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Pastured Poultry Nutrition and Feeding. Anne Fanatico, Ph.D. Sustainable Development Program Appalachian State University Nutrition is study of how the body uses nutrients (i.e. consume, digest, absorb, transport, metabolize, excrete)

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pastured poultry nutrition and feeding

Pastured Poultry Nutrition and Feeding

Anne Fanatico, Ph.D.

Sustainable Development Program

Appalachian State University


Nutrition is study of how the body uses nutrients (i.e. consume, digest, absorb, transport, metabolize, excrete)

  • Good nutrition is basic to good health
  • Cost of feed is one of the highest production costs in livestock production
  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein (amino acids)
  • Fats
  • Minerals
  • Vitamins
  • Water

Sugar, starches

Indigestible fiber (cellulose, hemicellulose, etc.); not used extensively by chickens

Energy is needed for

  • Muscular activity, movement, keeping warm
  • Biochemical energy for maintenance and growth of tissues (glucose is metabolized and ATP is released)
proteins amino acids
Proteins (amino acids)

Proteins and amino acids are components of lean tissue, enzymes, metabolites); young animals need protein to build body; There are 22 amino acids in body proteins; 10 are essential to have in the diet

  • Phenylalanine
  • Valine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Isoleucine
  • Methionine
  • Histidine
  • Arginine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Fats are high in energy and carry fat-soluble vitamins
  • Essential fatty acids
    • Linoleic acid (18:2, n-6)
    • a-linolenic acid (18:3, n-3)
    • Arachidonic acid (can be synthesized from linoleic if sufficient in diet)
  • Symptoms of inadequacy of linoleic are loss of membrane integrity, increased need for water and decreased resistance (NRC 1994)

Part of body:

  • Bone , teeth
  • Egg shell

Electrolytes function in fluid balance to maintain concentration gradients

  • Only about 3-4% of diet


  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chlorine
  • Magnesium
  • Sulfur
  • Function as activators or cofactors of enzymes
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Copper
  • Selenium
  • Molybdenum
  • Chromium

Co-factors of enzymes to catalyze reactions in the body

Less than 1% of the diet

Water-soluble Vitamins (rapidly excreted)

  • Vitamin C
  • B-Complex Vitamins
  • Thiamin B1 Pantothenic acid
  • Riboflavin B2 Niacin
  • Pyridoxine B6 Folic acid
  • Cyanocobalamin B12 Biotin
  • Choline

Fat-soluble Vitamins (can be stored in fatty tissue)

  • Vitamin A Vitamin E
  • Vitamin D Vitamin K


  • Animals are mainly made up of water
    • Lubricant, regulates body temperature, solvent for body’s solid components, transport medium, etc
  • Animals don’t eat without water
  • Death occurs rapidly without water in hot weather
body functions and nutrient needs
Body Functions and nutrient needs
  • Maintenance
  • Growth
  • Finishing
  • Production
  • Work Reproduction
nutrient requirements of animals
Nutrient requirements of animals

National Academies Press

Nutrient Requirements of Poultry 1994

digestion in the avian


Digestion in the avian
  • Poultry classified as nonruminant omnivores

From Oregon State

digestion in the avian1
Digestion in the avian
  • Digestive organs of the fowl are different from other farm animals
    • Esophagus is modified
      • Crop is dilation for storage
    • Gizzard instead of teeth; grinding organ; grit needed unless feed is pre-ground (then gizzard is not very muscular)
    • GI tract is short; rapid passage; no lactose

Birds have two ceca

  • Ceca are larger when bird eats high fiber (up to 18% fiber digestion possible)
  • Large intestine is short in birds; no distinct colon or rectum but rather cloaca
feed classification
Feed Classification
  • Energy feeds
  • Protein supplements
  • Mineral supplements
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Nonnutritive additives
  • Pastures, range plants, green forages
  • Silages
  • Dry forages and roughages
  • Organic requirements: all agricultural products must be organic
energy feeds
Energy Feeds
  • Ex. Cereal grains (corn, wheat, etc.), by-products feeds (corn gluten meal), fruits, nuts
  • High in readily digestible carbohydrates (starch, sugars) and thus high in energy
  • Less than 18% crude fiber and less than 20% crude protein
    • Energy feeds usually low in essential amino acids (methionine are first limiting amino acid for poultry); high in vitamin E and B vitamins
protein supplements
Protein supplements

