The principles of feeding broilers

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

  • Feeding broilers successfully depends on a few crucial factors of which water and management tops the list.
  • Broilers must have access to enough good quality water.
  • Consider the supplier from whom you buy your chicks.
  • The next factor to consider is the feed you intend to give.
  • Feed presentation is also important.

When it comes to broiler nutrition, there are a few fundamental principles that should be kept in mind. The first thing you need to do before investing in a broiler enterprise, says Waldo Macdonald, technical manager in Nutri Feeds’ monogastric department based in Viljoenskroon, is defining your target market.

There is a huge difference between a commercial operation with, for instance, 200 000 chicks that you need to get to slaughter weight within approximately 30 days, and a small-scale operation focussing on the live chicken market for which an economic timeline to get broilers to slaughter weight is not as important.

“In the first example, a nutrient-dense feed that allows maximum growth in minimum time is essential, while in the second example you could get away with a cheaper, less nutrient-dense feed.”

Feeding broilers successfully depends on a few crucial factors of which water and management tops the list.

Good management of feeding broilers

Broilers must have access to enough good quality water. A rule of thumb is that for every unit of feed a chick consumes, it consumes two units of water. Therefore, if the water quality is poor, the chick will consume less of it, which directly impacts its feed intake and ultimately its growth performance and health.

Click here to discover how high-quality water can significantly improve broiler production.

Management includes especially housing and hygiene management (think biosecurity and the impact it has on keeping chicks disease free). When chicks are cold, they do not perform. If they are stressed in any way, they do not perform. Temperature, ventilation, feeder settings, hygiene, and the like are critical factors influencing the performance of broiler chicks.

Chick quality

The next factor to consider is the supplier whom you buy your chicks from. The quality of the chicks plays a determining role in their future performance. “It would be much harder for weaker chicks to reach the targets you have set – for instance, reaching 170g of live weight at seven days of age and 450g at 14 days of age,” says Macdonald. “Although you might be able to keep such a weak chick alive, it might only reach 300g at 14 days. The implication is that you are wasting your money.

“The first seven days are vital, and this is where monitoring comes into play. If you pick up that something is wrong – be it low water and feed intake, no crop-fill after 24 hours, chicks exhibiting low activity, or chicks failing to reach growth targets – talk to your supplier sooner rather than later so that a representative can be sent to your farm to identify and rectify the issue, where possible. Stay in close communication with your supplier, especially during the first few days. There are specific guidelines the supplier can make available that will assist you in identifying and monitoring chick quality and health.”

Feed quality for broilers

If the environment is satisfactory, including the quality of both the water and chicks, you can move on to the next factor, namely the feed you intend to give.

“When formulating feeds, we focus strongly on feed conversion ratio (FCR). Take a commercial farm, for example: Here the goal is to achieve the best possible weight gain per kilogram of feed in order to reach the target slaughter weight as quickly as possible on the least amount of feed,” he explains.

“On the other hand, there are producers who cater to the live chicken market for whom reaching slaughter weight in the least amount of time is not such a big deal. In this instance, they can use a cheaper ration with a higher FCR and still make a good profit.”

Feed is therefore not just feed. There are different formulations for different targets. Furthermore, there is a certain expected FCR tied to each price range, so it is important to communicate effectively with your feed supplier so the correct ration can be prescribed for your specific requirements.

“Although feed costs play a big role, it should be considered in the context of the performance you will gain from it. If you pay more for feed with a lower FCR, but you gain a day or two in achieving your weight targets, the saving should be significantly higher than what you paid, given the fact that you need less feed to reach the weight targets.”

As technological development in the feed space started enabling improved FCR performance, equally spectacular improvements were made on the genetic front. More than ever, feed and genetics are closely related. However, keep in mind that feed performance cannot exceed genetic potential. Choosing genetics should therefore occur in the context of your initial goals with your broiler enterprise.

Feed presentation

Macdonald believes it is best to feed pelleted and crumbled (pelleted feed broken into smaller pieces) rations to broilers as it minimises wastage and increases intake.

“For a commercial operation I would suggest feeding a crumbled ration during the first part of the broiler’s life cycle (around 14 to 22 days of age) depending on the growth of the chicks. Then I would move on to normal pelleted feed during the grower and finisher phases (around 18 to 23 days of age).”

It is also important to ensure that the recommended feed intake (g/bird) of each ration (for example pre-starter or starter) is achieved before moving from a crumbled to a pelleted feed. On the other hand, producers who cater to the live chicken market might find that feeding a mash is better, especially if they want to restrict feed intake and reduce growth. It all depends on the producer’s goals and targets. Izak Hofmeyr, Stockfarm

Contact your nearest feed supplier to assist you in making the correct choices to increase your chances of being a successful broiler producer. Alternatively, phone Waldo Macdonald on 071 177 7798.

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