Health is wealth: Demystifying poultry supplements

With a dizzying range of vitamin-enriched poultry supplements available on the market, Ricky Love from AFS Supplies simplifies the key principles of poultry health and nutrition.

With twelve months of on-off lockdowns under our belt, it would be fair to assert that the Covid-19 pandemic has led many of us to a deeper understanding of how to keep our bodies and minds at their healthiest and most productive. Months spent indoors through a tough winter made the effects of vitamin D deficiency strikingly obvious to some, whilst for others the disruption of tried and tested diet and exercise regimes threw wellbeing temporarily out of whack.

In the same way that nine-to-five office workers might be encouraged to pop a multivitamin to make up for all those hours indoors and the nutritionally questionable cafeteria sandwiches, it is vitally important for commercial poultry flocks that their keepers are sensitive to these animals’ complex nutritional needs. With the flock’s health, productivity and, ultimately, your income resting on the correct nutrition of your hens, understanding how to supplement their feed to protect against common health scares and vitamin deficiencies is an investment in the future.


Why supplement a flock’s feed?

For largely enclosed birds, even the modern, nutrient-rich grain feeds can fall short of meeting a hen’s full nutritional needs. Lack of access to direct sunlight and organic matter can quickly lead to mineral deficiencies and changes in the barn environment through the seasons can have a noticeable impact on the overall health of the group.

Extensive agricultural research undertaken in the 1950s and 60s on nutrition for commercial laying flocks revealed much about what we now know about a hen’s optimum health conditions and how to achieve them. Generally speaking, chickens require a balanced intake of most vitamins (vitamin C being the notable exception) in order to develop into healthy adulthood.

Whilst for many free-range hens or small-scale garden-kept flocks, a range of these nutrients can be consumed organically through vegetable roughage, food scraps and insects found outdoors, this variety is much harder to achieve with covered, barn-kept birds. Most commercial modern feeds are designed with this nutrient-balance in mind, nevertheless, there will be times when the flock is subject to extra stress throughout the farming year when supplements can improve productivity and safeguard the health of the flock.


When to use a supplement

The most common situations during which a farmer may want to supplement a flock’s normal feed can be broken down into three main groups: during environmental stresses, during specific stages of the chicken’s lifecycle, and during health crises.

Stress: For commercial chickens any changes to their environment can cause animals to lose their appetite and thus inhibit their growth and productivity. Examples of such scenarios would be a change in their living space, being transferred from one place to another, very cold winter weather, or heat stress brought on by the increased temperatures of the warmer months.

Age-appropriate supplements: Specialist breeding flocks may need to be supplemented with extra vitamins to encourage optimum health for new-born chicks, while most young chickens (chicks and growers) have extremely high protein requirements and may need to be given supplements in addition to specialised, protein-rich feeds. Multivitamins dissolved in the flock’s water sources are a good way to ensure that the younger animals get the best start in life which is in turn essential for their long-term productivity.

Sickness: If your birds have experienced significant stresses, such as being moved from one location to another, this can weaken the immune system and leave the flock more vulnerable to infection and disease. Supplementing a flock with a multivitamin in this scenario would be a preventative step to ensure their continued welfare. Similarly, if a flock shows signs of one or two sick birds, paying extra attention to the nutritional needs of the remaining hens and bolstering their immune capabilities decreases the likelihood of a disease crisis in the barn.


How to supplement

Calcium and vitamin D3: Using a water-soluble calcium and D3 supplement for your hens can have numerous health benefits. Chickens rely on calcium for optimum regrowth after their autumn moult and the mineral is absolutely essential for the quality of the eggshells that laying hens are able to produce.

When a chicken consumes calcium in its diet, the nutrient enters the bloodstream and is directed to the shell gland, a process which vitamin D3 assists by increasing the rate at which calcium is able to pass through the intestinal lining into the hen’s circulatory system. Each medium eggshell is composed of approximately 2g of pure calcium. Making up 40 per cent of the shell, the importance of these minerals to laying flocks cannot be overstated. Young hens in their first year or two of laying will often also require extra calcium to meet the demands of their growing bodies and to adapt to this consistent egg production.

When external stress factors or illness and old age are affecting the strength of the eggshells the flock is able to produce, a water-soluble calcium and D3 supplement can be a method of extending their useful laying life. Providing protection against bone diseases and supporting the health of laying hens through their peak production years are two additional benefits of such a supplement.

AFS Supplies offers Liquid Calcium, Supervitamin D3 and combined Shell Max supplements to support egg quality and productivity.

Electrolytes: Perfect for use when the flock is under additional stress, such as during warmer weather in the summer months, electrolyte supplements replenish vital minerals in the hen’s system that may have been lost as a consequence of environmental pressures. Extreme heat, transportation or the addition of new birds are all factors which could lead to your hens becoming agitated and losing minerals as part of their body’s natural stress response. Most electrolyte supplements are administered via the water system and can also be useful in preparing young animals for vaccinations, drug treatments and protecting older hens from disease.

AFS Supplies offers Solulyte supplements to support flock health and protect against stress-related loss of condition.

Multivitamins: Multivitamin supplements are the Swiss army knife of effective poultry farming. Excellent for continued use during periods of stress, for starting young chicks or to bolster the health of a flock following disease or environmental challenges; these handy supplements can protect against a myriad of common health issues. Ensuring that young animals are receiving quality nutrition from the outset increases the likelihood of long-term productivity and an adult life free of health complications caused by stunted or abnormal growth. An effective barrier against complications from stress, heat stress, sickness and poor productivity, multivitamin supplements are an essential investment for the health of commercial poultry flocks and game birds alike.

Avoiding plunges in productivity and profit caused by common, and often entirely preventable, health complications frequently comes down to better understanding of what our animals need at any given time. The right supplements for the right hens at the right moment can have far-reaching consequences for the efficiency of your operation. After all, it is easy for us to see the benefits of quality nutrition in regard to our own bodies, so why shouldn’t we extend the same treatment to our birds?

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