has been shipped to us, and have brought many back that were in really rough shape.

If problems persist with feeding, or you want to give them a quick pick-me-up, you can feed them some mashed hard boiled egg yolk in addition to the crumbles and supplements.

Are supplements or medications necessary?

Necessary? Maybe not. Beneficial? Absolutely.

Medicated Chick Starter has a mild Coccidistat (usually Amprolium), and that’s all. It supplies complete nutrition for growing chicks. Antibiotics, Probiotics, kelp, super-grow supplements and the like are just not absolutely necessary. Some things are very beneficial. It is easy to over-use medications and supplements, and it is likely that you will do more harm than good. Read instructions carefully and follow them to a “T”. Ask someone “what they think” who has lots of experience with the supplement or medicine you are about to use.

We never use any medications, wormers, or anything else as a preventative measure. We use them when it’s beneficial to our bird’s health. We don’t consider it a good practice to give our animals anything unless it is totally necessary, then it is important to do things “by the book”.

Incubation Procedure   Leave a comment

This information is to provide the reader with a knowledge of incubation principles and a practical guide to incubation techniques. It describes the process of embryo development and how incubators are designed to provide the ideal conditions for this process. The information deals with problems likely to be encountered and gives recommendations for overcoming them as well as useful calculation tools for monitoring the development of the egg.
Although much of the scientific data is based on poultry eggs it is generally applicable to all species.

Many gamebird owners incubate eggs to help sustain their flock over time. This fact sheet is designed to assist those who wish to incubate small and large numbers of gamebird eggs. The words “fertility” and “hatchability” are often used incorrectly by small producers. These terms are important and have very important meaning.

Percent Fertility is the percentage of fertile eggs of all eggs produced.

% fertility = No. of fertile eggs / No. of total eggs produced or set

Percent Hatchability is the percentage of fertile eggs which actually hatch out as live young.

% hatchability = No. of eggs which hatch out / No. of fertile eggs


Selection of Hatching Eggs
Egg Care and Storage
Incubating Conditions

Continue reading: 

Proper Egg Handling And Storage Practices Before Incubation   Leave a comment

Egg Handling and Storage is the selection and care of eggs before setting in the incubator. Eggs are stored to collect a large number before setting therefore attaining UNIFORMITY in flock management and quality in fightingchick production.


1. Collect eggs right after laying or several times a day in order to prevent direct exposure to sunlight and microbial contamination.
2. Select eggs four days laid after introduction of vigorous broodcock.
3. Carefully place eggs with large end up in sturdy trays to avoid accidental cracking. Do not use plastic bags in collecting eggs.
4. Select eggs for hatching that are: (a) normal in size and weight – ideal size: 55 grams to 65 grams: small eggs – small chicks – small fightingcocks.
5. Remove eggs with cracklines, hairlines, loose air cell and thin shells – these are points of entry of microbes that will spoil the eggs later inside the incubator.
6. Remove dirt using soft cloth damped in lukewarm water. Do this very quickly.
7. Place eggs in clean and dry egg trays with large end up (small ends down).
8. Store eggs in a cool room with temperature not exceeding 20 C. Ideal storage room temperature is 12-16 C and humidity of 70 – 75%. Eggs can be stored at the vegetable compartment of the refrigerators or inside an airconditioned room.
9. Store eggs not more than 7 days to a maximum of 10 days after laying. The earlier
the egg is set the better.
10. Tilt the egg tray at least once a day by placing a wedge (small woodblock) underneath the endsides of the tray to make it lean or slant on one side on the first day and on the other side the following day – to prevent the yolk from sticking to the shell.
11. Avoid subjecting the stored eggs to rapid temp changes or fluctuating temperature (in and out of storage or refs)
12. Avoid transporting eggs over long distances, jarring on transit may damage the embryo or cause accidental cracking.
13. Remove eggs from storage, place in a room temperature at least 6 hours before setting in the incubator. Let the sweating dry up by warming slowly under normal room temperature. Warming the egg too rapidly will cause embry deaths.
14. Sanitize or disinfect eggs before setting to reduce microbial contamination. Make sure disinfectant to be used is recommended for eggs.
15. Do not forget to put markings on every egg using PENCIL only, representing mating combination that produced it for record purposes.

Posted March 22, 2013 by gamecocksunlimited in Eggs & Chicks

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Egg Production Why Have My Chickens Stopped Laying Eggs?   Leave a comment

Egg Production – Why Have My Chickens Stopped Laying Good?
By Phillip Clauer

Birds stop laying suddenly at various times of the year, with no patterns or warning. In this article, Phillip J. Clauer describes some common reasons for this….


A. Decreasing day length or insufficient day length

Hens require 14 hours of day length to sustain egg production. Once day length drops below 12 hours, production will decrease and frequently stop. This happens naturally from October through to February. To prevent this, provide artificial light to maintain a constant day length of at least 14 hours per day. One 40 watt light for each 100 square feet of coop is adequate.

The lights should be added in the morning hours so the birds can go to roost as the sun sets. This prevents birds from being stranded in the dark when lights are turned out during dark hours. Some small flock owners find it easier to leave the lights on continuously. This is not a problem as long as you do not use light bulbs over the 40 watt size. However, the time clock will help lower your electric bill.

B. Improper nutrition

Layers require a completely balanced ration to sustain maximum egg production over time. Improper nutrition can occasionally cause hens to stop laying.The most common problem is failing to provide a constant source of fresh water. This is especially a problem during the coldest months when the water can freeze. Provide adequate water equipment so the birds always have fresh water.Inadequate levels of energy, protein or calcium can also cause a production decrease.

This is why it is so important to supply your laying hens with a constant supply of nutritionally balanced layer food balanced at 16% – 18% protein. Feeding whole grains, scratch feeds and table scraps will cause the birds diet to become improperly balanced.Many times these imbalances can cause other problems like prolapse (egg blow-outs). Prolapse is caused when the bird is too fat and/or egg is too large and the birds reproductive tract is expelled with the egg. Prolapse usually cause permanent damage to the hen and is fatal in many cases.

Feeding oyster shell “free choice” (always available) is also a good idea to help insure strong egg shells.


C. Disease

Disease problems can occur under the best of conditions. Often one of the first signs of disease is a drop in egg production. Other symptoms of disease include dull and listless appearance, watery eyes and nostrils, coughing, molting, lameness and mortality in the flock.

Remember some death is normal over the period of a year in any flock. However, if you suspect a disease, contact a skilled veterinarian for help in examining your flock and get an accurately diagnosis and treatment.

Your best protection against disease is to buy healthy stock and keep them isolated from other birds. Buying adult poultry and introducing them to your flock is asking for trouble. If you wish to increase your flock, buy chicks from a reputable hatchery or hatch some of your own eggs. Adult birds can look healthy and carry diseases.


D. Aging Hens

Production hens can lay efficiently for two laying cycles. However, after two or three years, many hens decline in productivity. This varies greatly from bird to bird. Good layers will lay about 50 to 60 weeks per laying cycle. Between these cycles they will be interrupted by a rest period called a molt. Poorer layers and older hens will molt more often and lay less. Removal of non-layers is recommended if economical egg production is your goal.


