Chicken Nutrition and Health: A Little Biology Can Improve Your Flocks Health

Your chicken nutrition and health can interact in many ways. An unbalanced diet can effect your bird's immune system, while an infectious disease can effect the bird's appetite and therefore hurt the balanced diet.

This can at the least delay recovery and at the most cause a secondary infection that will further reduce the chickens resistance to disease.

To counteract this, you need to make sure that your flock is getting the proper nutrition.

What you use your birds for can make a big difference in what you decide to feed your birds. Their bodies tell them what they need, you just have to provide help for them when it may not be readily available.

Free-range flocks for example forage for what their bodies tell them that they need. There are 36 nutrients that have been identified as essential to chickens. No single feed or ingredient can provide all of these, but most feeds contain a good mixture that can produce good chicken nutrition.

Excess can also be just as problematic as a nutritional deficit. So don't be too quick to go and buy all of the supplements that are out there for your birds.

Here is a quick overview of some of the main nutrients that your birds need for optimal health:

Proteins: A chicken needs protein to fight against disease. Their body uses the protein to produce antibodies for this purpose.

A bird quickly loses protein when sick because it's body is using it so fast. About 85 percent of the feathers on chickens is made up of protein. Protein requirements increase when a bird is molting.

A good trick to help during molting, is to throw a few handfuls of dry cat food into your yard or chicken run. Cat food is often very high in protein.

When a chicken is lacking protein the symptoms are:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased laying or smaller egg size
  • Excess protein is converted into uric acid and is deposited in crystals in the joints, which can often cause gout.

    Vitamins: All known vitamins are needed by chickens in some capacity. You have the fat-soluble vitamins, which the birds store in fat cells until needed.

    These include vitamins A, D, E, and K. You also have water-soluble vitamins (C and B complex), which aren't stored in the body but used when needed with the excess being excreted.

    Caged birds are more prone to vitamin deficiencies than other birds.

    Here is a quick list of the vitamins and what they benefit with your flock.

  • Vitamin A--vision, growth, bone development, resistance to diseases and parasites.
  • Vitamin B--growth and hatching ability.
  • Vitamin C--stress reduction.
  • Vitamin D--strong bones, beaks, claws, and egg-shells and hatching ability.
  • Vitamin E--fertility, resistance to colibacillosis.

  • Vitamin K--normal blood clotting.

  • Minerals: Your birds also need minerals like potassium, manganese, copper, and selenium to function effectively. Calcium and phosphorus are needed for bone development.

    Magnesium is needed for bone formation, eggshell formation and the metabolism of carbohydrates. These are essential for proper chicken nutrition.

    There can be different levels of nutritional deficiencies in your birds:

  • Borderline: will result in slow growth rate, lack of energy, feather problems, lack of appetite, egg reduction
  • Serious: Birds can become crippled, hens stop laying eggs
  • Extreme: Death
  • Again, when you properly manage your chickens you can learn when there are changes in behavior and notice when your chickens are having problems.

    If you think that their problems may be linked to nutrition, make the necessary changes until you figure out the problem. It is always best to identify these problems when they are borderline and not when they are serious or extreme.

    You can use chicken nutrition to assure that your birds stay in the optimal health.

    If you have questions that you would like to ask a vet, use the service below. Ask a Vet has qualified doctors that can answer questions about chicken health.

    Ask a Chicken Veterinarian Now

    We have partnered with JustAnswer so that you can get an answer ASAP.


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