How to Feed & Manage Poultry

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Have you ever wondered more about poultry such as the basics of what they can be fed, or how they can be raised? This lesson covers the fundamentals of poultry, their nutrition, and reproduction.

The Definition of Poultry

What is poultry? Well, poultry is a general term that refers to domesticated fowl that is raised for meat, eggs, feathers, leather, and other products. Domesticated fowl goes way beyond just chickens and turkeys. Among many others, poultry also includes:

  • Ducks
  • Geese
  • Pigeons
  • Pheasants
  • Emus
  • Ostriches
  • Rhea

Because there is such a wide range of poultry, the way they are raised, their uses, how they should be fed, as well as their reproductive considerations are quite varied. This lesson will, however, give you a basic overview of some important considerations common to all of them.

Operations, Facilities, and Equipment

Poultry are raised in various operations. Some are backyard chickens raised just for eggs. Other poultry is raised specifically to be released during hunting season for hunters to shoot. There is even poultry raised for show. Lots of poultry is raised for meat, like drumsticks or chicken wings. Some of these operations are quite massive in scale, with thousands of birds confined to very small areas of land, or caged up with several other birds in tight spaces. Some operations raise their chickens very naturally and allow them to run around quite freely and forage for themselves. Other operations feed very specific nutrients to the birds to fatten them up for market as quickly as possible.

Thus, the types of facilities and equipment used for each will vary quite a bit. In general, some of the facilities and equipment used for raising poultry include:

  • Cages
  • Hen houses
  • Ventilation systems
  • Feeders
  • Heat lamps
  • Watering systems
  • Scales

Basic Biology and Nutrition

Birds are very different from mammals when it comes to their biology. We'll use the chicken as an example here for consistency's sake.

Instead of a mouth and lips, they have a beak. They have a pouch-like structure called a crop that stores food before it's moved along into the depth of the digestive system, and digested and absorbed primarily in the small intestine. They also have a structure called the gizzard, which is a highly muscular organ that crushes the food it eats. In general, it takes about 2.5 hours for the food taken in by a chicken to pass through their entire digestive tract.

Water is a key nutrient for a bird's health. The amount of water that's taken in can greatly affect the growth of the bird and the egg production. Corn and soybean based products are commonly used as a low cost source of energy for poultry. Fish and meat based products are also sometimes used, and provide a good source of calcium and phosphorus. Poultry diets also contain everything from salt, to supplemental fats, to even non-nutritive compounds. For instance, antibiotics may be added to control diseases and to improve the growth rate of the bird.

Fundamentals of Reproduction

Whether a person wants to buy chicks or to breed their own birds is dependent on the producer's needs and desires. For example, purchasing chicks reduces the hassle of incubating and hatching chicks on your own and changing dietary formulations to suit the needs of the egg-producing hen. On the flipside, buying chicks from another producer carries the risk of introducing new diseases into an existing operation, which can prove devastating economically as well as to the birds in terms of their health and life.

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