E. Stress

Any stress such as moving, handling, changes in environmental conditions or fright can contribute to or be the main cause for egg production declines. Common stresses include:

*Chilling. Chickens do not handle damp, drafty conditions well. Prevent excessive exposure to wet, drafty conditions during colder months.

*Handling or moving. Once the laying flock is in place, limit any unnecessary moving or handling. Switching roosters or changing the pens population will also disrupt the pens pecking order and cause some temporary social stress in your flock.

*Parasites. If external or internal parasites are present, get proper diagnosis and treatment.

*Fright. Limit the movement of children, dogs, livestock and vehicles around your flock as well as loud noises to prevent frightening the hens.

*Predators. Also can stress the birds and create a decrease in production.


F. Other problems to consider when you see a decrease in egg collection:

*Predators and snakes consuming the eggs.

*Egg-eating by hens in the flock.

*Excessive egg breakage.

*Hens hiding the eggs when able to run free.

Article, The Gamecock, April 1995   Leave a comment

CAN-DO By: Too Big To Handle

Article, The Gamecock, April 1995

Can-do is the spirit to accomplish any goal. This attitude comes from the Navy?s Sea-Bees Construction Battalion. I was a member of MCB-10, stationed at Hill 327 Dog Patch, Danang, Vietnam. Under fire, snipers, mines, mortar attacks, heat of 130 degrees, torrential rains, mud, and dysentery; they relentless in their pursuit to establish roads, air fields, bridges and camp sites for the Navy and Marines. It is this spirit that separates the hobbyist cockfighter, from the professionally minded. The will, drive and dedication to water every individual fowl, everyday, in freezing code of winter. The will to work harder to succeed when you go 0-3 in consecutive derbies. To pick yourself up and take a hard look at what your doing wrong. Let?s look at some of these problems.

Yard Feed: When I read where cockers say, ?Don?t use laying pellets,? I hang my head. Boys, there is a billion dollar inventory raising game chickens for meat and eggs. Their commercial scientists are not stupid. They developed starter, grower, layer and breeder feeds to accomplish their goals. You can feed your game chickens layer or breeder pellets! The commercial boys don?t want their laying hens fat. Thus, the laying pellet! They don?t want their breeding stock fat either, thus the breeder pellet. A grower/developer pellet will make your cocks fat.

Southern States makes the 22% super laying pellet. They also make a 15% pellet, they don?t carry the 22% laying pellet, tell them to order it. Don?t take no for an answer, even if you have to contact their mill or home office.

A layer or breeder pellet does not contain any substances to make your cocks sterile. Laying hens sure don?t need sterilizing and I know you don?t sterilize a brood cock or brood turkey.

Southern States super laying pellets contains a small amount of bacitracin, gram-positive, antibiotic for intestinal tract problems. I?ve fed these pellets for twenty-five years and Coccidiosis has never been a problem for me. I also use Sulmet (sold somewhere), every three months. Cost of Sulmet is cheap, approximately $30.00 a gallon compared to other medications. To use Sulmet: give one ounce to one gallon of water for two days, then ? ounces to one gallon of water for four days. Be sure to cut it (in half) after two days. It is potent. The sun effects Sulmet. You must change it daily. Give the fowl eight ounces each, everyday. You can replenish it every day to save money.

Back to the pellets. The medication will not take any so-called edge off your cock?s performance. After using it daily, his brain and nervous system is not affected by it.

When I see these Hatch/Canadian Clarets of mine hit, my heart skips a beat now. If eliminating this antibiotic from their feed made them hit any faster, I couldn?t stand it. The pellets contain animal and plant protein products and a number of vitamins/minerals. The Southern States Super Laying Pellets were designed to be mixed with grains. Don?t get the mash, get the pellets. Please don?t tell me your cocks won?t eat pellets. Don?t feed them anything but pellets until they do. After three days they?ll eat the barrel they?re standing on.

I told my daughter, ?Why don?t you feed that 90 pound mutt of yours 27% protein Dryco dog food., instead of that high priced stuff you?re using. Her reply, ?Oh dad, my dog won?t eat anything else.?

I went and got a 50 pound bag of Dryco for $9.00. It took five days but that dunghill started eating Dryco.

Now you?ve got these pellets, what do you do with them. Get some $10.00 trash cans: two for pellets, one larger for (good) scratch feed with wheat in it and one for whole corn and one for soaked oats. Get you a 2 ? pound coffee can and do this: Use a trash can large enough to feed your fowl for a week. Now mix: 3 cans of 22% pellets; 2 cans (good) scratch feed with wheat; 1 can of whole corn; 2 cans of 22% pellets again. It mixes better this way with pellets on top and bottom. Mix it up good with your hands in the barrel. Keep this up until you fill the trash can full. Now what have we got?

5 cans 22% pellets 5 X 22 = 110% 2 cans 10% scratch 2 X 10 = 20% 1 can whole corn 1 X 8 = 8% 138% (Divide 8 parts feed into 138 and get 17.25% diet.)

Now get the other empty trash can. Put 100 pounds of good western or northern whole oats in it. Fill it with water. Tomorrow it will need filling again and the next day, as the oats swell and soak up the water. Let these oats sit and ferment until they are a golden yellow. Your cocks don?t like dry oats but they love fermented golden yellow oats.

Now this is important. Get ready to feed your yard. Get you a three gallon feed bucket and do this: First get you a can about the size of a large tomato juice can (about ? gallon size), put three cans of your already prepared mixed feed of pellets/grains into bucket. Add one can soaked oats after you dumped the water out. Just reach in those stinking oats, get a ? gallon bucket full, hold your hand over it and pour water off. Pour oats in feed bucket and add three more cans of mixed feed. Pour ? this in another bucket, mix up well and pour back in one bucket. Make sure all the feed is well mixed. Now what have we got? Six cans of mixed feed at 17.25%; 6 x 17.25 = 103.5%. One can of soaked oats = 12%; 1 X 12 = 12%; 103.5 + 12 = 115.5%; 115.5 divided by 7 = 16.5% diet.

This is perfect for a gamecock.

Don?t burn your cocks up with high protein diets. Everyone who comes on my yard, whether it be spring, summer or winter, always comment on how healthy my cocks are.

Don?t bother with oil additives to shine feathers. Oils blocks absorption of feed in the intestines. You?re wasting your money. Feed soaked oats every day unless they?re froze in the barrel. Keep feed barrel in the sun with the lid on. On sunny days the top oats will be warm. I know this works. I wouldn?t be sitting here writing all this down. If I don?t feel this is one of the most important areas you can mess your fowl up.

Immunity and the Gamecock   Leave a comment

Immunity and the Gamecock

by John Purdy


A healthy gamecock is a wonderful sight: brilliant feathers, bright eyes, red head, always moving and talking, challenging the world to a fight. The only way a gamecock can reach his genetic potential is through good management, including preventing and controlling disease.


