What’s Inside Counts: More Than Protein for Happy, Healthy Chicks

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

Healthy Happy Strong Chicks
These happy, healthy chicks are off to a great start in life!

Walk down the aisle at your local feed store or browse online, and you’ll notice a number of different chick starter/grower feeds at different price points. Many chicken keepers consider only the protein content of feeds and choose the lowest-priced feed with the acceptable amount of protein. But why is there a difference in cost? And is protein the most important ingredient in a chick feed?

Correct levels of protein are an important part of your chick feed, but they are only one element of a good nutritional foundation. A feed with advanced nutrition combines high-quality ingredients and additives in the precise blend to support vitality, health, and growth for a superior start. It will also provide appropriate levels of amino acids, which are critical for protein formation, enabling your birds to live their best lives from the very beginning.

Reviews from the Field

We asked our customers to review our NatureWise® Chick Starter Grower with FlockShield, and it earned rave reviews from across the United States.

    • I’ve been raising chicks for years on a different feed and decided to check out NatureWise® this season on my first group of chicks. My goodness, the difference is huge! These little chicks sprouted feathers faster than my chicks last season, are super hardy, run around like crazy rockets, and look amazing. They always feel plump and thus far have been a blast. The crumble is a nice size, is not full of powder (like other brands), and is easily accessible at my store. I will keep using it this season.
      –Tucson, AZ

       

    • Two weeks ago I started my new chicks on this feed and have noticed how happy, healthy, and perky they are. No instances of sick chicks or poopy butts. So thankful!
      Madison, WI

       

    • I started feeding Nutrena NatureWise® Chick Starter Grower three weeks ago. My baby chicks have grown tremendously beautiful and healthy. I recommend this product to anyone starting a new chicken family.
      –Havana, FL

       

    • My chicks have loved Nutrena NatureWise® chick starter. I am happy to say that I haven’t lost a single chick started on it. I’ve also noticed a big difference in a sickly chick I purchased a few days ago since getting her home and on Nutrena feed. She’s perked up and made a complete turnaround. I love that Nutrena uses nature to add a little extra boost to the feed.
      –Birmingham, AL

       

    • I’ve been raising chicks for many years and recently purchased NatureWise® Chick Starter Grower medicated feed for my new babies. I am aware that chicks grow quickly, but I cannot believe how quickly the girls are growing—especially their wings. Much faster than previous years using a different feed. The girls are healthy, active, and vibrant. I believe it’s all about the feed! I’m impressed!
      –McDonough, GA

 See more customer reviews here.

What’s in a Chick Feed?

But what makes the difference? It all comes down to Nutrena’s motto: What’s inside counts. The quantity, quality, and kind of ingredients all make a difference. Chick feeds typically have several main components.

    • Proteins and amino acids help build body tissues. They also assist with metabolic function, conduct specific biological reactions, build hormones, and coordinate functions of different cells within the body.

    • Carbohydrates power cellular activity. They are the body’s preferred source of energy. They make up the largest percentage of a chicken’s diet and come mostly from grains.

    • Vitamins and minerals perform many functions in the body: they encourage healthy growth, create strong bones, and form blood cells. They also support energy use and muscle function.

Two chicks eating feed

The quantity of the ingredients affects the health and growth of your chicks. For example, too much calcium can damage your chicks’ kidneys, and too little protein can cause them to process feed inefficiently.

Feed quality is also important: the quality of the ingredients—the vitamins, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates—matters. NatureWise®’s high-quality ingredients make a difference!

Finally, the kind of ingredients is key. Some premium feeds contain extra ingredients that provide supportive nutrition for your birds, such as pre- and probiotics, yeast culture, and essential oils. These extra ingredients boost the immune system, support healthy growth, promote optimal digestion, and cut down on odor in droppings. Our NatureWise® products contain a proprietary blend of these additional ingredients called FlockShield.

But how do we know that these ingredients are useful? In addition to the reviews from satisfied customers, our scientific trials provide the proof.

Scientific Evidence

In July 2021, we set up a research trial to test the quality of our NatureWise® Chick Starter Grower feed at our Cargill Innovation Campus in Elk River, Minnesota. We selected 510 speckled Sussex chicks and divided them into six groups of 85 chicks each. Each group was fed one of six different feeds manufactured by national brands, including Nutrena’s NatureWise® Chick Starter Grower and other brands of chick starter. The birds were housed under the same conditions, with the only difference being the brand of feed, and we observed them over 18 weeks.

