Feeding your broiler chickens – How much feed is enough?

Feeding your broiler chickens – How much feed is enough?

By Marcos Grassini Manager at Alfa Chicks

These words are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or advice of the owners of Alfa Chicks. Theseare based on my own observations, experience and customer feedback.

Many new poultry farmers often ask how much feed they need to give to their chicks during the production cycle. The broiler objectives from the various brands, namely, Cobb, Ross and Arbor Acres all specify the expected feed consumption of their birds. However, one must realise that these are just guidelines and are based on adequate to perfect growing conditions and that your specific growing conditions may vary.

As a general rule of thumb, you require 1 kg of starter crumbs, 1,5kgs of grower pellets and 1,5kgs of finisher pellets for each bird. However, if you go and read up in the literature they refer only to the amount of proteins and vitamins and other nutrients that a chick requires over specific periods. To determine your feed requirements using this method will require a nutritionist’s degree. If you regularly check your feed consumption and weigh your birds at least every 7 days then you will know if you are on track or whether you need to consider giving more starter or grower before switching over to the next product. The quality of the feed is also very important in determining the quantity that will be consumed. Goedkoop is usually duurkoop in this instance.

When the music stops (i.e. when the chickens head is removed from the carcass) the farmer hopes that he or she has managed to produce the heaviest possible chicken using the least amount of feed possible at the lowest cost of production per kilogram as possible and for the chickens to present a uniform growth (meaning that the chickens are all more or less the same weight at the time they need to be sold or slaughtered). For thisto be the case the following factors play a big part in ensuring that this objective is met.

Genetic efficiency

It is very important to remember that in the first 8 to 10 days of the chicks life that the feed conversion ratio is less than 1. This means that the chicks body weight gain is more than the weight of the feed that is consumed. At this stage the chicken is most efficient at converting the food it consumes into meat. This is where your cycle can be made or broken and you should take advantage of this phenomenon.

Lighting

Make sure there is adequate light so that the chickens can see the feed.

Feed placement and availability

All the chicks/chickens need to have unrestricted access to feed and water. Chickens are territorial in nature and tend to stay in the same area over their short life span which approximates to the same square metre in the cage over a six-week period. It is therefore important to ensure that every square metre in the cage has an equal amount of feed and water available and that the environment is ideal in all areas in the cage. A chick should not have to go looking for food, he should almost find himself in the food.

Recommendations regarding feed coverage at chick placement mention 50% floor area to be covered, I say that you should aim for 75% in the first three days whilst the chicks are still learning to eat. The more coverage the better. Note that quantity is not that important (putting 100 kgs in a corner will not be as effective as spreading 10 kgs over the entire brooding area).

A cheap and effective trick is to cut off the bottom of the chick box, placeit on the floor in the brooding area and to put one or two handfuls of starter crumbs on the box. Top it up with a handful of feed every hour or so on the first day to continuously stimulate the chicks to become inquisitive and to get them pecking at the feed and eating it. Continue with this stimulation until day 3. There must always be feed available to the chicks/chickens.

Temperature

The temperature of the cage where you have placed the chickens needs to be comfortable. The clever guys call this a “Thermal Comfort Zone”. A farmer who is regularly observing his or her chickens will realise that a thermometer is not the most important tool to determine whether the chickens are comfortable, rather the farmers eyes and ears are the main measuring tool. Observant farmers will tell you that they are able to tell by the activity of the birds as to whether the environment is comfortable.

Chicks that are very cold will huddle, usually near a source of heat to keep themselves warm as they are not able to regulate their own body temperatures until about 10 days of age. Although there are strict guidelines as to what the temperature must be at every age my experience has taught me that if a farmer is able to supply a moderate and as close as possible consistent temperature then the batch will be a success. For example, the literature will say you need to brood at 32 degrees Celsius but we all know that small farmers do not always have the setup at their disposal to achieve this. Instead I recommend they aim for 28 degrees

Celsius and aim to not differ with more than 2 degrees Celsius below or above the set temperature of 28 degrees Celsius over a 24 hour period. Chickens hate large environmental fluctuations, they always want everything to remain constant. In the graph below the orange line is ideal, the blue line represents fluctuations but nothing extreme and isacceptable, the grey lines fluctuations are extreme and the difference between the highest and lowest temperatures is unacceptable.

Air quality

The quality of the air is very important, observant farmers will quickly realise that a stuffy cage where ventilation is poor and the air is not fresh will cause the chickens to be lethargic and activity levels will be very low. In a situation where you want the chickens to be actively walking around seeking food and water and to consume these a lethargic chicken that just lies around is not acceptable. You will experience poor or non-uniform growth. By supplying fresh air, you will almost immediately observe an improvement in activity.

Effectiveness

The effectiveness of your efforts relating to the above points should be measured regularly in terms of the following:

Crop fill check (feed mix consistency) follow this link for more information:

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