The ability of the immune system to defend the body against disease organisms depends on several factors, many of which can be controlled by correct management of the flock. The following article outlines the basic components of the avian immune system, their role in preventing disease, and techniques that are available to prevent disease and enhance the immune response.


The avian immune system is actually composed of two different and complex immune mechanisms that work together to keep birds healthy and resistant to disease. The innate or non-specific arm of the immune system is the first line of defense. Examples of this system include genetic resistance, body temperature, and the presence of normal or beneficial bacteria which physically and chemically prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Other examples of innate immunity are the body’s physical barriers to invasion such as the skin, the mucous membranes that line the respiratory and digestive tracts, and the respiratory cilia (fine hair-like structures), which trap and “sweep” dust, bacteria and other debris out of the trachea (wind pipe). Another component of innate immunity is the “complement” system (proteins and enzymes which circulate in the blood and attach to invaders and kill them). The last component of innate immunity are large scavenging cells called macrophages. These important cells travel throughout the body, engulfing and destroying foreign bacteria, virus particles, fungi, and other debris, and aid in the further development of the immune response, as explained in the next paragraph.


The second arm of the avian immune system is called acquired or specific immunity. This system is activated when the first line of defense (innate system) is overcome by disease challenge. B-lymphocytes or “B-cells” are a type of white blood cell and are activated when the macrophage engulfs the invading disease organism. The B-cell communicates with the surface of the macrophage, and if a foreign invader is detected, the B-cells first begin to reproduce themselves and then begin producing specific antibodies, otherwise known as immunoglobulins. Antibody production begins after 4 to 5 days, and peaks at 3-4 weeks. Antibodies circulate in the blood, and many perform their role by attaching to the surface of disease organisms, preventing the harmful bacteria or virus from attaching to the target cells in the chicken. Other antibodies enhance the efficiency of the complement and macrophage activity against disease organisms. Once exposed to a specific disease organism, the B-cells display a “memory” of that organism, and can respond to future challenges much more rapidly. The B-lymphocyte/antibody immune response is responsible for the protection afforded by vaccinations, in which a weakened or killed bacteria or virus is introduced into the body, allowing the “memory” capabilities of the B-cells to be activated and readied to produce antibodies if the B-cells detect the disease challenge in the future.


The B-lymphocyte/antibody immune response primarily prevents the disease organism from entering and damaging the target cells of the chicken. However, if the immune response was not able to prevent this from occurring, the next response by the acquired immune system is the production of T-lymphocytes. Depending on the specific type of T-cell, these cells can attack the organism directly, enhance the function of other cells involved in immune function (e.g., B-cells and macrophages), and kill infected cells when required.


When a chicken is exposed to a disease organism and produces antibodies itself, this is called “active immunity”. When a chick is hatched, the hen provides antibodies through the egg. Mammals secrete antibody-rich colostrum through the milk to their newborns. Obtaining pre-made antibodies is termed “passive immunity”. New feed additives are available which furnish egg-derived antibodies to livestock and poultry, and have been demonstrated to provide protection against many disease organisms. In fact, hens are such efficient antibody factories that egg-derived antibodies are becoming the mainstay for research and innovative immune therapy in humans. Certain vaccination programs for poultry are timed so that they are administered after the maternal antibodies have diminished somewhat, so that the chick’s B-cell’s are stimulated into producing antibodies and active immunity to the pathogen. If the vaccination is administered after the maternal antibodies have severely diminished, a reaction to the vaccination is possible.

Prevention of disease requires effective management of the flock. As gamefowl breeders, our challenges are similar, yet different and can be significantly more difficult than the large-scale commercial poultry operations. Many of the standard recommendations for commercial flocks just don’t apply very well to the real life situation of the typical gamefowl breeder.


The most effective method to prevent the occurrence of disease is biosecurity: preventing contact with potential disease sources or vectors (fowl, other wild and domesticated birds, animals, people, contaminated feed, and equipment). How feasible is this to the typical gamefowl breeder? Nearly impossible! However, there are some practical tips you can implement that will reduce your chances of exposing your fowl to unnecessary disease challenge, and reducing the impact of disease should it occur.


1. Keep your young fowl separate from the adults if possible. Fowl running loose in the tie-cord area or drinking from the same water containers as the broodfowl can spread disease from one sick bird to all the rest. If young fowl are exposed to a significant disease challenge before sufficient antibodies are produced, disease may result. Many older birds may be carriers of disease, even though they do not show symptoms.


2. Before you buy fowl, determine what procedures (medications, feed additives, vaccinations, management techniques) the breeder employs to keep his fowl healthy. Find out what disease problems he has had in the past and what he did to control or eradicate them. If he uses many medications and has trouble with disease in his flock, reconsider the purchase. You are buying his fowl and his disease problem. If at all possible, examine the fowl in detail before you buy them! Slow down and truly observe the fowl – not just the flashy battlecocks, but the broodfowl and young chicks. Are they vigorous and alert, with clear eyes, brightly colored plumage and bright red heads? When they crow, are their voices clear and loud? Are young fowl and hens running all over the tie-cord area?


3. When you bring your new fowl home, keep them separate from your original birds for at least two weeks if possible. Feed, water, and handle your fowl first and the new fowl last, to prevent carrying a new disease to your fowl. Worm and de-louse them, and watch them carefully. Sometimes the stress of moving fowl to a new place and changing the feed will cause disease symptoms.


4. Select your broodfowl from the strongest, most vigorous fowl you have to choose from. Breeding from an unhealthy individual of a valuable bloodline just doesn’t work well; it’s better to lose the bloodline than take the chance of breeding genetic susceptibility to disease into your flock.


5. Explain to visitors your policy of limiting traffic on your yard to only what is necessary. If you sell chickens, consider asking your visitors to use disposable plastic booties and to wash up before they enter your yard. Disease can be easily tracked from one yard to another on boots and clothes. If you know someone who has a disease problem with his chickens, don’t let him wander around and handle your birds.


6. Eradicate rodents! Mice and rats can carry disease, including Cholera. Rodent droppings in the feed can pass these germs on to your chickens. Keep mice and rat poison available where fowl can’t reach, and make sure it’s available at all times. Use clean feed from reputable, well-managed feed mills. If you see piles of wasted feed, evidence of rodent infestation and other unsanitary practices, start looking for another source of feed.


7. I recommend feeding twice a day for several reasons, but one reason is that if you feed only once per day, often your fowl will leave a little feed for later in the day or the next morning, if you feed in the evening. The left-over feed will attract wild birds and mice, which may carry disease. For large operations this may not be possible, but for the majority of breeders, twice a day feeding pays off.


8. If you have the space, move your fowl on fresh ground frequently. A model gamefowl facility would have a duplicate yard area for tie cords, range for young fowl, and portable brood pens. Periodically, the entire operation should be moved to fresh ground, allowing the ground to rest and reducing the exposure of the fowl to the buildup of droppings. Some partnerships involve individuals with different farms that specialize in the different aspects of producing gamefowl for battle: breeding, raising the young fowl, and conditioning. This is an ideal set up to prevent the transmission of disease from one age of birds to another, although keep in mind that people and equipment moving between farm can spread diseases, too.