We examined the birds for several different variables, including body weight and breast muscle, death rate, feed conversion ratio, as well as feed consumption and instances of illness. Our NatureWise® Chick Starter Grower yielded superior results in all categories.

    • No chick deaths: We compared the 85 chicks fed NatureWise® to 85 chicks that ate a premium diet of a national competitor. Based on the study results, 3 of the chicks fed the competitor’s brand died (3.5%), which is in line with industry averages. However, none of the chicks fed NatureWise® were lost.

Chart showing 0 chick loss on NatureWise Feed and 3.55 chick loss on the leading premium brand

    • Better use of feed: The chicks in the two groups ate roughly the same amount, but the NatureWise® chicks had higher weight gain, which means their bodies used the feed better, gaining 3.7% more weight per day than the birds fed the competitor’s feed. The NatureWise® chicks also ate 2% less feed; thus the NatureWise® birds converted feed to weight more efficiently, showing a 5.9% improvement in use of feed. For owners, this means less money spent on feed.

The results of this study show that Nutrena’s blend of quality protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, as well as its FlockShield™ proprietary blend of additives, led to faster-growing, more feed-efficient, and healthier birds across all categories that we examined.

So the science proves that what’s inside counts: Nutrena NatureWise® provides superior nutrition, setting the stage for your chicks to live their best lives as healthy, happy chickens.

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Hatching Chicken Eggs: 10 Tips

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

Chicken egg incubator
Incubator with chicken eggs

You’ve got your incubator and fertilized eggs, and you’ve read all the instructions on hatching and caring for chicks. Here are some tips for a good hatch.

Housing plans: While this isn’t directly related to incubation, it’s an important point to remember! The majority of flock owners hatch eggs to get more hens. A hatch is naturally 50 percent female and 50 percent male, so before you set the eggs, make sure you have a plan for the roosters. 

Prepare well: Carefully follow the instructions that come with your incubator regarding humidity, temperature, egg turning, and location. Small changes in environment can have large consequences. Run the incubator for several days before setting the eggs and monitor the conditions. Make adjustments if needed. This ensures that the temperature and humidity will be consistent and that the incubator is working properly when you’re ready to set the eggs.

X (and O!) mark the spot: If you are turning eggs by hand, mark a X on one side and an O on the other so that you can tell which side of the egg is facing up. Be sure to use a pencil: eggs can absorb toxins from inks.

No peeking: Open the incubator as little as possible to prevent heat and humidity loss. A consistent temperature and humidity are important for the development of the eggs.

Check for development: Candle a few eggs at a time after day 7 and remove any that are infertile or that have stopped developing. This prevents harmful gases from circulating in the incubator. Hold the eggs over a candler or powerful flashlight. Note: It’s harder to candle eggs with dark shells.

Candled egg showing embryo
A candled egg showing embryo

Prepare the brooder: A day or two before the hatch date, set up your chicks’ new home, or brooder, in a room with a consistent temperature. Monitor the temperature in the brooder to ensure that it is consistent. Make sure you are prepared with a feeder and waterer for chicks.

Good feed, good start: Buy your chick starter or a starter/grower before the chicks hatch. A quality feed gives your birds the best start possible. You can learn more about medicated vs. nonmedicated chick feeds in this video and this article.

Let Mother Nature do it: Resist the urge to help chicks out of the shell. You can harm the chicks if you remove them too soon. This long process can take as many as 24 hours, and the healthy, strong ones will make it out. Leave viable eggs in for up to two extra days.

A healthy chick will hatch with no human assistance.

Let them dry off: The chicks will be damp and may not move a lot after they hatch. Hatching is exhausting! Leave the chicks in incubator until they are fully dry and fluffy. Then you can transfer them to the brooder box.

A newly hatched wet chick

Clean up: When the hatch is done, use a solution of 10% bleach/90% water to sanitize the incubator. Then wash it with warm, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Always clean between hatches to prevent disease transmission.

Now get ready to enjoy your new chicks!

 

Choosing the Right Chick Feed

By Jennifer Murtoff, Home to Roost LLC

Did you know that choosing the right chick feed can help your chicks develop healthy digestive systems? A healthy digestive system is key to a healthy chicken. It aids in the development of the immune system and promotes absorption of nutrients. Professionally formulated feeds provide your birds with proper nutrition at all stages of life.

