Feeding For Breeding - A Must For Healthy Chicks

Have you ever had poor chicken fertility or chicks die in the egg before day 21? 

People often blame their incubator.  While this is often the case, something else can also be the cause.

Nutrient deficiencies can be the cause of infertility, poor hatch rates, chick deformities and poor health in chicks and growing chickens. "Feeding for breeding" helps minimise this.  

In this article we'll look at: 

  • What is Feeding For Breeding? 
  • Why is Feeding For Breeding so important?
  • Common nutrient deficiencies in chickens
  • How to improve your breeder flock's diet for healthier chicks

What is Feeding For Breeding? 

"Feeding for breeding" is a phrase that's common in the horse world, but it applies to all livestock, including chickens. 

Breeding roosters and hens need vitamin rich and high protein diets (around 17%) to produce healthy chicks. Feeding For Breeding involves feeding a breeder ration and/or supplementing your breeding hens and roosters in the 6 weeks before you collect eggs for setting to hatch.  

Why is Feeding For Breeding so important?

"If it's not in the egg, it's not in the chick" - This is one of the most valuable lessons I've learnt from mentors and older breeders in my poultry club. I believe it's a game-changer for anyone who struggles with poor hatch rates or chronic illnesses in their flock. 

Feeding For Breeding not only improves fertility and hatch, but gives your chicks the best possible health in the future. It also helps minimise defects in chickens. 

It's an investment in your flock's future health and will save you in years to come.  

Common nutrient deficiencies in chickens


Protein is made up of amino acids. And amino acids are the building blocks of life. Without enough of the right ones, your chicks can't hatch, let alone thrive from day 1. 

Protein also increases the number and size of eggs from your hens. And bigger eggs mean bigger chicks. 


Vitamin A is needed for embryo development and plays a critical role in respiratory health. 

Vitamin D3 is needed to help maintain a chicken's calcium-phosphorus balance.

Vitamin E deficiencies can result in chicks dying in the shell within the first 4 days of incubation or soon after hatch. 

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) deficiencies can lead to curled toes (different from crooked toes in chicks) (Damerow, 1994). This deficiency is common in breeding birds with no access to green feed (see below).

Vitamin B7 (Biotin) is a lesser known vitamin. Biotin deficiencies can lead to chicks dying in the shell at day 19-21 and has been linked to Slipped Tendons (Damerow, 1994). 


Calcium & Phosphorus

Phosphorus is so often overlooked in poultry diets. While calcium and magnesium are important in mammals, it's calcium and phosphorus that are important to poultry health. Chickens being fed a balanced ration with free-choice access to shell grit should not have a problem. Bone meal is a common source of phosphorus in commercial feeds.


Sounds too simple, doesn't it? But access to clean, cool water is a must. 


How To Improve Your Breeder Flock's Diet And Reduce Nutritional Deficiencies 

Feed a commercial breeder feed

This is the easiest way to know your breeding flock is getting a balanced diet. Always be cautious when changing feeds, but even fussy eaters should be fans of these favourites: 

1. Laucke Showbird Breeder MP 

2. Barastoc Champion Layer - 0.5% higher in protein but 0.3% lower in Crude Fat than Barastoc's Breeder Ration. I love this feed as an all-rounder. 

3. Barastoc Poultry Breeder

The best supplement for chickens

I only sell products I use and love, and this is one of them.

Solaminovit is my favourite supplement for chickens.

Use it in the 6 weeks before collecting eggs. Can be used in addition to a breeder ration.

Free-choice grit, greens and garden grubs - always!

Greens: access to grass or green vegetables every day is critical to maintaining strong, healthy chickens. Fordhook Giant is a secret of many exhibition chicken breeders!

Grit: Chickens should always have access to shell grit and hard grit to peck as they please. You can buy Australian all-natural shell grit from Chicken Coach.

Garden Grubs: allowing them to free range (especially if your chickens don’t have a run) and forage for insects for at least an hour a day (if possible) is ideal. It not only reduces stress but boosts protein. 


Elise McNamara 


Useful resources

Gail Damerow's Chicken Health Handbook has a brilliant table with Nutrition-Related Hatching Problems. This book is a must for every breeder and chicken keeper. I know many vets who recommend it, too! The Kindle version is the cheapest and is easy to search. Get it here 

Australasian Poultry has shared many terrific articles on this topic over the years, with many incredible breeders sharing their secrets for success. 
Next article Deep Litter For Chickens And Mistakes To Avoid

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