9. When setting up your yard and broodpens, a gentle slope is better than flat, low-lying ground because it will drain better. Low-lying ground invites breeding mosquitos (Fowl Pox) and allows waste from droppings to build up.


10. Worm and delouse your fowl on a regular basis. These parasites can rob your fowl of valuable energy and make them susceptible to disease.


11. Implement a vaccination program for common poultry diseases in your area, and any hard to control diseases particular to your flock. Marek’s and Newcastle are two diseases that can be prevented through vaccination. In some areas, Fowl Pox and Coryza are consistent problems, and should be included in a vaccination program. There are many other diseases for which vaccines are availabe. Be sure you carefully follow directions or you can get a severe reaction from the vaccine. Try vaccinating at night to reduce stress.


12. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of disease control is carefully observing your fowl for any changes in their appetite, changes in the color and consistency of the droppings, respiratory rattles, sneezes, coughs, ruffled feathers, slow movement, and other changes from normal. These are symptoms requiring action! If possible, isolate the affected birds immediately from the rest of the flock. Administering a broad-spectrum antibiotic in the water to the entire flock while you attempt to diagnose the disease is usually a good idea. Most states have a land-grant agricultural university with an animal diagnostic laboratory that will diagnose the disease, usually for free, although you may have to work through a local veterinarian to submit the birds. Contact a local vet or an agricultural extension agent for information. Diagnostic labs will need several (2-3) affected birds (preferably alive, or very fresh dead), plus background information about the flock (number of birds affected, age of birds, what the symptoms are and when they were noticed, vaccination program used, medications used, etc.) . The diagnostic lab will furnish the disease diagnosis, and give specific treatment and prevention recommendations, usually within a week to 10 days. Don’t hesitate to call them and ask a bunch of questions. Your tax dollars pay their salary!


13. Keep your fowl healthy so that their immune system is strong and can overcome disease challenge. Provide a balanced diet, clean water, and control stress conditions (see “Nutrition, Stress and the Gamecock”). Consider using natural immune system boosters to prevent disease rather than the routine use of antibiotics which builds resistance in the disease organisms and can permanently harm the immune system. Natural products which have been proven to increase immunity include “probiotics” or direct fed microbials , which are beneficial intestinal bacteria, certain vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E and selenium, herbs such as Echinacea (purple coneflower) and Goldenseal, avian antibodies, which provide passive immunity to disease challenge, and others.


The study of the immune system is complex and is constantly evolving as new research is conducted. We can get the most out of our fowl by breeding only the healthiest ones, preventing exposure, vaccinating when necessary, rapidly and accurately diagnosing and treating disease when it occurs, and strengthening and maintaining the fowl’s natural immune system.

Nutrition, Stress, and The Gamecock   Leave a comment

Nutrition, Stress, and The Gamecock

By John W. Purdy

The most important nutrient in life is water. Water composes, on average, 55% of the adult chicken’s body weight – over 2.5 pounds of water in a 5 pound rooster! Obviously, the quality of water we give our fowl has a huge impact on the quality of their performance in the pit, in the broodpen, and on their overall health. Access to fresh and clean water gives fowl the opportunity to digest food properly, regulate body temperature, and carry out the thousands of biochemical process that keep them kicking.

A chicken has the unique ability to tolerate poor quality water and survive. We have all seen water containers that were less than clean, yard fowl drinking from stagnant puddles, and yet the chickens seemed fine. What is not apparent is that the chicken’s immune system is constantly battling the germs found in the water, as well as all the other germs in the air and soil, from wild bird droppings, etc. Obviously, in response to this “stressor” the natural resistance of the bird can be overcome and disease may develop. To help prevent this from happening, and to eliminate one “route of exposure”, simply change the water frequently, and make sure it’s clean. This will allow the chicken to use its energy to fight off other potentially harmful bacteria and viruses, develop strong and flexible feathers, muscle, bone, and body systems that will be vitally important in the pit and in the broodpen.

Although chlorinated water is sanitary, chlorine is a strong chemical that I feel should be avoided when conditioning roosters. In fact, there are a variety of chemicals used to treat drinking water that are not beneficial to a gamecock in a conditioning program. If your source of water is treated with chemicals, there are a couple of possible solutions you should know about. First, since chlorine rapidly changes into a gas, leaving your buckets or jugs uncovered overnight will allow most of the chlorine to evaporate. Another solution is to use an activated carbon water filter. These filters are widely available, inexpensive, and very effective in removing a variety of chemicals. Bring a jug of de-chlorinated water with you to the pit. Changing the source of drinking water with sharp cocks the day of, or before the fight, can be a mistake.

If drinking contaminated water can be a source of stress for gamefowl, then what are examples of other stressors? And what is a stressor, anyway? A stressor is any factor in a chicken’s environment that challenges the “normal” condition and forces the bird to make an adjustment as a response. For example, the heat from the sun (the environmental factor) causes the body temperature of your favorite rooster to increase (the change from normal), and he begins to pant (the response). The response to a stressor is usually negative, because the bird will often have to reallocate energy and nutrients. In this example, your favorite rooster is expending extra energy to get rid of the excessive body heat. Energy production is dependent upon the breakdown of carbohydrate and fats, requiring many vitamins and minerals including thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin, in addition to magnesium, as “co-enzymes”. He will also have to move large amounts of extra carbon dioxide, which increases the blood pH, requires electrolytes, changes critical water balance and so on. As the air temperature increases, the difference in temperature between the rooster’s body and the air decreases, and the rate of heat loss is reduced. Since chickens don’t have sweat glands, they have to use a variety of other ways to remove heat from their bodies. They’ll seek shade, pant rapidly, and spread their wings so that air currents will remove the layer of hot air next to their feathers. They’ll often lie on the ground, with legs and wings spread, so that heat will travel from their body to the cooler ground. The combs and wattles provide surface area for the blood to transfer heat to the air, but we take that option away when we trim our stags.

To reduce the effects of heat stress, feed early in the morning and late in the evening in hot weather, so that the heat of metabolism (digestion) does not occur in the hottest part of the day when the fowl are trying to cool off. Provide shade for your fowl, and place their water containers in this location. Provide additional water containers for young fowl running loose. Provide electrolytes in the drinking water 3 times per week. If the birds eat less (as they will in hot weather), increase the concentration of nutrients in their diet, so they are getting the same amount of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. Supplement their diet with fruit containing high moisture content such as apples, peaches, bananas, pears, mangos, etc. If you discover a bird who is under severe heat stress and he appears to be on the verge of collapse, dunk him into cool water (not cold) and keep him in the shade. I once had a box full of black day-old chicks that I placed in the sun while I was preparing the brooder pen. It didn’t seem that hot, but in 20 minutes, most had passed out and several died. Boy, did I feel stupid! I moved them in the pen, flicked droplets of water on them, while praying to the Big Rooster in the sky (these chicks belonged to my employer!). In a few minutes they started peeping and soon were running around, seemingly fresh and ready for their next experience!

