What do poultry eat?
The basis of any chicken diet is a high quality poultry pellet or a poultry crumb. These feeds contain various nutrients and are targeted for the animals use (layer hen, broiler, broiler-breeder).
Layer hens Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns are good egg layers. The top priority for layer hens is that the egg is of good quality, both the internal make up and the outer shell. Two important nutrients that contribute to this are protein and calcium. Calcium plays a particularly strong role in the quality of the egg shell. There are other factors that can influence egg quality; such as age, welfare and health. Typical layer feed contains 17% protein e.g. Dairygold Layers Pellets.
Broilers Broiler is the general term used for a chicken bred for meat. They are typically white. The top priority for broiler hens is the meat yield, which is the amount of edible meat that you get from the bird. Nutritional needs should be met from an early age. Typical broiler feed contains 21% protein up to week four e.g. MM Poultry Starter Crumb and decreases to 18% from four weeks to finishing e.g. MM Poultry Finisher Pellets.
The labels you will find on poultry meat and eggs will be either cage, barn, free-range or organic.
Battery Birds are housed individually in small cages with no space to express natural behaviours. Battery cages have been banned in the European Union since 2012 for welfare reasons.
Cage Birds are grouped together in cages that have slightly more room for movement than battery cages. Birds have limited space to exercise and express natural behaviour.
Barn Birds are housed inside but usually with some enrichment i.e. a perch to sit on. In order to comply with animal welfare standards, allowing animals to express their natural behaviour is important. Fowl such as chickens spend some of their time perching for rest, preening and it helps them feel secure.
Free-range In this system, birds are stocked at lower density, have access to open air runs and must have enriched housing.
Organic On many organic farms, the birds are also technically free-range but the egg quality standards do not allow them to be coded as both. The land the birds have access to must be farmed organically, the feed that they receive must come from organic sources including non-GMO and the routine use of antibiotics is prohibited.
Types of Poultry
Common breeds of chickens raised in Ireland are Rhode Island Red, Marans, Silkie, Minorca, Leghorns, Bantams, Sussex
Common breeds of turkeys Raised in Ireland are the Bronze turkey and the Bourbon Red turkey.
Egg Laying Process in Hens
Eggs are produced by hens are part of their reproduction cycle. When a hen reaches maturity, lighting conditions trigger hormones to start the egg laying cycle. It takes about 25 hours for a hen to create an egg from start to finish. As soon as one egg is laid, another begins to form.
Eggs are formed in layers starting from the inside out.
The Yolk – Starts forming in the hen’s ovary. When the yolk reaches the right size, it is released into the oviduct, where the rest of the egg will form.
The White – In its journey through the oviduct, the next layer to be added is the egg white (albumen). This layer takes about 3 hours to be formed.
The Shell Membrane – The next layer to be added in the oviduct is the shell membrane. This takes about 1.25 hours. It is a very thin layer between the egg white and the shell, and it almost looks like tissue paper. Have you ever cracked an egg shell but the egg didn’t break? The shell membrane was still intact holding everything together.
The Shell – The egg then reaches the hen’s uterus, also known as the shell gland. This is where the shell is added to the egg. The shell of the egg is made of calcite. The shell is also formed in layers over the course of 19 hours, where pigment is added. All egg shells begin as white. Blue and brown pigments are added during the shell forming process. The color of the pigment depends on the breed of chicken.
The Bloom – The bloom is the protective layer or cuticle that covers the egg shell and is the last layer added in egg formation. It is added after the egg leaves the uterus, right before it exits from the hen’s vent. This coating seals out bacteria and maintains the moisture inside the egg. Leaving the bloom intact will help keep your eggs fresher, longer.Chickens lay one egg a day but if eggs are continually collected daily, hens will continue to lay eggs.
Skinless chicken is high in protein with an average portion containing half of an average woman’s daily requirements.
Chicken is low in fat and saturated fat which is a great choice for those watching their weight or cholesterol levels.
Chicken is naturally low in salt which fits perfectly in a healthy balanced diet.
One portion of chicken contains half of our Vitamin B3 (niacin) requirement, needed for a healthy metabolism and to release energy from the food that we eat.
Chicken is a valuable source of minerals, it provides us with selenium needed for a healthy immune system.
To maximise the health benefits of meat, include wholegrains and a plentiful variety of fruit and vegetables to your diet.
As part of a healthy, balanced diet, eggs provide the body with essential nutrients.
Eggs are high in protein, two eggs supply an average man with half of his daily protein requirements. It is the best form of protein important for muscle growth and maintenance.
Eggs are also high in Vitamin D. Most Irish people don’t get enough of vitamin D, but two eggs give you a third of what you need in a day. Sunny Side up please!
Eggs are rich in Vitamin B12 which is an essential nutrient for nerve function.
Eggs are also rich in minerals. They contain over a third of your daily requirements of selenium and iodine which is needed for healthy thyroid function and immunity.