Is your poultry feed meeting the nutritional demands of your birds?

If I asked most poultry folks questions about their feed, most would know what percent protein content their feed contains, per the label, and they may know the feed ingredients (feedstuff) (wheat, corn, soybean meal, etc.) that is in their feed. But is that enough? What else is important to know about your feed?

In general, protein is an indication of quality, the higher the protein, the higher the quality. In addition to protein, there are many other important nutrients that poultry need in their diet including: energy (fat and carbohydrates), lysine, methionine, vitamin A, vitamin D, riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus, salt, and iodine. Deficiencies in anyone of these will cause health and/or performance issues.

State laws require feed companies to label their feed with a guaranteed analysis which will include either the “minimum”, "maximum" or "not more than" percentages of crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, etc. (see example below). The percentages on a label are not exact. The label may say “crude protein, minimum 16 percent”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will always have exactly 16 percent crude protein. The feed’s nutrient content will vary just as the nutritional content of the feed ingredients vary.

To put to practice evaluating a feed to determine if it is meeting the nutritional needs of poultry, I took representative samples of two commonly used layer feeds that are fed in my area, and sent them off to a laboratory for analysis. Testing for vitamins and minerals can get expensive, so I basically just tested for protein and energy. The first feed was a layer mash with "not more than 18% crude protein" on the label. The laboratory report indicated the layer mash had 18.6% crude protein, as received, and a 20.6% crude protein, as dry matter. The layer mash had metabolizable energy of 1.4 Mcal/lbs, as received, and 1.55 Mcal/lbs, as dry matter.

Are those numbers good or bad? To answer that question I need to refer to the National Resource Council’s book on the Nutrient Requirements of Poultry to determine the nutritional demands of the birds. Assuming I have brown-egg-laying birds, they need 16% protein and 1.55 Mcal/lbs of metabolizable energy, as dry matter. Given those numbers, I feel comfortable knowing that this feed would be meeting the protein and energy requirements of my birds. In fact I would be feeding a little extra protein, which isn’t a bad thing especially if you are breeding poultry.

The other feed I sampled and sent to a laboratory for analysis was a layer mash that had “crude protein minimum 16%”on the label. The lab report indicated the feed had 14.8% crude protein, as received, and 16.4% crude protein, as dry weight. The metabolizable energy was 1.33 Mcal/lbs, as received, and 1.48 Mcal/lbs, as dry weight. Assuming I am feeding the same birds as mentioned above, and given these results, I may not feel confident that this feed is meeting the protein and energy requirements of my birds. Keep in mind that 16% crude protein and 1.55 Mcal/lbs of metabolizable energy are minimal requirements. The birds need to have at least 16% crude protein and at least 1.55 Mcal/lbs of metabolizable energy. Feeds will vary in their nutritional content, but if I were to sample this feed again, send it off for analysis, and the report came back again with not enough protein or energy, then I would look at switching feeds or adding an additional protein and/or energy source to the feed.

I know some poultry producers feed exclusively or supplement with spent grains from breweries or grain elevator screenings. I was curious to see if such grains would have enough protein and energy. I took a sample of some spent grains from a brewery, and sent the sample off for analysis. The moisture content of this grain was 78%, most finished feeds are about 9% moisture. The crude protein content was 4.97%, as received, and 22.7%, as dry weight. The matabolizable energy was 0.34 Mcal/lbs, as received, and 1.55 Mcal/lbs, as dry weight. Given the assumption that I was feeding the same birds as mentioned above, it would appear that this feed would meet the protein and metabolizable energy requirements of the birds. Knowing that this grain did not have any supplemental vitamins and minerals, I had a suspicion that it may be lacking in vitamins and minerals. Consequently, I had the grain tested for minerals. The grain was severely lacking in calcium and slightly deficient in phosphorus. I didn’t test for vitamins, but I am fairly confident that it would have been deficient in most of the required vitamins. This feed also had very high fiber content. If the fiber content is much above 4%, feed utilization and efficiency in poultry goes down. Feeding this grain alone would not meet the nutritional needs of the birds.

So what does this all mean? The take away is to know what you are feeding and know the nutritional needs of your birds. This becomes especially important if you venture away from commercial produced feeds. Generally speaking, most commercially produced feeds will have the correct amount of protein, energy, minerals, and vitamins specifically required for the age of bird you are feeding, which will meet the nutritional demands of those birds. Poultry like all livestock are most productive when fed a ration balanced according to their nutrient needs. More than 70 percent of poultry production costs are in feed, so make sure their feed is meeting their nutritional demand for optimal performance.

Feed Label Example:

YOUR NAME FEEDS Product Name Pilgrim's Choice Turkey Finisher Purpose Statement & (medicated claim if required) For finishing turkeys. Drug Guarantee Guaranteed Analysis Guaranteed Analysis Crude Protein, minimum ...........................17.0% Lysine, minimum ......................................0.80% Methionine, minimum................................0.35% Crude Fat, minimum ...................................3.0% Crude Fiber, maximum ...............................4.0% Calcium, minimum ......................................1.0% Calcium, maximum .....................................1.5% Phosphorus, minimum ..............................0.65% Salt, minimum ...........................................0.35% Salt, maximum ..........................................0.85% Ingredient Statement Ingredient Statement Grain Products, Plant Protein Products, Processed Grain By-Products, Lignin Sulfonate, Animal Fat, Vitamin A Supplement, D-Activated Animal Sterol (source of Vitamin D3), L-Lysine, Dl- Methionine, Riboflavin Supplement, Choline Chloride, Biotin, Thiamine Mononitrate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Vitamin E Supplement, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (source of Vitamin K Activity), Folic Acid, Ethoxyquin (a preservative), Ground Limestone, Dicalcium Phosphate, Salt, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Zinc Oxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Cobalt Carbonate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite. Use Directions FEEDING DIRECTIONS Feed as the complete ration to turkeys greater than 16 weeks of age being fed for market. Precautionary Statement (if required) Responsible Party's Name & Address YOUR NAME FEEDS City, State Zip Quantity Statement NET WT 50 LB (22.67 kg)

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