I’ve kept chickens for more than a decade, but it was only after starting this blog that I really started doing research into chicken health issues and nutrition. I’ll admit I still only have a rudimentary knowledge of vitamins: where they are found and what they do in the body.
If you feed your birds manufactured feed and wonder what’s in the bag, are interested in the nutritional requirements of your birds and what happens when they don’t get enough of them, then read on.
Vitamins are a group of organic compounds that are divided into two categories: fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) and water-soluble (B and C). Chickens only require small quantities for normal body functions, growth and reproduction, but not getting enough of them can lead to a number of diseases or syndromes.
Vitamin A is required for normal growth; reproduction and maintenance of epithelial cells (skin and the linings of the digestive, reproductive, and respiratory tracts); vision; immune system function and cellular communication.
Deficiency causes nutritional roup (inflammation of, and mucous discharge from, the mouth and eyes), eyelids stick together with thick discharge, skin cells are replaced by keratin and die, issues in the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, ruffled feathers, weight loss, decreased egg production and hatchability.
Sources: sweet potatoes, kale, carrots, broccoli, wheat germ, fish liver and soybean oils, alfalfa, greens, germinated pulses, grains and dairy.
The B vitamins include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, choline, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folic acid and cyanocobalamin. They are involved in various functions, including converting food into energy.
Thiamine (Vitamin B1) is necessary for proper carbohydrate metabolism and transporting energy within cells.
Deficiency: embryonic mortality, weight loss, ruffled feathers, dropping of wings, paralysis and wry neck.
Amprolium is a thiamine blocker used to treat Coccidiosis.
Sources: wheat bran, cereal grains, beans, nuts.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) maintains energy, blood cell health and metabolism; as an antioxidant prevents cell damage.
Deficiency results in issues for chicks: increased embryonic mortality (peaks between 18 to 20 days of incubation), diarrhea, curled toes, muscle weakness in legs, splayed leg, dwarfing, clubbed down. Decreased egg production in laying hens.
Sources: grasses, brewer’s yeast fish, yams and starchy vegetables, eggs, non-citrus fruits.
Niacin (Vitamin B3) promotes healthy nervous and digestive systems; makes and repairs cells.
Deficiency contributes to decreased appetite and growth, weakness, poor feathering and diarrhea.
Sources: fish, liver, peanuts.
Choline (Vitamin B4) supports liver health, healthy brain development, muscle movement and the nervous system.
Deficiency causes slipped tendon; abnormally fatty liver.
Sources: fish, eggs, shellfish, yeast, wheat, rice.
Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5) is required to process fats and carbohydrates.
Deficiency leads to decreased hatchability, embryonic mortality and weak chicks.
Sources: grains, legumes, dairy, eggs.
Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) is required for proper metabolizing of amino acids.
Deficiency causes weakness, rough feathers, convulsions and jerky movements.
Sources: cereal grains, yeast, eggs, organ meat, broccoli, spinach, alfalfa.
Biotin (Vitamin B7) improves keratin infrastructure (i.e. feathers, beaks and toenails); aids in the synthesis of vitamins B9 and B12.
Deficiency leads to skeletal deformities, impairment of mineralization in long bones, parrot beak, webbed toes and slipped tendon.
Sources: egg yolks, nuts, legumes, bananas, cauliflower.
Folic Acid (Vitamin B9) helps the body produce and maintain new cells.
Deficiency causes poor growth and feathering, slipped tendon, lethargy and anemia.
Sources: legumes, beets, oranges, broccoli, spinach, whole wheat.
Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12) is involved with red blood cell formation, carbohydrate and fat metabolism and neurological function.
Deficiency contributes to issues in chicks: reduced hatchability, embryonic hemorrhages, embryonic mortality (peaks on day 17 of incubation), delayed growth, poor feed utilization, muscle weakness in legs.
Sources: fish, eggs, dairy products, like yoghurt and animal proteins.
Vitamin C protects and maintains healthy skin, blood vessels, bones and cartilage. Chickens can make vitamin C so don’t need it in their feed, but it is a useful supplement for stressed birds.
Sources: citrus fruits, broccoli, Brussel sprouts. Note: excess citrus can interfere with the absorption of calcium.
Vitamin D3 is produced by exposure to natural sunlight and is necessary for proper absorption and utilization of calcium and phosphorous; required for normal growth, bone development, and egg shell formation.
Deficiency leads to issues for chicks: rickets, thin shelled eggs with reduced hatchability, leg weakness, pliable keratin in the beak and toenails, breastbone and spinal column bend.
Sources: fish liver oils, canned tuna, egg yolks, alfalfa, greens, germinated pulses, grains.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant and important for normal neurological functions; maintains healthy skin and eyes; strengthens the immune system.
Deficiency causes encephalomalacia (crazy chick disease), wry neck, muscle weakness, staggering, imbalance, paralysis.
Sources: fish liver and plant oils, alfalfa, greens, germinated pulses, grains, nuts, seeds.
Vitamin K plays an important role in blood clotting mechanisms and bone health; preventative against coccidiosis.
Deficiency increases blood spots in eggs, hemorrhages in the legs and breast and a failure of blood clotting.
Sources: wheat germ, fish liver and soybean oils, alfalfa, green leafy vegetables, germinated pulses, grains.
We all love to give our birds treats, but it’s important to make sure they get a balanced diet. If you understand what those treats contain you can ensure they get a nutritionally optimal feed.
Our birds require vitamins, proteins, calcium, phosphorous, and amino acids but it’s possible they can get too much of a good thing. It’s important to understand that non-laying birds (i.e. roosters, young pullets and older hens) don’t utilize as much calcium as laying hens so don’t feed them layer pellets. I recommend that if you have a mixed-age flock and/or a rooster to give them All Flock or Grower with oyster shell on the side. I’ve written about what excess calcium can do to your flock here.
Our birds can also suffer from too much protein, which I’ll explore here.
If you are having issues with hatching eggs check out the Hatching Egg Fails post for more information on how nutritional deficits affect embryonic development and mortality.
Related posts: Feeding Chickens: Dos & Don’ts; Prebiotics & Probiotics; Chickens & Herbs; Understanding Manufactured Feed;
This was super helpful thank you so much.
I was wondering what I could give my flock for a balanced diet and what to give as treats.
I think I have been giving my girls 2 many meal worms. So I will ease up on that and get them some of your other suggestions.
I am also going to start growing my own alfalfa sprouts for them xx
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Mealworms are snack food, so give them in moderation. Check out the posts “Feeding Chickens: Dos & Don’t’s”, “Prebiotics & Probiotics” and “Understanding Manufactured Chicken Feed”.