Whether you produce broilers, breeders or layers, feather development and quality are metrics that should be top of mind. Poor feather quality can have negative welfare and economic impacts on the poultry industry. For broiler breeders, poor feather quality will hinder the bird’s fertility and reproductive performance, resulting in fewer chicks and, ultimately, fewer birds making it to the processing facility. For layers, it can lead to reduced egg production. Additionally, if broilers experience poor feather quality, they will be more susceptible to scratches and wounds, which results in lower carcass quality.
All of this can negatively impact the profitability of your operation.
Below, we will further explain how poor feather status can impact productivity for broiler breeders and layers and how nutrition plays a role in improving it.
Feather development and feather quality impacts egg production
In broiler breeders, if the quality of feathers is not good or if they are broken or pulled out, their skin will be exposed. This is a big deal because they lose part of their natural insulation and they will need more energy for maintenance, especially during cold-weather months. This means that they will have fewer nutrients and less energy available for reproduction, and egg production rates may drop.
Additionally, if breeder hens don’t have sufficient feather cover, the roosters’ claws can be painful, making it less likely that they will complete the breeding process. Both of these factors result in fewer broiler chicks being produced.
Feather growth is critical for layer protection
In the case of layers, they may peck each other during times of stress. Without adequate feather cover, they will not be able to protect themselves from broken skin and bleeding. This is a problem for a few reasons.
One is that it can lead to cannibalism and mortality. Also, sustaining wounds will cause an immune response, which will utilize energy and nutrients, reducing what can be used to fuel egg production. Open wounds also present the possibility for harmful pathogens to invade through the skin, which can further exacerbate the immune response and possibly lead to sickness or further mortality. All of these scenarios result in fewer eggs going to market.
Quality poultry nutrition management and formulation is essential
While there are some environmental factors that play a role in feathering status, improper nutrition is the main cause of poor feather quality. The lack of nutrients like amino acids, vitamins and trace minerals can trigger poor feather development.
One reason for this could be simply that your birds are not consuming enough feed, whether it’s because distribution throughout the facility is inadequate or because you are not providing enough for their daily needs.
If your feed management is not a problem, it could be that your feed is not formulated or mixed correctly. In this instance, you need to work with your nutritionist and quality control team to ensure you are providing the right balance of amino acids, vitamins and trace minerals to attend to all the birds’ requirements.
Trace mineral supplements improve poultry feather growth
Among trace minerals, zinc, manganese and selenium are all responsible for the enzymatic process of feather development, and zinc is king. When birds are experiencing mineral deficiencies, we also see feather problems.
How to start supporting optimal feather development and egg production
Feathering status is critical for reproductive performance in breeders and layer hens. In the end, it can make all the difference for the profitability of your operation.