Feeding Modern Day Pullets

by Chance Bryant, Director of U.S. Technical Service
Feed management is one of the most crucial components to growing a top-performing modern broiler breeder flock. Over the past 35 years, the modern day broiler has advanced to become larger, have more breast meat and be far more efficient than its predecessors.

Yet these genetic advancements also mean that growers must adapt their management practices accordingly. In fact, today’s growers must constantly manage pullets and hens to keep them at an ideal weight, despite the bird’s ability to grow more rapidly on less feed due to improved genetics and housing.

This article is the first of two parts, explaining how to successfully feed and manage the broiler breeder pullets and hens of today and tomorrow. Follow these six management techniques to help grow top-performing pullets.

Feed Management for Breeder Pullets

The importance of getting pullets to feed and water right away cannot be emphasized enough. Proper feeding of chicks starts at day one, as it is essential for proper development and future performance. Chicks need access to fresh feed to stimulate proper intestinal development, yolk sac absorption, imm­­unity and growth. For best results, flock managers should keep the following in mind:

  1. The chicks’ internal organs – including liver, intestines and pancreas – grow approximately two to five times faster than the body. Proper feed and water is necessary for the development of villi that line the intestinal tract of the birds, which dictate how well the chicks convert feed and absorb nutrients, minerals, antibodies and more. 
  2. Feed and water must always be available, especially during the first few hours after placement. The main goal is to keep fresh feed in front of the flock at all times, and in the right quantities and textures. Starter feed should ideally be in the form of a small crumble to help the flock achieve the desired feed intake the first week. 
  3. Monitor the chicks’ eating behaviors and record the amount of feed chicks consume during the first seven days so you do not inadvertently cut feed amounts once you begin the daily weighed amounts at the beginning of week two. 
  4. After 21 days, you may decide to switch to a skip-a-day program to achieve the best uniformity in weight, frame size and maturity. Transitioning birds using a “step down” approach – going from every day feed to 6/1, 5/2, 4/3 and finally to skip-a-day – can help birds acclimate to days of no feed. 
  5. When using a feed guide, it is often necessary to make minor adjustments to obtain the desired weights. While it is easy to follow a feed guide perfectly, the guide cannot account for your unique flock, different feed rations and the birds’ needs. 
  6. As pullets grow, they need proper space during feeding, which can improve maximum uniformity potential and feed conversion and can help birds achieve their desired weights more easily. Adequate space is also necessary to reduce stress and chaos during feeding time. A good rule of thumb is to try to achieve the same feed space in the rearing house, from week 13 on, that is available on the production farm.

Find more information about proper feed management for pullets in our Brooding series, and remember to check back in next week as we continue our discussion about transitioning pullets to the production house and feed management best practices. 

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