The Importance of Chick Feed

Chicks need a feed that is different from adult layer feed. Chick starter-grower feed is 18% protein, compared to 16% to 18% in a layer ration. Chicks grow very quickly, and they need more protein to support their bodies in this important process.

Chicks also need less of certain vitamins and minerals that are necessary for laying hens. For example, chicks do not require as much calcium as laying hens; in fact, too much calcium can cause kidney damage. Be sure your chicks get a starter-grower feed, rather than a layer ration. At 16 weeks, you can switch from starter-grower to a layer diet.

Gut Microflora

A nutritionally balanced diet with proper amounts of protein, vitamins, and minerals supports your chicks’ growth. Some diets also provide gut bacteria for an extra healthy start! When chicks hatch, they have no gut bacteria. They develop their gut bacteria by consuming some of their mother’s droppings and absorbing her microflora [MY-kruh-FLOOR-uh], gut-friendly organisms that include certain kinds of bacteria and yeast. These tiny living things populate the digestive system, aid in digestion, and prevent harmful organisms from flourishing in the gut.

However, many chicks are hatched and brooded by humans, rather than a hen, and will not get supplemental microflora until they are allowed access to the outdoors. In fact, chicks that are raised in a completely germ-free environment develop inferior digestive systems. If your chicks are not raised by a mother hen, they will benefit from a high-quality feed that contains the varied elements necessary for gut health.

Some feeds provide the following components for an extra-healthy boost:

  1. Fungal Components: Also called yeast cultures or fermentation metabolites, these additives are made up of beneficial compounds produced by fermentation of dietary yeast. When added to a chicken’s gut, yeast culture supports the immune system and gut microflora.
  2. Probiotics: These live microorganisms aid in digestion, support the existence of beneficial bacteria, and can protect against bad bacteria. They also help the gut to better absorb nutrients and can prevent or cure diarrhea. Here are a few you will see on feed labels:

ProbioticPronunciationPurpose
Lactobacillus acidophilus[LAK-toh-buh-SI-luhs a-suh-DAH-fuh-luhs]Helps ferment carbohydrates in feed, produces compounds that support growth, reduces impact of harmful micro-organisms
Lactobacillus casei[LAK-toh-buh-SI-luhs KAY-see-eye]Helps ferment carbohydrates in feed, reduces colonization of bad bacteria, reduces impact of harmful micro-organisms
Bifidobacterium thermophilum[bye-fih-DOH-bak-TEER-ee-um ther-muh-FIH-lum]Helps ferment carbohydrates in feed, benefits immune system
Enterococcus faecium[en-tuh-row-KAW-kuhs FEE-see-um]Helps ferment carbohydrates in feed, reduces impact of harmful micro-organisms

  1. Prebiotics: The prefix pre- means “before,” and prebiotics pave the way for probiotics to do their job. They serve as food for good bacteria, supporting their growth and strengthening the chicken’s ability to resist bad bacteria.

  1. Essential Oils: Some poultry farmers are integrating essential oils into their birds’ diets to promote flock health and prevent disease. These plant products are distilled from leaves, flowers, stems, and roots. Some backyard chicken owners regularly use herbs because they believe they have antimicrobial, astringent, and antifungal properties, as well as the ability to repel insects. Essential oils from these plants are also making their way into chicken feeds.    

Some essential oils act as antioxidants in poultry, protecting the intestine and boosting the immune system. This antioxidant function can be beneficial for chicks early in life, when their immune systems are developing. Proprietary research has shown that chicks fed a diet that includes essential oils grow more quickly, developing good lean muscle mass with less body fat, and have better vitality. They also consume less feed, indicating that their bodies are processing the feed more efficiently. 

Learn more about NatureWise® Chick Starter Grower with FlockShield™ and essential oils, which promotes gut health and supports your birds’ immune systems, leading to a healthier flock. Using a combination of oregano, thyme, rosemary, star anise, these new poultry diets support the vitality of your chicks.  

Feeding Tips

Here are a few tips to help your chicks on their way to living their best lives.