Heat stress is an example of a physiological stressor. Other types of physiological stressors are rapid growth, high egg production, intensive conditioning, sparring, poor water and/or feed quality, disease challenge, parasites, and vaccinations. In general, stress increases the destruction, utilization and synthesis of glucose and fats, increases the degradation of muscle protein, increases hormone production such as corticosteroids (e.g., adrenaline), insulin, and glucagon, and has a negative impact on electrolyte balance.

Psychological stressors are also important to consider. Hawks flying overhead are an example of psychological stress. Gamefowl are remarkably adaptive to this type of stress, once they become accustomed to it. In preparing fowl for battle, many people play loud music in the cockhouse 24 hours a day to accustom the birds to the loud noises they will experience at the pit. This is a good idea. Frequent and gentle handling of cocks and stags prior to the Keep is also beneficial. Get your birds used to all the strange experiences they may experience at the pit. Remember – you want a sharp, focused rooster when you set him down on the score line. A good friend of mine puts his birds in carrying cases during the Keep, carries them around the cockhouse, and takes them for a ride in the truck. You might think this is extreme, but it’s little details that often make the difference. Use 2′ x 2′ stalls when you feed your evening feed. This is the type of holding stall you’ll use at the pit. Rub their legs frequently so they get accustomed to pressure on their legs and around their spurs – they’re less likely to kick and struggle when you’re heeling for battle. When you spar your roosters, have a couple of friends come over and yell at each other and wave their arms around to simulate the crowd your rooster will surely be surrounded by at the pit. Changing the person with whom the birds are comfortable with (the feeder) when you get to the pit can also make them nervous. Try to insure that the feeder/conditioner is also the handler, or have the handler help spar the fowl during the Keep. Always use a few experienced cocks when you spar fresh, unfought roosters. This will increase their “awareness” in a hurry! Nutritional supplementation also gives birds under psychological stress the “tools” to respond and recover more rapidly.

Some breeds of fowl tend to handle stress better than others. Oriental fowl are famous for their calm disposition, disease resistance and tolerance to close confinement. Highly inbred fowl are often nervous and are more difficult to condition because of their inability to handle stress. Nervous or “high-strung” fowl are quite a challenge to bring to “point” on fight-day, but when they’re “right” look out! If you have high-strung fowl, it is VERY important to spend a lot of time in the conditioning process to accustom them to handling, hauling, confinement in the cockhouse stalls, sparring, loud noises, etc.

As experienced cockers know, it’s not easy to get that extra 10% performance, the last shuffle, the last peck, and that elusive money-fight. How you handle the interaction between stress, nutrition and performance has a major part in accomplishing your goals in this sport.

Nutrients for Chickens and Gamefowl   Leave a comment

Nutrients for Chickens and Gamefowl

Nutrients  Debbie Porter

The feed which chickens eat is made up of water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, minerals and vitamins. Each nutrient serves a special need. What we feed supplies the building material for the development of bone, flesh, feathers and eggs. When nutrients are properly formulated and balanced will produce fowl that produce in the manner they were designed, provide eggs for market, table or incubation, and develop a healthy meaty fowl. Each nutrient provides a solitary source, but is not complete, yet when gathered and combined provides the proper balance and energy that a fowl needs.


One of the most important, yet often overlooked nutrients, is water. A young chick needs a constant supply of fresh water to stay healthy. It doesn’t drink a lot of water at one time; therefore, it has to drink often. A fowl’s intake of daily water will depend upon availability and weather conditions. Desiring less in winter and more in hot summer months. Placement of water containers is essential, making easy access to old and young alike. Water also can be a source of bacteria, if not cleaned on a regular basis and therefore should be changed frequently depending upon weather, consumption and exposure. Stagnant or long term standing water can be a host and breeding ground for insects that carry disease to poultry.

Water carries waste products out of the body, helps cool the bird by evaporation, softens feed and carries it through the digestive tract. Water should always be available and fresh. During hot summer month’s water containers should be kept in cool shady areas and not allowed to become stagnant or develop algae build up. Which would allow for the ingestion of microbes or bacteria. Lack of free access to abundant water supply may also slow productivity down. Denial of water can lead to dehydration, molt, dry feathers without sheen, undue stress and the inability to properly digest food. Fowl consume their greatest amount of water following eating or right before roosting.


Carbohydrates include starches, sugars and cellulose. Carbohydrates in the form of starches, or simple sugars are needed for body maintenance and energy. Carbohydrates cost less than fats and are easily digested, absorbed and transformed into fat.

Important sources of carbohydrates in poultry feeds are corn, wheat, oats, milo and various other cereal grains. Since energy is provided by the intake of carbohydrates, whether it is for warmth in winter by adding extra grains like corn to the diet to naturally produce body heat, or energy to maintain a balanced and vibrant flock. An over abundance of carbohydrates in the diet can produce added amounts of fat cells reducing health benefits and productivity. Reducing the ration of corn, yet providing other beneficial grains, and increasing the sources of protein to provide the energy that a fowl needs for egg production, general health and energy, and the viability of the egg can be beneficial.

Whole Grains such as wheat, oats, barley, and corn are vitamin sources of the B complexes, E, folic Acid and Biotin. With wheat having the highest source of biotin and vitamin E, along with B/1 known as Thiamin. You may see it listed on feed sources as Hydrochloride. Another good source for the complex B vitamins is ground meals and dried yeast. B vitamins are depleted during stress and are essential in the release of energy from absorbed or stored carbohydrates and fats. B vitamins aids in disease resistance, fertility and viability of the embryo.


Animal and vegetable fats, such as cottonseed meal or fishmeal, are the highest energy sources in feedstuffs. They also improve the physical consistency in feed mixtures. Supplemental fats may increase energy utilization in adult birds in association with a decreased rate of food intake. The substitution of fat for a portion of the dietary carbohydrates may enhance energy utilization by reducing the heat created by carbohydrates. Fats should be stabilized by an antioxidant; otherwise they are likely to become rancid, especially in hot weather or long storage periods. Small amounts of fat are desirable since they supply essential fatty acids, fatty acids are essential for rebuilding and producing new cells, and improve palatability. Essential fatty acids require Vitamin E for absorption. Some good sources of essential fatty acids for poultry are found in vegetable oils and fishmeal. The oil content in fishmeal will range from 2% to greater than 14%. So thus it should not be the sole source of fat content.