Types of protein supplements

  • Plant origin (organic soybeans and peas); expensive
  • Animal origin (organic dairy by-products, currently fishmeal does not have to be organic but may not contain ethoxyquinine; meat and bone meal not permitted in organic); very expensive
  • Synthetic amino acids not permitted in organic (methionine temporarily allowed for poultry)

More than 20% crude protein

May have high energy but should not be used for energy due to high cost


Protein of plant origin is often oilseed meal (byproduct of vegetable oil extraction); about 40% CP and highly digestible

    • Organic requirements: Chemical extraction (hexane) not permitted
    • Mechanical extraction or expelling is permitted
  • Essential amino acids may be low
  • High in phosphorus (but much is bound as phytate and not available to monogastrics)

Dairy byproducts and fishmeal are very high quality protein

  • Good essential amino acids, mineral content, B vitamins
  • Novel protein feeds: worms, larvae, algae
mineral and vitamin supplements
Mineral and Vitamin Supplements
  • Macrominerals
    • Calcium
      • Oystershell, limestone (calcium carbonate; oystershell is slow release)
    • Phosphorus
      • Plant (mainly tied up as phytate)
      • Rock (dicalcium phosphate, defluorinated phosphate)
      • Animal (dairy products; bonemeal not permitted in organic)
    • Sodium/Chloride
      • Salt
    • Plants, soil, animal products
  • Vitamins
    • Water-soluble (riboflavin, etc)
      • Wheat bran, dairy products, forage plants
    • Fat-soluble (vitamins A, E, D, K)
      • Alfalfa meal, fish oil
  • Pre-mixes often used
ex fertrell nutribalancer
Ex. Fertrell Nutribalancer

Very common vitamin and mineral among pastured poultry producers

  • Dicalcium Phosphate, Dehydrated Seaweed Meal, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Menadione Nicotinamide Bisulfite Complex, Riboflavin Supplement, D-Calcium Pantothenic Acid, Niacin Supplement, Choline Chloride, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Folic Acid, Thiamine Hydrochloride, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Biotin, Manganese Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Sodium Selenite, Dried Aspergillus oryzae Fermentation Extract, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Dried fermentation product of Lactobacillus acidophilus, Dried fermentation product of Lactobacillus casei, Dried fermentation product of Lactobacillus plantarum, Dried fermentation product of Enterococcus faecium, Dried fermentation product of Bacillus coagulans, Dried fermentation product of Bacillus licheniformis, and Dried fermentation product of Bacillus subtilis
vitamin and mineral premixes
Vitamin and mineral premixes
  • Vitamins and minerals should not be mixed together due to degradation
  • Fertrell Nutribalancer mixes vitamins and minerals together but a booster pack is sold for product more than 4 months old
nonnutritive feed additives
Nonnutritive feed additives
  • Added to rations for nonnutritive reasons (i.e. enhance health)
  • Conventional poultry production: antibiotics, arsenic, coccidiostats
  • Organic poultry production: probiotics
pasture range plants green forage
Pasture, range plants, green forage
  • Ex. Bermuda grass pasture, clover pastures, wheat pasture
    • Animals self-harvest or
    • Many forages are harvested for storage
  • Moisture content is usually 50-85%
  • Protein varies (legumes are high)
  • Plant material ensiled under anaerobic conditions
    • Controlled fermentation produces acids which kill of bacteria, molds
  • Common storage method and will keep for years
  • Many materials can be ensiled
    • Corn silage, legume forage silages, cannery wastes, roots/tubers
dry forages and roughages
Dry forages and Roughages
  • Ex. Legume hays, grass hays, wheat straw
  • Feeds contain at least 18% crude fiber
    • High in cellulose, hemicellulose, lignan
    • Low in readily digestible carbohydrates (starch, sugars)
forage characteristics
Forage Characteristics
  • Green forages, silages, and dry forages have much in common
  • Qualities of good quality forage
    • Relatively immature when harvested by animals or mechanical means
    • Green and leafy with soft pliable stems
  • Forage may not grow year-round but animals need feed year-round; storage or preservation methods
    • Cut forage for hay, silage
    • Stored forage may become roughage over time
  • Organic requirements: seed must be organic, no GMO seeds, no prohibited practices for pasture (i.e. no agri-chemicals)

Many factors affect nutritive content of forages

    • Weather damage
    • Soil fertility
    • Maturity at time of harvesting
      • Nutrients and digestibility decrease with maturity while fiber and lignan increase

