Did you know that choosing the right chick feed can help your chicks develop healthy digestive systems? A healthy digestive system is key to a healthy chicken. It aids in the development of the immune system and promotes absorption of nutrients. Professionally formulated feeds provide your birds with proper nutrition at all stages of life.
The Importance of Chick Feed
Chicks need a feed that is different from adult layer feed. Chick starter-grower feed is 18% protein, compared to 16% to 18% in a layer ration. Chicks grow very quickly, and they need more protein to support their bodies in this important process. Chicks also need less of certain vitamins and minerals that are necessary for laying hens. For example, chicks do not require as much calcium; in fact, too much calcium can cause kidney damage.
Be sure your chicks get a starter-grower feed, rather than a layer ration. At 16 weeks, you can switch from starter-grower to a layer diet.
A nutritionally balanced diet with proper amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals supports your chicks’ growth. Some diets also provide gut bacteria for an extra healthy start!
When chicks hatch, they have no gut bacteria. They develop their gut bacteria by consuming some of their mother’s droppings and absorbing her microflora, gut-friendly organisms that include certain kinds of bacteria and yeast. These tiny living things populate the digestive system, aid in digestion, and prevent harmful organisms from flourishing in the gut.
However, many chicks are hatched and brooded by humans, rather than a hen, and will not get supplemental microflora until they are allowed access to the outdoors. In fact, chicks that are raised in a completely germ-free environment develop inferior digestive systems. So if your chicks aren't hen-raised, they'll benefit from a high-quality feed that contains the varied elements necessary for gut health.
Some feeds provide the following components for an extra-healthy boost:
- Fungal components. Also called yeast cultures or fermentation metabolites, these additives are made up of beneficial compounds produced by fermentation of dietary yeast. When added to a chicken’s gut, yeast culture supports the immune system and gut microflora.
- Probiotics. These live microorganisms aid in digestion, support the existence of beneficial bacteria, and can protect against bad bacteria. They also help the gut to better absorb nutrients and can prevent or cure diarrhea. Here are a few you will see on feed labels:
|Lactobacillus acidophilus||Helps ferment carbohydrates in feed, produces compounds that support growth, reduces impact of harmful micro-organisms|
|Lactobacillus casei||Helps ferment carbohydrates in feed, reduces colonization of bad bacteria, reduces impact of harmful micro-organisms|
|Bifidobacterium thermophilum||Helps ferment carbohydrates in feed, benefits immune system|
|Enterococcus faecium||Helps ferment carbohydrates in feed, reduces impact of harmful micro-organisms|
- Prebiotics. The prefix pre- means “before,” and prebiotics pave the way for probiotics to do their job. They serve as food for good bacteria, supporting their growth and strengthening the chicken’s ability to resist bad bacteria.
Essential oils. Some poultry farmers are integrating essential oils into their birds’ diets to promote flock health and prevent disease. These plant products are distilled from leaves, flowers, stems, and roots. Some backyard chicken owners regularly use herbs because they believe they have antimicrobial, astringent, and antifungal properties, as well as the ability to repel insects. Essential oils from these plants are also making their way into chicken feeds.
Some essential oils act as antioxidants in poultry, protecting the intestine and boosting the immune system. This antioxidant function can be beneficial for chicks early in life, when their immune systems are developing. Proprietary research has shown that chicks fed a diet that includes essential oils grow more quickly, developing good lean muscle mass with less body fat, and have better vitality. They also consume less feed, indicating that their bodies are processing the feed more efficiently.
Medicated Feed, Nonmedicated Feed, and Coccidiosis Vaccines
You’ve no doubt heard of medicated feed, and you may be wondering about what it does and if it would benefit your chicks. Here are some facts to help you decide whether to use medicated feed.
Medicated feed helps chicks develop resistance to one organism: coccidia. These parasites live in the soil and their oocysts, similar to eggs, invade a chick’s digestive tract. The parasites cause a disease called coccidiosis. Most cases occur at 4 to 5 weeks of age and can produce bloody droppings. The chicks stop eating and growing and may be hunched with fluffed-up feathers.
Most retail medicated chick starter and starter/grower feeds use the drug amprolium to control coccidia and allow chicks’ immunity to coccidia to develop. Retail medicated feeds have low levels of amprolium that are toxic for coccidia but safe for other species. Amprolium reduces the amount of thiamine available in the intestinal tract of a chick, and coccidia will die without enough thiamine from their host. The amount of thiamine allows some coccidia to remain alive in the chicks’ digestive system. The birds’ bodies then can build resistance to the parasites without dying from the infestation.
A second line of attack against coccidiosis is a live vaccine. The vaccine works differently from medicated feed. The vaccine contains a controlled amount of live coccidia, which allows chicks’ immune systems to develop resistance. You can ask your hatchery to vaccinate for coccidiosis when you order your chicks. If you purchase chicks from a store or farm, always ask if they have been vaccinated for coccidiosis. Note that the vaccine is not 100% effective. It does not prevent against all strains of coccidia.
- For chicks that ARE vaccinated for coccidiosis, there is no need to provide medicated feed.
- For chicks that ARE NOT vaccinated for coccidiosis, DO provide medicated feed.
Now that you know more about chick feed ingredients, you can get your birds off to a healthier start and well on their way to living their best lives. And if this seems like a lot to remember--well, that's why we're here to help! Call or stop by one of our stores and our knowledgeable staff will be more than happy to assist you in selecting just the right nutrition for your flock.