Proteins are complex compounds made up of amino acids. Feed proteins are broken down into amino acids by digestion. They are then absorbed and transported by the blood to the cells, which assemble these amino acids into body proteins. Body proteins are used in the construction of body tissue. Tissues, which mainly consist of protein, are muscles, nerves, cartilage, skin, feathers and beak. The albumen (white) of the egg is also high in protein. The main sources of protein in poultry rations are animal proteins such as fishmeal, meat and bone meal, and plant proteins, such as soybean meal, cottonseed meal, and ground alfalfa and corn gluten meal. There is no one source of protein that will provide all the amino acids in one feed ration. But when the proteins from different feedstuffs are used, the ration can be formulated to contain all the necessary amino acids. Excellent sources of proteins for poultry are ground alfalfa meal, meat and bone meal and fishmeal. A balanced diet of proteins should be formulated for each stage of a fowl’s life and needs according to growth desired and productivity. Too low of protein count and you can see poor development in young and the health and overall vitality of the old effected with excessive weight loss. To high of a protein count from gathered resources and optimum growth can result in a short period of time with excessive weight gain for the skeletal structure to support, to cases of gout.

A vitamin A deficiency can affect the ability of a fowl to utilize protein. Meat proteins also provide the enzymes that aid in digestion and metabolism of proteins. Fishmeal is an excellent source of protein for poultry since it contains adequate quantities of all the essential amino acids required by chickens, and is an especially good source of lysine and methionine. Good quality fishmeal is a brown powder, which will average between 60% and 70% protein. It cannot be used as a sole source of protein. Thus when added to feed rations should be done so as to not exceed the protein requirement of the fowl but only to insure a proper and balanced level, or provide what may not be readily available in the ration due to a poor protein source.

The protein content of wheat is higher than corn. Protein content varies from 11 to 19%, depending on type of wheat. Wheat can be added at higher rates in summer months with a decrease in corn, for the reduction of heat and still supply the energy a fowl needs. Wheat does not contain caratenoids and will create a slightly lighter yolk color. Many Game Bird feeds gather several sources of protein, with animal proteins in a higher percentage compared to other feeds, for a well-balanced supply of all the essential amino acids. All feed should be formulated in such a way to provide balanced nutrition for appropriate age levels. With a higher count for the young and a decreased protein count as a fowl matures and has developed. Added supplements of animal protein sources to a balanced ration should be done at 2 to 4% levels due to the source and structure of the proteins. Grain proteins can be added at higher level. Yet should not exceed that of other sources of animal protein diluting the count to such an extent proper nutrition is affected. It is a combination of these proteins that fulfills the required diet.

In reading the tag on a bag of poultry feed you will see listed the percent of crude protein. This tells you only the percentage guaranteed for optimum performance for a particular need or stage of development according to age. It is beneficial to check the sources of protein that the feed is comprised of. Your main sources of proteins for each particular brand will be listed as the first of several ingredients.


The mineral portion of the feed is inorganic matter. Minerals are absorbed through the small intestine. Minerals, especially calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, help build bones and make them strong and rigid. Laying hens also require minerals for eggshell formation. Other minerals are needed in trace amounts. Trace minerals are those minerals required at very low amounts for good growth and production. Potassium is essential in egg production and when depleted a drop may arise. Most feeds, in crumble, pellet or mash forms are formulate with a certain amount of trace minerals. Grains are low in minerals, so it is necessary to provide supplements. Calcium, phosphorus and salt are needed in the greatest amounts. Ground limestone and oyster shell are good calcium sources. Trace levels of iodine, iron, manganese and zinc are also included in mineral supplements. Bone meal, and ground limestone supply additional calcium and phosphorus. Phosphorus in meat and bone meal is almost completely absorbed by the bird.

During stress related times and heavy production minerals such as calcium will be absorbed at a faster rate leaving the system depleted drawing its source form other areas such as bones resulting in brittleness, poor egg quality and lack of production. Calcium given freely in oyster shell form can be scattered or made available freely for a hen to consume, as her body desires to replace the loss during heavy production. Fishmeal is an excellent source of calcium and phosphorus for poultry. Fishmeal contains three major nutrients; protein, fat and minerals (ash). The ash (mineral) content of fishmeal is relatively high and is usually an indication of a higher calcium and phosphorus level. Another valuable source for minerals, protein and vitamins is Alfalfa. Many times it is offered in a feed ration as a ground meal form. Alfalfa meal contains Chlorine, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, and Sodium. Many Game Bird Feed rations will offer alfalfa meal as a protein source, but it also provides trace mineral elements. Those fowl; that do not have access to free ranging or forging and are limited to soil for dusting and consuming minerals may need periodic mineral supplements or mineral grit.


All feed rations will provide small amounts, and are absolutely necessary for growth, reproduction and the maintenance of health. They occur in feedstuffs in varying quantities and in different combinations. Regardless of brand or form vitamin supplements may be required periodically for health and vitality. Many things can interfere with the efficiency of vitamins; stress and antibiotics can deplete the body of many vitamins. Microorganisms of the intestinal tract produce some vitamins.

A side effect of medications is the depletion of naturally produced vitamins in the intestines especially after cocci treatments. Vitamin D can be produced by sunlight on the bird’s skin. Caged fowl are more likely to need the aid of a D supplement. Other vitamins must be supplied in the ration. Vitamins are required for normal growth, feathering and leg development in the young and stamina, health, fertility and production in the old. A wide range of problems can arise and will depend on which vitamin or vitamins a fowl is inadequate in and how deficient the diet is. Many poultry diseases and illnesses can be often attributed to a vitamin deficient ration.

There are 2 groups that vitamins fall into, fat-soluble and water-soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s fat and used when needed Water-soluble vitamins are not stored by the body and are lost through fecal droppings or stress. Water-soluble vitamins will need to be kept balanced in a diet.

Fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, K 

Water-soluble vitamins: C, Thiamin (B/1), Riboflavin (B/2), Pantothenic acid, Niacin, Pyridoxine, Choline, Biotin, Folic Acid, B/12 and B complexes. Vitamin A is necessary for the health and proper functioning of the skin and lining of the digestive, reproductive and respiratory tracts. Vitamin D plays an important role in bone formation and the metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. The B vitamins are involved in energy metabolism and in many other metabolic functions.

On going studies are finding a relation between vitamin B and disease resistance. A vitamin premix is included in the commercial ration to provide additional supplements such as vitamin A, B/12, D/3, E, K, riboflavin, niacin, Pantothenic acid, and Choline. It was discovered that B/12 could be obtained by foraging through manure. Thus pecking at litter will maintain B/12 in a fowls system. Alfalfa meal added to feed provides K, A, C, B/3, D, and E. Housed flocks, or caged birds tend to have deficiencies at a higher rate than those that are allowed to run, scratch and forage. Access to soil minerals and fresh greens aid in replenishing vitamins and minerals lost to natural stress and stressful conditions. Some vitamins are not stable and their benefits can be lost in stored feed if not properly kept. If stored properly, to maintain the stability of vitamins, most feeds will remain stable for approximately 3 months.

On the other hand an excessive amounts of vitamins given in an improper balance can have serious health effects. There are specially formulated vitamin packs readily available in proper proportions, in the aid of a vitamin deficiency. Such additives that are aimed at providing vitamins are Cod liver oil, Wheat Germ oil, Brewers yeast or Dried Yeast, AD& E powders. These can be added to the diet during breeding, stress, or after medications, especially coccidiosis treatments or any illness that may have depleted the body of vitamins through stress of the illness or excrement. Many medications interfere with the absorption of vitamins.