Forages for poultry should be low-fiber

    • Grasses (i.e. orchardgrass, Kentucky blue grass)
    • Legumes (i.e. clovers)
      • Increase omega-3 fatty acids in eggs and meat; attract insects for birds
      • Higher quality feed than grasses (higher in protein, calcium, carotene
    • Forbs (chicory)
  • Diversity: Use of warm-season and cold season forages can provide vegetation much of year; feed sprouts in winter
to make use of pasture encourage foraging
To make use of pasture, encourage foraging
  • Provide many popholes
  • Open popholes as much as possible
    • In winter, provide winter garden or veranda
  • Provide feed/water inside and outside
  • Provide shade/shelter on pasture
  • Use active genetics
  • Birds need a balanced diet that meets their nutritional requirements
  • Organic feed is expensive
  • Small-scale farmers usually feed single poultry diets
protein and energy requirements of poultry nrc 1994
Protein and Energy Requirements of Poultry (NRC, 1994)

Meat birds eat less protein and more energy as they age

NRC (1994) requirements are based on moderate temperature
    • In hot weather, birds eat less (% CP should be increased)
    • In cold weather, birds eat more (% CP should be decreased)
  • Based on high-yielding birds

Poultry Food Pyramid

No sweets!

Trace minerals; vitamins (1%)

Macro Minerals (5%)

Protein (20-30%)

Grains (60-70%)

feeding methods
Feeding Methods
  • Fully formulated single diets
    • Phases (starter, grower, finisher)
    • Basal diet that is modified
  • Choice
    • Compound diet plus supplemental grain (whole wheat)
    • “Mash and grain”
      • “Mash” is old term: High protein concentrate plus vitamins and minerals plus grain (calcium fed separately for layers)
  • Free-choice or “cafeteria”
    • Multiple feed ingredients offered in separate feeders
mix your own
Mix your own
purchased organic feed ex cashton
Purchased organic feed; Ex. Cashton

Starter 20% or 22% CP

Grower 18% or 20% CP

Layer 17% CP

24%-28% Turkey Starter

21%-22% Turkey Grower

16%-17% Turkey Finisher

ex nature s best
Poultry Feeds

Broiler Starter

Broiler Grower/Finisher

Pullet Starter

Pullet Grower/Developer

Egg Layer Pellets

Egg Layer Mash

Egg Layer

Concentrate 27%

Scratch grains may be fed as a feed stretcher to older birds; however do not feed more than 10% of daily intake, as it will reduce the protein level

Broiler Concentrate is designed to be mixed with ground corn to make a 19% CP feed for growing broilers that are well started

Ex. Nature’s Best
on farm mixing using a base diet for mixed flock farm
On-Farm Mixing Using a Base Diet for Mixed Flock Farm
  • Example: Fertrell 19% CP broiler diet
    • Starter feed: add 8% additional fishmeal to increase CP to 21%
    • Turkey feed: add 16% additional fishmeal to increase CP to 26%
    • Pullet grower: Add 10-15% grains to reduce CP to 16%
    • Layer feed: add 7-8% additional calcium; to increase calcium and reduce CP to 17%

Single ration vs. self-selection (“choice”)

  • Evidence exists that poultry are capable of adjusting intake as a function of nutrient requirements (Larbier and Leclercq, 1994)
    • Domestic poultry descended from wild birds with ability to self-select nutrients from environment
  • Poultry tend to eat for energy needs
  • However feed selection can be specific for energy, protein, minerals etc (Cerrate, 2008)
advantages of choice feeding
Advantages of Choice Feeding
  • Energy savings in feed preparation (Blair, 2009)
  • Use on-farm ingredients
    • Reduce costs, especially for organic
  • Reduce transportation of feeds
  • Reduce grinding and mixing
    • Reduce energy use
    • Birds can eat some grains whole (corn difficult)
  • Birds can grind, mix, and formulate
advantages of choice feeding1
Advantages of Choice Feeding

More control over feed

  • Grower knows feed ingredients (not least cost)
  • Control particle size; less waste
  • Keeping grain whole may preserve vitamins
  • Health benefits to feeding whole grains
advantages of choice feeding2
Advantages of Choice Feeding
  • Use of whole grains can help fully develop the digestive system
  • Whole grains increase feed utilization and starch digestion because rate of passage is slowed (Cerrate, 2008)
advantages of choice feeding3
Advantages of Choice Feeding
  • More precise way to meet nutrient requirements of specialty birds
    • Birds adjust intake daily to meet nutrient needs
    • With a single feed, birds can only adjust for energy (Blair, 2009)
    • Free-choice may result in feed savings (Blair, 2009)
advantages of choice feeding4
Advantages of Choice Feeding

