Food & Water
Fowls must have access to adequate and appropriate water for their age, stage of production and weather conditions.
A clean, adequate supply of water, placed in a cool shaded area in hot weather, is required. If automatic nipple drinkers are used, they should always be fitted with a failsafe mechanism.
Variations in consumption range from a few millilitres for chickens to 500 ml per day in summer for adults. Water needs to be cleaned out regularly and can be slightly raised to prevent fowls walking through it. When supplying water for very young chickens, care must be taken to ensure the water is very shallow so that there is no risk of drowning.
A covered water trough, which automatically refills, mounted outside on the shed wall is recommended to avoid wetting the litter. The trough should be 200 mm above floor level and should be long enough to allow each bird in the flock to drink at the one time (10 cm per bird and if less, two or more drinkers are needed). There are a variety of automatic waterers available from poultry equipment suppliers.
If water for poultry is pumped directly from dams, without being treated, there is an increased risk of avian influenza being transmitted to the domestic poultry, from wild ducks. Therefore it is recommended that town or tank water should be used for poultry and water lines should be regularly flushed and cleaned to prevent a build up of slime.
Water medications should be introduced gradually and closely monitored to ensure correct dosage and consumption of adequate water quantity.
Fowls must have access to adequate and appropriate feed for their age, stage of production and weather conditions.
Quantity and quality of feed should be based on:
- Extra demands based on growth and egg laying.
- Prevailing/predicted weather conditions.
Regular assessment should be made of the needs of the birds in relation to the quantity and quality of feed. This can be done by weighing birds and performing visual assessment of their condition. Gentle palpitation of the breast area gives a good indication of the condition of a chicken.
Poultry are naturally foraging animals and so for optimum digestion should be provided with a variety of feed and vegetation. While they can be fed entirely on purpose made concentrate like pellets, fowls gain both physical and behavioural enrichment from having access to vegetation such as grass, seeds, grubs and insects, in addition to their daily ration of concentrate.
Crumbles and mash should be used for young chicks and grit is important to enable healthy gut function in birds as it aids in their ability to break down food. Grit and feed high in calcium is important for layers if they are to produce quality eggs with strong eggshells and ensure they do not become calcium deficient themselves.
Adult hens and roosters require 150-200g of pellets per day and these should be fed ab lib. Commercially prepared food is preferred as it ensures all nutritional needs are met. Other feed types like grains and green forages should only be fed in addition, not as a replacement. Layer hens should not be fed coccidiostats if their eggs are to be used for human consumption.
Regular monitoring should be carried out to ensure all birds are gaining access to the feed and that hens that are lower in the pecking order are not being denied access to the feed.
Chickens being grown for egg production need chicken starter crumbles or mash from day 1 to about six weeks. The diet should contain 18%–20% crude protein and a coccidiostat, to prevent the disease coccidiosis.
From 6–18 weeks of age, growers’ pellets or crumbles with 15%–16% protein can be used. Food and water should be supplied to chickens ab-lib and at 18 weeks the pullets should be fed a laying diet, which should be available constantly. Pellets can also be supplemented with scratch grain and kitchen scraps, but kitchen scraps must never be relied upon solely as the diet.
Broiler chickens should be fed starter crumble for the first two weeks with 22% protein. From two to four weeks of age, crumble with 22% protein is suitable and from four weeks of age until market weight, crumble with 18% protein is suitable. The crumble provided up to the age of four weeks should contain a coccidiostat to prevent the disease coccidiosis.
Food and water for poultry gives an example of how to provide the correct nutrition and water for broiler chicks in the school environment.