Commercial poultry feeds contain numerous similar feed ingredients. There are, however, several different types of rations available. As an example: starter, grower, finisher and layer rations. These are designed to meet the specific needs of different type birds at different ages and developmental stages. All will provide ample nutrition if used in a proper fashion. Only the quality of each formulated ration will vary by the sources of Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats.

Feeding and Formulating the Right Ration 

Commercial poultry feeds contain numerous similar feed ingredients. There are, however, several different types of rations available. As an example: starter, grower, developer, finisher and layer and breeder rations. These are designed to meet the specific needs of different type birds. All are basic in their design with all formulations gathering their sources from either animal or vegetable proteins. With the greater concentration and best source of protein for the young and their developmental rate. Grower and developers are designed to bring a young fowl into the mature stage of egg production. Growers and developers are designed for the “adolescent” stage of fowl. They will be slightly reduced in protein count yet should contain good sources for continuing muscle and structure development.

Layers or breeders need a proper nutrient balance to be able to produce eggs whether for the table or those to be incubated. A breeder ration will have a slightly higher protein count than a layer ration with added vitamins and minerals for viability of the embryo. Whether layer or breeder they may require less protein but added energy foods for production. Both are formulated with trace amounts of calcium but during heavy production may require a supplement of oyster shell.

Chicks should never be feed solid grain feeds due to the developmental stages of the gizzard in digesting solid grains. Mashes are formulated for easier digestion and consumption. Their proteins sources should be gathered from high quality animal proteins and not total reliance on vegetable proteins. When introducing grains to a proper formulated ration it should be done at as a gradual process. Whether it is to supplement due to stress, weather, production or viability of the egg.

When feeds sources such as grains are added to concentrated rations they dilute the protein count. Choice of grains is essential in maintaining protein yet providing the energy a flock may need for health and production. A good rule of thumb in formulating a ration for your flock is to gather all your protein sources and add the count, then divide the number of sources to get an approximation of the average. Foremost one should know the quality of the source and what it provides in establishing a healthy and productive flock.

In formulating feeds all things should be considered form growth and development to egg production and breeding. Establishing a proper diet and feeding program will aid in the knowledge of areas that may require attention or supplements. Though fowl on a well-balanced and proper diet are less likely to have health related issues and require less supplementation. Remembering that each source of a nutrient you provide is energy for a fowl to perform and maintain its health.

Feeding Chickens For Best Health and Performance   Leave a comment

Feeding Chickens For Best Health and Performance
By Anne Fanatico, NCAT Agriculture Specialist

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. This publication discusses feeding traditional rations as well as mixing your own rations, organic diets, and special concerns for feeding chickens in some of the pasture-based models discussed in the companion ATTRA publication. Feeding Options. The most convenient way of feeding chickens is with a balanced pelleted ration, whether the birds are confined indoors or allowed to range 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% protein, grower diet 20% protein, and finisher diet 18% protein (1). Layer diets generally have about 16% protein. Special diets are available for broilers, pullets, layers, and breeders. Whole grains can also be provided as scratch grains. Access to clean water is important.

Levels of total dissolved solids above 3000 ppm in the water can interfere with poultry health and production.
Home-mixed Rations

Some producers decide to mix their own rations in order to be assured that only “natural” ingredients are used.

Poultry feed ingredients include energy concentrates such as corn, oats, wheat, barley, sorghum, and milling by-products. Protein concentrates include soybean meal and other oilseed meals (peanut, sesame, safflower, sunflower, etc.), cottonseed meal, animal protein sources (meat and bone meal, dried whey, fish meal, etc.), grain legumes such as dry beans and field peas, and alfalfa. Grains are usually ground to improve digestibility. Soybeans need to be heated-usually by extruding or roasting-before feeding in order to deactivate a protein inhibitor. Soybeans are usually fed in the form of soybean meal, not in “full-fat” form, because the valuable oil is extracted first. Whole, roasted soybeans are high in fat which provides energy to the birds.

Chicken feed usually contains soybean meal which is a by-product of the oilseed industry. In the industry, soybeans are dehulled and cut into thin pieces (flaked) to improve the action of the solvent (usually hexane) which is passed through the soybean to extract the valuable oil. Vegetable oils such as soybean oil are used for edible and industrial purposes. The soybean is then toasted as a method of heat treatment to deactivate an inhibitor which would otherwise interfere with protein digestion in the animal.

However, chickens can also be fed unextracted (full-fat) soybeans. An advantage of feeding unextracted soybeans is that they still contain the oil which provides high energy fat to the bird. Unextracted soybeans need to be heat-treated-roasted with dry heat and then ground, rolled, or flaked before mixing into a diet. Another method of heat treatment is extruding. Extrusion involves forcing the beans through die holes in an expander-extruder which creates friction which heats the beans sufficiently (sometimes steam is also applied). The result is a powdery material which does not require further grinding. Roasted and extruded soybeans should not be stored for long periods of time, especially in hot weather, because the oil turns rancid. Since protein is generally one of the most expensive feed ingredients, the industry uses targeted rations and reduce the amount of protein in the diet as the birds grow (chickens require less and less protein as they age); however, it may not be cost-effective for small-scale producers to have different diets for starters, growers, and finishers.

Vitamin pre-mix is usually added but may be reduced by using vitamin-rich plant sources such as alfalfa. Other plants also provide vitamins in their leaves, hulls, and brans. Fish oil can provide vitamins A and D. Yeast provides some of the B vitamins. Sunlight is a good source of vitamin D for ranging chickens (converting a precursor to vitamin D). Poultry in cattle pastures may obtain vitamin B12 when picking through dung pats for insect larva. Sprouting grains, although a labor-intensive process, is used by some producers for vitamins when access to range is not possible. Sprouting can increase the amounts of carotene (vitamin A precursor) in the grain and as a source of year-round forage, could be an advantage for certified organic poultry production to reduce the amount of synthetic vitamins required in the diet.

Eating plants may provide a yellow color to the skin of slaughtered chickens and a deeper yellow color to egg yolks. Trace mineralized salt is usually added to poultry diets, but other sources can provide minerals. Minerals, although not present in high levels in plants, are provided in fish meal and kelp (seaweed). Meat and bone meal is an excellent source of minerals, particularly calcium and phosphorus, as well as being a good protein source.

However, if a producer does not want to use meat and bone meal, then dicalcium phosphate can be substituted. Access to pasture can reduce the vitamins and minerals needed in the diet since the birds get vitamins from plants and both vitamins and minerals from insects. An example of an all-grain diet is enclosed.

Probiotics are sometimes provided to chicks during placement and before shipping. However, preparing a balanced diet can be a complex, possibly costly process, especially for producers with little background in nutrition. Specialized knowledge is required about the nutrient requirements of chickens and the nutrients contained in feedstuffs. Feed ingredients need to be sourced, milled, mixed together according to a formulation, and the mix is usually pelleted. Ration-balancing of home-made diets is important, especially on a commercial scale, to achieve the right amounts of nutrients. If diets are not properly balanced, then birds will suffer from nutritional diseases.

