Chicken feed is the primary source of nutrition for chickens of all types and ages. Comprised of a variety of nutrients and energy sources, it provides a balanced diet enhanced with mineral and vitamin supplements. Although the composition varies from farm to farm and climate to climate, basic ingredients are found universally in approved chicken feed products.
Experts at Poultry Hub explain that all safe and effective chicken feed products must supply "energy, protein, vitamins and minerals." This is accomplished through a combination of cereal grains and vegetable and animal proteins, as well as vitamin and mineral additives. Two of the most important elements are crude protein and calcium, which are required in greater amounts by chicks younger than 8 weeks old and laying hens. Adult broiler chickens have the lowest protein and calcium requirements.
There are seven basic types of chicken feed. Mash has varied, grain-based ingredients ground into small bits slightly larger than powder. Pellets are kernels of compressed mash designed to keep chickens from picking favourite ingredients from the mash. Crumbles are pellets broken into pieces. Starter or grower feed is mash designed specifically for the dietary needs of chicks up to 6 weeks old. Layer feed has added calcium and protein to supplement the diet of laying hens. Broiler feed is engineered to encourage quick growth and maximum meat harvest. Finally, scratch is whole-grain feed given separately through scattering.
The basic diet of a chicken requires seven elements all found in commercial chicken feed. The first is grains, including wheat, rye, barley, ground corn and other whole grains. Greens are also necessary and are supplied through grass, weeds, vegetables and other plant products. Protein, another main requirement, comes from soy products, beans and legumes, vegetable protein meal and animal protein meal. Calcium comes from shell or bone fragments, while salt often comes from kelp or simple table salt. Vitamins A and D are also included, as is quartz-based, angular grit or small rocks to help break up food. Other vitamins and minerals are added by individual manufacturers.
Chicken feed is the traditional diet for chickens, but there is a recent strong movement toward free-range feeding. Lionsgrip.com recommends free-range feeding and points out that free-range chickens get many of their nutritional needs from the environment, reducing the need for supplementation. Free-range chickens roam a yard or pasture area and eat grass and seeds they find. Protein needs of free-range chickens are met by eating bugs and worms, which also provide vitamins and minerals. Small gravel and other rocks can eliminate the need for grit in the diet.
Experts at PoultryOne.com acknowledge the cost savings of making chicken feed at home, but they warn against the practice. They advise that commercial feed provides a balanced diet complete with necessary vitamins and minerals. Homemade feeds, says PoultryOne.com, are also more susceptible to bacterial contamination.
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