Integrates well with outdoor access

    • Birds with open housing/outdoor access experience temperature fluctuations
    • If cold, birds can eat more energy without overconsuming expensive protein

Integrates well with additional nutrients on pasture

    • Forage
    • Invertebrates
  • Grit must be provided to allow grinding of whole grains and forage
disadvantages of choice feeding
Disadvantages of Choice Feeding
  • Need to use multiple feeders; more difficult to automate feeding; more labor required; knowledge of feed and bird requirements needed
  • In terms of performance, results are mixed (probably due to number of variables)
  • Birds may select for maximum growth rate but not breast yield (Cerrate, 2008)
cobb broiler management guide 2008
Cobb Broiler Management Guide 2008:

Supplemental Whole Wheat Feeding:


  • Reduction in feed cost and cost per kg of live weight
  • Improvements in gizzard development, resulting in improved digestive efficiency
  • Ability to manipulate nutrient intake on a daily basis

Possible disadvantages if adjustments to the compound feed are not made

  • Reduced growth rate
  • Reductions in lean gain
  • Poorer uniformity
supplemental grain feeding whole wheat
Supplemental grain feeding (whole wheat)
  • Can supplement a compound diet with up to 30% whole wheat
  • Can dilute a starter diet as broilers get older
  • Can be fed separately or mixed in to compound feed
specific mashes
Specific “mashes”
  • A mash usually has 40% CP
  • Old poultry textbooks offer many mash recipes. In past, if good range and milk were available, no mash was used with grain (Heuser, 1955)

Chick Starter Grower - 19% CP

  • ASU mash based on Fertrell recipe
  • Mash: Crushed roasted soybeans (fullfat), fishmeal, oystershell, vitamin and mineral premix
  • Grain: Cracked corn
  • Grit
free choice feeding
Free-Choice Feeding
  • In “cafeteria-feeding,” multiple feeds are offered (ex. corn, whole wheat, soybean meal, fishmeal, etc.)
  • Do not provide vitamin and micromineral premixes in a separate feeder
    • Birds generally avoid it; probably due to taste (Blair, 2009)
    • Could be toxic if over-eaten
usda ars free choice feeding trial
USDA ARS Free-Choice Feeding Trial


  • Determine the impact of free-choice feeding on free-range chicken performance, quality, and feed cost
    • Identify the contribution of the forage in yard
    • Determine the impact on microbial status of GI tract
materials and methods
Materials and Methods
  • USDA ARS Free-Range Research Facility
  • Naturally ventilated
  • Natural light used
  • Designed for high-use of yards
  • Yards enclosed with electric net fencing
materials and methods1
Materials and Methods
  • Outdoor access provided daily after brooding period
  • Stocking density
    • Indoor 0.46 m2/bird
    • Outdoor 4.6 m2/bird
  • Indoor enrichments
materials and methods2
Materials and Methods


  • 1) Formulated feed
  • 2) Free-Choice
  • 20 birds per pen
  • 5 replications

All birds had access to pasture and provided grit

materials and methods3
Materials and Methods
  • Slow-growing commercial hybrid (“naked neck”); straight run
  • Reaches market weight in 12 weeks
materials and methods4
Materials and Methods
  • Formulated feed
    • Local feed mill
    • 20% CP
    • Non-medicated
    • Crumble form
  • Pasture
  • Grit
materials and methods5
Materials and Methods
  • Free choice feeds
    • Cracked corn
    • Whole wheat
    • Soybean meal
    • Fishmeal
    • Steamed bonemeal
    • Crushed oystershell
    • Kelp
    • Salt
    • Grit
  • Pasture
  • Largely whole grains
  • No vitamin/mineral premix provided
  • No synthetic amino acids
  • The formulated diet was a commercial product with an average of 20.75% crude protein (1.04% total sulfur amino acids); while the free-choice diet chosen by birds at 11 weeks was 13.2% crude protein (0.70% total sulfur amino acids).
  • Final live weights did not differ between treatments (P > 0.05); however, ready-to-cook yield and breast yields were higher in the birds from the FF treatment (P < 0.05). These higher yields are most likely due to amino acid supplements in the formulated feed.
  • The diet chosen by FC birds at end of finisher period was less expensive than the formulated diet ($0.07/kg vs. $0.08/kg).
  • These data indicate that while free-choice feeding of free-range chickens resulted in a 1.4% lower breast yield than formulated feeding, FC feed cost was lower. The USDA National Organic Program is planning to ban synthetic methionine, and when that occurs, there may be no difference in yield among birds from formulated and free-choice diets.