The National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements for Poultry (2) specifies the amounts of protein, energy (carbohydrates and fats), minerals, and vitamins. The quality of the protein is important since it is made up of individual amino acids, some amino acids being essential to bird health. The proper amount of these nutrients needed in diets depend on breed, age, and type of production.

The reference issue of Feedstuffs magazine (3) has a charts of feed composition which lists the amount of nutrients provided by various feedstuffs. Feeding textbooks such as Applied Animal Nutrition: Feeds and Feeding (1) also have such charts. Feedstuffs can also be analyzed in a laboratory for nutrient make-up.

Poultry nutritionists or Extension agents can provide help in ration-balancing. In preparing your own diet, formulation is important. Sample diets are enclosed. Some diets do not include meat and bone meal–call ATTRA for more information. If you are mixing a large volume, you may be able to get a local feedmill to mill, mix, and possibly pelleted (requires different machinery) for you. Feedmills also have access to feed ingredients and staff with nutritional expertise who can formulate diets. Ellie MacDougal, a Maine farmer who keeps 50 layers primarily for composted litter for an herb operation, is an example of a producer who mills and mixes her own ingredients on-farm.

She purchases whole grains and mills them as needed to retain nutrients. She says that milled grains should be fed within 30 days or else they begin to lose nutrients. She suggests a hand-mill for small quantities or a motorized mill for larger amounts. Another option is to buy already milled grains and just do your own mixing. Some producers feed whole grains.

An “old-fashioned” way of feeding chickens is the “mash and grain” method which is a two-feed system of providing whole grains along with a high-protein ration in order to reduce costs. The whole grains cost less than the high-protein ration and can even be grown on-farm (4). Contact ATTRA for more information on mash and grain feeding.

Certified Organic Diets

Home-mixed diets are particularly useful to certified organic poultry producers. Although pre-mixed organic poultry rations are available for purchase, they can be expensive and may need to be shipped from long distances. Call ATTRA for a list of organic poultry feed suppliers. Many producers look for local sources of organic feed ingredients. If you have difficulty in finding sources of organic feedstuffs locally, the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) (5) may be able to provide you with the names of organic producers in your area.

Some producers raise their own organic feedstuffs. A useful contact is Craig Kovacik (6), an organic poultry producer in Michigan. He raises an average of 50 broilers per week in a pasture-based model. He mixes and sells organic poultry rations and is familiar with organic standards for processing feed. At present, the USDA does not permit “organic” labels for livestock products, because the federal standards are not yet set for organic livestock production.

However, private and state certifying agencies provide certification is an operation meets their criteria. Most programs’ standards for certified livestock production require that 100% of the feed be certified organic and that no antibiotics, wormers, growth promotants or insecticides which are not on the program’s list of approved natural products be used.

Feeding Concerns for Chickens in Pasture-based Models. When raising birds in a pasture-based model, it is important to keep in mind that the digestive system of the chicken is geared towards the digestion of insects, seeds, and grain rather than the digestion of forage, and they will still need concentrate feed rations to produce well. However, chickens can make some use of high-quality forages, particularly legumes. Ladino clover was a recommended forage in the 30′s and 40′s when grazing poultry was more common. Sudan grass was used for summer grazing, oats and wheat were used in the winter, and alfalfa provided perennial legume pasture. Joel Salatin (7) developed the popular “pastured poultry” model in which broilers are pastured in floorless pens which are moved daily to fresh pasture.

Feed concentrate is provided in the pen, along with water. In this system, allowing the birds to forage on plants, seeds, insects, and worms which reduces concentrate feed costs by 30%. (See the ATTRA publication Sustainable Chicken Production for more information.) Salatin does not believe that forage species is important for poultry range. He believes that a diverse, perennial mix of forages is key to providing nutrients. He says the forage height is important and keeps his pasture sward at about 2 inches. If the grass is tall, chickens in the confined field pens (“pastured poultry”) tend to mat the grass down and it becomes unsanitary.

Fresh, vegetative pasture provides more nutrients to poultry than fibrous, stemmy pasture, and a good sod pasture prevents muddy, unsanitary conditions. Some producers use mangles, kale and even tree forage, such as mulberry or persimmon, as poultry feed. Salatin also developed a free-range model called the “eggmobile.” This is a portable layer house which is moved every few days to a new pasture location. Birds range freely during the day (see the ATTRA publication Sustainable Egg Production for more information).

If chickens (particularly the more aggressive layer breeds) are raised in a “free-range” model such as the eggmobile, it may be possible to feed whole grains cafeteria-style instead of milled, mixed rations. Salatin feeds whole grains to his layers in the “eggmobile”.

Corn, wheat, oystershell, and meat scraps are fed cafeteria-style, so the birds can choose what they need. If, for example, the birds have been eating a lot of grasshoppers on pasture, they may consume less of the expensive meat scraps. This style of feeding may make costly organic feeding more feasible, since whole organic grains could be purchased and fed without the additional processing costs of milling and mixing into rations. However, birds in the confined field pens of the pastured poultry model may not be able to forage sufficient insects.

Although feed requirements can be reduced by allowing access to range and the accompanying insects, benefits of ranging poultry may lie more in marketing and animal welfare rather than in the feeding.

Chicken nutrition and feeding is an important part of production. If you are going to mix your own diet, great effort may be required to produce well-balanced diets, especially certified organic diets. Chickens are able to obtain some of their nutrients from insects, worms, and plants when on pasture, thus reducing costs.

Trimming Spurs   Leave a comment

Trimming Spurs

Trimming spurs should be done on all Fowl not just Gamefowl if the spurs become long and Sharpe.  When the spurs start getting too long on any rooster, they will tear the back of your hens up worse when they top them.  Long spurs can also make it difficult for the rooster to walk, and if one happens to hit you it will cut and put some nasty holes in your hand, arms, or legs.

“To trim spurs, you will need a small, fine toothed, hacksaw, or a small rotary cut off wheel.  You can trim spurs at any time, but some prefer to do it when the moon is full, so the blood will be in the head of the bird, to help keep any bleeding to a minimum.  Spurs have a core, and an outer husk.  The core is usually about 3 times as long as the diameter of the base of the spur.  To avoid cutting into the core, and getting some bleeding, cut the spur off past where the core ends.  For most adult birds, this will be about 5/8 of an inch from the base of the spur.”

Begin by wrapping up the bird in an old towel or feed bag, this also works if you are dubbing by yourself.  Hold the spur by where the spur connects to the leg.  It is important to not just hold on to the leg, you need to hold the spur too.  Use your saw to cut the end of the spur off.  Take care if you are using a hacksaw, use very light pressure, and short strokes.  If you use a rotary tool, take care not to nick the bird anywhere, as this tool will cut anything it touches.  If you cut them off at the right location, you won’t get any bleeding at all.  If you hit the core and it starts bleeding, have a piece of kid’s sidewalk chalk and twist it over the end of the spur works to stop the bleeding.

 A good site with photos


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,950 other followers