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Birds Of A Feather?

When it comes to proper diet, are chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and various game birds really “birds of a feather”, or are their dietary requirements very different? After all, they each have feathers, lay eggs, can be eaten, and have similar physical features. But surprisingly, these birds often have very different vitamin, mineral, and protein requirements. Improper feeding can cause many serious problems, including wing disorders, retinal atrophy and blindness, reproductive and laying problems, even paralysis and death. Providing the proper feed is vital in preventing these problems for your birds.

The correct amounts of the B vitamins are an important part of all bird’s diets. Unlike ruminant animals, which have special bacteria in the rumen to produce many of the water-soluble vitamins, domesticated birds need it in their feed, as their diets usually lack this important component. Inadequate B12 in chickens, for example, can cause loss of appetite, anemia, and neurological disorders. Insufficient quantities of the B vitamin Thiamin can cause neurological dysfunction, anorexia, head retraction (“star-gazing”), and convulsions. A diet low in vitamin B6 can cause anemia in ducks, and gizzard erosion, reduced egg production, and reduced hatchability in chickens.

When it comes to the vitamin niacin, the differences in bird species dietary requirements become more evident. While a chicken can convert tryptophan, found in sources such as soybean meal, into the niacin they need, waterfowl lack this ability, and so must have niacin directly available in their food source. Ducks, geese, turkeys, and pheasants are much more severely affected by niacin deficiency than are chickens, showing stunted growth, poor feathering especially around the eyes (“spectacled eyes”), a severe bowing of the legs, and enlargement of the hock joint. If the deficiency is not corrected in time, the condition of the legs can become permanent, disabling the bird. The first signs of a niacin deficiency in chickens and ducks are usually loss of appetite, slowed growth, weakness, and diarrhea. Insufficient niacin in a chick’s diet can result in “black tongue,” in which the tongue, the inside of the mouth and esophagus become inflamed at around two weeks of age. In an adult hen, weight loss, decreased egg production, and a decrease in hatchability can result. Young birds need more niacin than adults; however laying birds need this important vitamin as well, because it passes to the offspring to aid their early development.

Vitamins A, D, and E are all responsible for proper skin condition in poultry. The specific D-vitamin poultry require is D3. This vitamin aids immune function, prevents leg bowing or Ricketts, and helps strengthen bone to avoid folding fractures. Insufficient quantities of this vitamin can cause muscular atrophy in growing birds, and paralysis in adults. Vitamin D is also important for calcium absorption, necessary for eggshell strength. Vitamin A deficiency can cause reproductive failure, immune-suppression, stunted growth, retinal atrophy and night blindness, and a drop in egg production. Vitamin E improves the absorption of vitamin A, and is also necessary for reproduction, fertility, and, in conjunction with selenium, immune function. Signs of Vitamin E deficiency include imbalance and staggering, falling over, uncontrolled movements, and paralysis, also known as “crazy chick disease.” Muscular dystrophy can occur in E-deficient chicks and ducklings as well. Turkeys exhibit hock enlargement and bowed legs when deprived of vitamin E.

Vitamins aren’t the only part of the bird diet that can vary widely. Some mineral requirements can change according to age and expected outcome. If the bird’s purpose is to lay eggs, for example, its calcium requirement would be significantly higher than a bird raised for meat. A laying hen given insufficient calcium can actually break bones. However, pheasants fed a similar amount of calcium as a laying hen have been shown to grow poorly, suffer from severe paralysis, and die. Chicks fed a high-calcium diet experience reduced body weights, kidney degeneration, delayed sexual maturity, and death. But poults require more calcium in their diets than chicks, ducklings, or goslings. It is clear that the correct amount of calcium in the diet is a critical factor in the development and health of your flock. For the most part, the dietary requirement of the trace minerals zinc, selenium, copper, manganese, iron, and iodine are similar among bird species, but these minerals are very important components of the bird’s diet, so the use of high-quality feeds with the appropriate amounts of trace minerals for birds is vital.

The necessary protein content of feeds varies among birds as well. Too much protein in the diets of baby waterfowl causes a wing disorder known as “angel wing,” in which the wing doesn’t lay close to the body, but is twisted and sticks out somewhat sideways. Unless treated, this condition can become permanent, preventing the wings from ever functioning properly. The protein content of waterfowl starter feed is consequently much lower than that formulated for chickens, turkeys, and game birds.

Here at Lakeland Feed and Supply, our goal is to formulate feeds that specifically meet the requirements of each type of bird. Using the latest science and research, our Lakeland Feed Brand formulas are on the cutting-edge of animal nutrition, ensuring you of the best possible outcome for your flock. Our extensive selection of poultry and other bird feeds includes; Chick Starter, Pullet Developer, 16% and 20% Layer Crumble and Pellet, Omega Veggie Layer, Rooster Booster for meat birds, Game Bird/Turkey Starter, Game Bird/Turkey Grower, Game Bird/Waterfowl Breeder-Layer, Game Bird/Waterfowl Maintenance, and Turkey Finisher/Waterfowl Grower. You can find more information or purchase these feeds at your local Lakeland Feeds dealer, at, or by calling 877-235-2334. Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have regarding feeding practices. We have knowledgeable staff on hand to help you when deciding which feed is appropriate for your animals.

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