Grain is added to poultry feed mainly as a source of energy in the form of starch. Corn is the grain most routinely used in commercial poultry production because it is easiest to digest. Alternative grains are typically evaluated in relation to corn.
Feeding whole grains to chickens (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association)
Sticky droppings: A feed-related problem (Washington State University)
The high prices for corn, especially organic corn, has resulted in more poultry producers looking at alternative grains.
When using grains, it is important to make sure that they have not been contaminated with mold. Molds produce mycotoxins, some of which can adversely effect poultry performance or even kill the birds.
Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus) was a primary food for Central American Indians before Columbus arrived in the New World. The energy content of amaranth is similar to that of other cereal grains, but the protein content is twice as high. The grain has a protein content of 14-18%. It is high in lysine and well balanced in other amino acids.
Raw grain amaranth contains heat labile, growth depressing anti-nutrients for chickens, although Japanese quail are not effected . Amaranth can be used as a feed ingredient for broilers if heat treatment is applied to the grain prior to feeding. The heat treatment is necessary to partially or completely destroy the anti-nutritive factors present. Research has shown that extruded grain amaranth can be fed to broiler chicks without adversely affecting body weight, feed utilization, or carcass yields. An upper limit of inclusion 40% is recommended. Amaranth grain also has a market in the health food industry where it is an alternative for those with allergies to wheat. If it is to be used in poultry feeds it will have to compete with this market.
Research has shown that heat processed amaranth grain can fully replace meat-and-bone meal in broiler diets. Addition research has shown that steam pelleting of broiler diets containing amaranth increased feed intake and improved growth, but there was also higher fat deposition. Adding molasses to the diet did not improve chicken performance. Utilization of amaranth increases as the broilers get older indicating that amaranth should be included in only finisher diets.
With regards to laying hens, research has shown that extruded amaranth was incorporated into corn-soybean meal layer rations. Layers fed diets containing amaranth required significantly less feed to produce a dozen eggs or a gram of egg than those fed the control diet. No differences were observed for shell strength, shell thickness, number or severity of blood spots, or Haugh units (measure of egg quality). Extruded grain amaranth may be effectively used in layer rations without detrimentally altering production characteristics but pigment needs to be added to the feed to improve yolk color.
In addition to feeding the grain, the amaranth leaf is also a potential feed ingredient .Amaranth is known by other names around the world - pigweed, callaloo and mchicha (which means 'a vegetable for all' in swahili). Amaranth leaves are nutritionally similar to beets, swiss chard and spinach, but contain three times more calcium and three times more niacin (vitamin B3) than spinach leaves.
Sun-dried amaranth leaf meal is high in crude protein (~23%), including methionine, and dietary energy. Amaranth leaf meal can only be included in broiler diets up to 5% unless the diets are supplement with an enzyme cocktail that provides cellulase, glucanase and xylanase activity (Example: Roxazyme G2).
Barley is commonly used in Canada and Europe as the major energy source in poultry diets, but is considered a low energy grain. The lower energy value of barley is due to a low starch content, a high fiber content, and the presence of beta-glucans. Beta-glucans cause low digestibility and sticky droppings. The sticky droppings create bad litter, which can cause hock problems and damage the breast of broilers. With layers, the sticky droppings adhere to the cage and mark eggs decreasing their quality and marketability. Barley is considered inferior to either corn or wheat as an ingredient in poultry diets. Barley contains twice as many fatty acids as wheat, which accounts for its 10% higher caloric content. Barley contains over 17% fiber, which is 40% more than that in wheat.
Poultry fed diets based on barley have been shown to be more susceptible to necrotic enteritis than those on corn-based diets. The development of commercially available enzyme preparations have increased the use of barley in poultry feeds, but the use of feed enzymes is restricted in certified organic poultry production.
Nutrition and management: Feeding barley grain - Effect of bushel weight (Government of Alberta's Agriculture and Rural Development, Canada)
Feeding barley and wheat to swine and poultry (North Dakota State University)
Research report: Evaluating whole hulless barley feeding for broiler chickens (Nova Scotia, Canada)
Research report: Effects of supplementary enzymes in barley diets
Barley by-products - Brewers grains
Buckwheat (Fagopyrum sagittatum) has long been used as a livestock and poultry feed, but, unfortunately, little data is available on its use. The literature suggests that buckwheat has reasonable feed value, roughly comparable to oats. The grain contains 11-13% crude protein and is the best source of lysine among the feed grains, and is the only one not lysine deficient. The proteins of buckwheat are of high biological value proteins with essential amino acids making up over one third of the total protein.
Buckwheat grain is considered to have lower feed value than grain of cereal crops because of its relatively high fiber content and low digestible nutrients. Buckwheat also contains fagopyrin, a compound which causes photosensitization of light-skinned animals. High levels of buckwheat have resulted in an increased incidence of sun-burned broiler chickens arriving at the processing plant.
Alternative field crops manual - Buckwheat (University of Wisconsin)
Buckwheat (University of Delaware)
Buckwheat (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)
Buckwheat - Production and Management (Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, Canada)
Buckwheat cover crop handbook (Cornell University)
Corn by-products - Corn gluten meal, Corn distillers grains
Oat grains are composed of about 20% hulls, resulting in a high fiber/low energy grain. The hulless or naked oat, however, has a feeding value similar to that of corn. The energy content of naked oats is 17% and the energy content is similar to that of wheat. Oat lipids have a high proportion of palmitic acid leading to a “harder” fat being deposited in the chicken carcass.