  • Learning what to eat: After your chicks have learned to drink, scatter some feed on the floor of the brooder. They will naturally start to peck at it. You can tap your finger on the feed, similar to how a mother hen uses her beak to show the chicks where the food is.
  • All-day buffet: When you hatch or bring home your chicks, you’ll want to provide chick starter-grower feed 24/7.
  • Using a proper dish: Provide starter-grower feed in a chick feeder, which is a shallow dish with a lid. The lid has circular holes cut in the top to allow the chicks access to the feed. This prevents the chicks from dusting or sitting in the feed. It also helps keep droppings and bedding out of the feed.
  • Feeding (and limiting) treats: After 6 weeks, you can provide treats such as scratch grains, mealworms, or kitchen scraps. If they eat anything other than starter-grower, provide fine grit in a separate feeder. This will help them digest these foods. Be sure to give treats for only 15 minutes once per day and remove what they don’t eat. About 85% of their diet should come from a formulated feed, rather than from treats.
  • Duration for feeding starter-grower: Continue to provide chick starter-grower until the chicks are about 16 weeks old. Then it’s time to switch to layer ration. (Note: Meat birds have different dietary requirements.)
  • Providing clean feed and water: Make sure to keep your feeders clean, even if that means dumping out soiled food. Also be sure your chicks have access to fresh, clean water at all times.

Medicated Feed, Nonmedicated Feed, and Coccidiosis Vaccines

You’ve no doubt heard of medicated feed, and you may be wondering about what it does and if it would benefit your chicks. Here are some facts to help you decide whether to use medicated feed.

Medicated feed helps chicks develop resistance to one organism: coccidia. These parasites live in the soil and their oocysts, similar to eggs, invade a chick’s digestive tract. The parasites cause a disease called coccidiosis. Most cases occur at 4 to 5 weeks of age and can produce bloody droppings. The chicks stop eating and growing and may be hunched with fluffed-up feathers.

Most retail medicated chick starter and starter/grower feeds use the drug amprolium to control coccidia and allow chicks’ immunity to coccidia to develop. Retail medicated feeds have low levels of amprolium that are toxic for coccidia but safe for other species. Amprolium reduces the amount of thiamine available in the intestinal tract of a chick, and coccidia will die without enough thiamine from their host. The amount of thiamine allows some coccidia to remain alive in the chicks’ digestive system. The birds’ bodies then can build resistance to the parasites without dying from the infestation.

A second line of attack against coccidiosis is a live vaccine. The vaccine works differently from medicated feed. The vaccine contains a controlled amount of live coccidia, which allows chicks’ immune systems to develop resistance. You can ask your hatchery to vaccinate for coccidiosis when you order your chicks. If you purchase chicks from a store or farm, always ask if they have been vaccinated for coccidiosis. Note that the vaccine is not 100% effective. It does not prevent against all strains of coccidia.

  • For chicks that ARE vaccinated for coccidiosis, there is no need to provide medicated feed.
  • For chicks that ARE NOT vaccinated for coccidiosis, DO provide medicated feed.

Regardless of whether you choose the vaccine or the medicated feed, make sure to provide a warm, clean, draft-free brooder to further protect against coccidiosis.

Facts about Medicated Feed with Amprolium

  • Amprolium is the most popular drug used in medicated feed.
  • Medicated feed protects ONLY against coccidiosis. It does not protect against Marek’s disease or parasitic worms, such as roundworms (ascarids). It is not an antibiotic. 
  • Medicated feed is not a cure for coccidiosis. If your chicks get sick, medicated feed will not help them.  
  • Too much amprolium can cause serious vitamin deficiencies. Follow all written product instructions for medicated feed and other products containing amprolium.
  • If you use a medicated feed, do not provide liquid-solution amprolium (Corid) in drinking water.
  • If amprolium is fed to waterfowl, it is off-label use and should be done under advice from a veterinarian.

See the post “Medicated Chick Starter Facts” for more information on medicated feed.

The next time you examine a feed label, keep these points in mind. Now that you know more about chick feed ingredients, you can get your birds off to a healthier start and well on their way to living their best lives.

Feeding Chicks and Layers Together

Bringing baby chicks home to add to your existing flock? Check out this video from Nutrena poultry expert Twain Lockhart for tips on feeding the entire flock properly through this transition.

 

Helpful tips:

  • Feed baby chicks, or juveniles, chick starter crumble until they are 16 weeks of age
  • Have oyster shell available for adult females as crumble feed have very little calcium

 

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