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Poultry feed, nutrition and water

Providing the right nutrition is important for poultry growth, production and health. Different energy requirements are required, depending on factors including bird age and production status. Providing adequate nutrition is important so that the bird is able to achieve its productive potential and also for it to sustain health.

Feed that is of poor quality, not in the right form or does not contain the right levels of energy and mix of nutrients, can potentially cause nutritional stress and lead to other health concerns.

Nutrient requirements

The nutrient requirements of poultry vary depending on factors such as:

  • genetics (e.g. species, breed or strain of bird)
  • age
  • sex - significant differences in diet for male and female once sexually mature
  • reproductive state (i.e. egg production in hens and sexual activity in males)
  • ambient temperature
  • housing
  • health of the bird
  • production (e.g. meat or egg laying).

A bird's diet must include a combination of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water for optimal growth and production.

The Poultry Hub has detailed information about the poultry nutritional requirements for:

Different feed rations are formulated for the different ages and stages of production. Starter, grower, finisher, layer and breeder rations will usually have different levels of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals depending on the nutritional requirements of the birds.

Feed intake

The amount of feed consumed by poultry varies depending on whether the bird is being raised for egg or meat production. Feed intake will also vary depending on environmental conditions such as temperature, physical activity and whether the birds have access to other sources of feed such as grass in free range systems.

Other factors include:

  • age
  • breed
  • health
  • welfare
  • availability of, and access to, feed and water.

Feed ingredients

Poultry feed contains many ingredients including:

  • grains (e.g. wheat, barley, sorghum)
  • protein meals (soybean meal, canola meal, animal protein meals)
  • fats and oils
  • amino acids
  • vitamins and minerals.

Feed ingredients will vary depending on a number of factors including product availability, locality, price and quality of the raw ingredients.

Drinking water

Poultry should always have access to plenty of cool, fresh drinking water, but make sure the water is low in salt. Salt is already provided in poultry feed, and drinking water with high salt levels, may cause an oversupply of these minerals and lead to:

  • increased water intake
  • wetter droppings and wet litter issues
  • reduced performance.

Water provided for drinking, cooling and range irrigation must be free from microbial contamination that could potentially cause disease in poultry, or lead to food safety issues. Test water regularly to ensure that it meets specific microbiological and contaminant standards.

Water that does not meet the standards, including all surface water such as creek, dam or tank water, must be treated with approved methods to kill potential disease organisms. Read the National Water Biosecurity Manual for Poultry Production (PDF, 1.8MB) for approved water treatment methods.

Water intake

Generally, water intake should be about 1.5 to 2 times feed intake.

Poultry water consumption is dependent on factors including:

  • food consumption (i.e. reduced food intake may lead to reduced water intake and vice versa)
  • water being too hot
  • contaminated water
  • ambient temperature
  • type of drinkers used
  • drinker height
  • water pressure.

Check drinkers daily to ensure they are in working order. Drinker systems should also be cleaned and flushed regularly to remove any microbial or mineral build up in the lines.

To ensure that adequate water is available to meet bird requirements, the manufacturer's recommendation of number of birds per drinker should be used as a guide. The Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Domestic Poultry (4th edition) has more information on maximum feed and water space allowances.

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