Oats (both regular and naked) contain beta-glucans, which can cause digestive problems and sticky litter when fed to poultry. Researchers have reported that up to 40% naked oats could be included in broiler diets with no adverse effect on growth, feed efficiency, shrinkage, dressing percentage or bone strength.
At 50% inclusion in broiler diets, naked oats have been shown to have a negative effect on some sensory quality parameters (tenderness, juiciness and to some extent stringiness and rubberiness). This was not found at the 25% inclusion level. Some research reports indicate that up to 66% naked oats can be included in layer diets with no adverse affects on egg yolk, feed intake, egg weight, or egg production.
The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan - Oats (Canada)
Research report: Evaluating whole hulless oats feeding for broiler chickens (Nova Scotia, Canada)
Naked oats as a feedstuff for roaster chickens (Nova Scotia, Canada)
Oat by-products - Oat groats
Millet is a collective term for seeds from a variety of crops including pearl millet, foxtail millet, and proso millet. Pearl millet is the most widely grown of the millets. It was first grown in Africa but is now raised in many different parts of the world.
The protein content of pearl millet varies depending on cultivation conditions, but is typically higher than in corn. The essential amino acid profile of pearl millet is also more balanced than corn. In addition, pearl millet has a higher oil content than the other common cereal grains and is a better source of linolenic acid. In research broilers fed diets containing up to 50% pearl millet performed as well, or better, than broilers fed typical corn-soybean meal diets.
Pearl millet is a relatively small grain making grinding it difficult. As a result, pearl millet is typically rolled rather than ground. Unfortunately, the necessary equipment is not available in some feed milling plants. This is often the case with smaller feed mills. Research has shown that up to 10% whole pearl millet seeds can be incorporated into pelleted broiler diets without adversely affecting broiler performance.
Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) is a cereal grain that originated in the highlands of South America. It is a unique cereal grain because it is resistant to drought as well as to light frost. It is high in protein (12.2% crude protein) and specifically the amino acids lysine (6.7 % of CP) and methionine (2.9 % of CP). The quality of the protein portion is similar to that of casein. Unfortunately, quinoa also contains a number of anti-nutritional substances, such as saponins, phytic acid, tannins and trypsin inhibitors, which can have a negative effect on performance and survival of monogastric animals when it is used as the primary dietary energy source. Differences in levels of anti-nutritional factors may be found in different types of quinoa that have been grown under different conditions.
Rye is not recommended for growing chickens (i.e., broilers and pullets) and turkeys. Including high levels of rye in poultry diets typically causes problems for graining chicks. The problem is the water-soluble, highly viscous non-starch polysaccharides referred to as pentosans or arabinoxylans. They are present in low amounts in rye (about 3.5%) and interfere with digestion of all nutrients in the diet, but especially the fats, fat-soluble vitamins, starch and protein. Chicks fed diets with rye produce a wet and sticky excreta. There is also a higher moisture level in litter, increasing the problem of ammonia production.
Rye may be fed to laying hens but should be introduced only after the hens have reached peak egg product ton (about 40 weeks of age). Rye should not be more than 40% of the diet. They may have sticky droppings which can increase the incidence of of stained eggs.
There are commercial enzymes available that can counteract the negative effects of the rye.
Characteristics of rye as a feed grain (University of Saskatchewan)
Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) is similar in composition to corn but contains the anti-nutritive factor tannin. Tannins (phenolics) inhibit digestive enzyme activity and form complexes with protein that resist digestion. The maximum amount of sorghum tannin that can be included in broiler diets without adversely affecting growth rate or feed efficiency is unclear. Research suggest that the maximum level for dietary tannins is between 1.3 and 2.5% tannin on a dry matter basis.
Sorghum is limiting in several amino acids, including lysine, methionine and glycine. There is very little data available on the effect of sorghum inclusion on meat yield and quality, but one study has shown a significant reduction in both eviscerated carcass weight and dressing out percentage of broilers reared on sorghum.
Triticale: An alternative cereal grain in broiler starter diets (University of California)
Wheat is used in many countries,especially in Canada and Europe, as the major energy source in poultry diets. Wheat varieties are classified as red or white depending on the seed coat color, hard or soft depending on the kernel texture, and winter or spring depending on time of planting. In terms of feeding value, the main classification of interest is kernel texture since this most strongly effects nutrient composition.
Hard wheat varieties generally have a higher lysine content than soft varieties. The hardness of these wheats is due to the strong binding between the starch and the protein components. Within the hard wheats, protein levels can vary from 10-18% depending on the variety and growing conditions.
Wheat contains water-soluble, highly viscous non-starch polysaccharides referred to as pentosans or arabinoxylans (about 5-8%), which can cause problems with digesta viscosity. Feed enzymes are available to improve performance of chickens feed wheat-based diets.
Wheat as a replacement for corn in poultry diets (British Columbia's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Canada)
Feeding whole grains to chickens (Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association - MOFGA)
The feeding of whole wheat to broilers (Poultry Industry Council, Canada)
Whole wheat for laying hens (Atlantic Poultry Research Facilities, Canada)
Feeding barley and wheat to swine and poultry (North Dakota State University)
Research report: Evaluating whole wheat feeding for broiler chickens (Nova Scotia)
Wheat by-products - bran, middlings
New research on feeding value of sprouted wheat for poultry (Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, Canada)
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