Feeding For Breeding - Tips For Healthy Chicks

Last Updated: 22 October 2021

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

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

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

    What is Feeding For Breeding? 

    How to breed healthy chickens
    Image: Trio of Gold Sebrights

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

    So what should you feed chickens for the best fertile egg production?

    Breeding roosters and hens need vitamin-rich and high protein diets (around 17%) to produce healthy chicks. 

    Feeding For Breeding means providing a breeder ration for your breeding hens and roosters. Many experienced show breeders also add a poultry supplement in the six weeks before collecting eggs for setting to hatch. 

    Why is Feeding For Breeding so important?

    When learning how to breed and raise healthy chickens, one of the most valuable lessons I received from mentors and older breeders in my poultry club was:

    "If it's not in the egg, it's not in the chick"

    This advice will prove a game-changer for anyone struggling with low hatch rates or chronic illnesses in their flock.  

    Discovering the best feed for breeding chickens not only improves fertility and hatch but gives your chicks the best possible health in the future. It also helps minimise defects in hatching chickens.

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

    Common nutrient deficiencies in chickens

    What do backyard and breeding chickens need for maximum nutrition? Make sure your feed includes quality sources of the following for breeding chickens:

    How to improve chicken fertility
    Image: Breeding pair of large Old English Game 

    Protein

    When you’re considering ‘what is the best feed for layer chickens?’ one essential nutrient is protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, which 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, stronger chicks.

    Vitamins

    • 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 four days of incubation or soon after hatching.
    • 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 have been linked to Slipped Tendons (Damerow, 1994). 

    Minerals

    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 for poultry health. Chickens being fed a balanced commercial ration with free-choice access to shell grit should not have a problem. Bone meal is a common source of phosphorus in commercial feeds.

    Our 100% natural, Australian seaweed meal is jam-packed with more than 50 common, rare and trace minerals. 

    Water

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

    How to improve chicken fertility, hatch rates and chick health

    Feed a commercial breeder feed 

    Commercial chicken feeds are the easiest way to ensure your breeding flock is enjoying a balanced diet. This should be the majority of their diet.

    Of all the ones on the market, which is the best chicken feed for laying backyard chickens and breeder flocks?

    Always be cautious when changing feeds, but even fussy eaters should be fans of the following 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. It's also a smaller pellet, perfect for bantams and large fowl.
    3. Barastoc Poultry Breeder
    The best vitamins for chickens
    Image: Solaminovit vitamin and amino acid supplement for poultry. 

    The best supplement for chickens - a must for breeding healthy chicks

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

    Solaminovit is my favourite supplement for chickens. It's an exceptional quality formula, covering all of the vitamins and amino acids you need for strong, healthy chicks.

    Add to water or a breeder ration in the six weeks before collecting eggs. 

    Hens eating grass
    Image: Hybrid hens free-ranging on grass

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

    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

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

    Garden Grubs: allowing your flock 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 and but boosts protein.


    Elise McNamara, Chicken Consultant & Educator.

    I’d love to hear your success stories with feeding for breeding. Comment below, tag me on Instagram or Facebook or send me an email at - elise@chickencoach.com

    Want your chickens to be the healthiest and happiest they can be? I offer online backyard chicken workshops, online courses and coaching programs, phone consultations, and in-person support to families, schools, and free-range egg farmers. Visit my online shop for natural, tried-and-tested poultry supplies in Australia.

    Getting started with backyard chickens? Grab my free guide - The First 8 Steps To Naturally Healthy and Happy Backyard Chickens now!

     

    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. 
    Previous article A Guide to Chicken Illnesses and What to Do with Sick Chickens
    Next article What Are the Advantages of a Deep Litter System?

    Leave a comment

    Comments must be approved before appearing

    * Required fields