Poor feed handling can lead to flocks getting less out of pelleted feed

Today’s high feed prices mean broiler growers are looking to get even more from their investment in broiler feed. Consequently, there has been much focus on tweaking feed spec, but how you physically handle feed and water is just as important.

Feed compounders go to great lengths to ensure feed contains the correct levels of nutrients in order to maximise economic production and that it is consistent. But this care should continue beyond the mill gate right up to the pan or chain feeder, if producers are to get all the benefits from the compounder’s efforts.

The benefit in terms of bird performance of improving pellet quality is well established. Aviagen trials have shown that for every 10% increase in fines (feed particles smaller than 1mm), there is a reduction of 40g liveweight at 35 days.

So any efforts made at the mill to improve pellet quality will be lost if feed management on farm is poor. One area where pellet breakdown can occur is when blowing feed from delivery lorries into the feed bin.

Pellet breakdown can be minimised by keeping the feed pipe as full as possible and the discharge speed low. A low speed is achieved by having an engine speed between 1300 and 1500 rpm with a pressure of 9psi for meal and 7psi for pellets.

However, if the discharge rate is too slow, the risk of pipe blockages is greater and if it does become blocked, the rate of pellet break-down increases.

Also try to keep the distance that the feed has to travel between the delivery lorry and the feed bin to a minimum. This is an important consideration when planning new units or renovating existing ones.

There should be no holes in the pipe itself, as this will mean that the pressure at which the feed is discharged will have to be increased, and will result in more wasted feed.

Feed storage

It is easier to manage feed by having two storage bins. This allows an entire consignment of feed to be depleted at a time, ensuring the correct type of feed is being fed and that withdrawal times are met. Although it is less desirable, it is still possible to manage with a single bin, but greater care is needed.

Bulk storage bins should protect the contents from rain to prevent the feed getting wet and becoming mouldy. Feed that turns mouldy is a direct risk to bird health and will lead to problems with feed sticking to the side of the bin, blocking the flow of feed through the feeders.

Storage bins should, by design, also protect it from vermin. We advise regularly inspecting and cleaning storage bins.

If feed is stored in bags these should be kept off the floor to prevent them absorbing moisture from the floor and provide protection from rodents.

At the end of the crop cycle, producers will ideally remove unused feed and store it in a secure and hygienic manner. End of crop management of feed is relatively straight-forward when houses are equipped with duel bins.

If working with single bins, the requirement to move leftover feed to a single storage bin makes management more difficult. And transporting the left over feed using a sucker/blower vehicle will increase pellet break-down.

When leftover feed is bagged off and stored, conditions in the holding area must be such not to cause degradation in proteins, vitamins and minerals, or any increase in mycotoxins. It is important to avoid high temperatures and/or high humidity levels. Correctly stored feed will generally last for up to three months.

Looking at the feeders themselves, we recommend allowing one pan for every 65 birds or 2.5cm (1in) of track per bird. However, if feed is particularly dusty these levels may prove insufficient at peak demand, as poor feed quality increases the time birds take to eat and puts greater pressure on the feeding systems. In this situation, it may be necessary to increase the feeding space.

Feed and water consumption, and the feed to water ratio should be monitored daily. Deviations from expected levels of water consumption can provide an early indication of problems and should be investigated immediately.

Feeder breakdowns are much more common than running out of feed, so it is important that the system is well maintained and any worn out components are replaced. The feeder line must be kept level (including corners of the tracks), with no bowing, to prevent augers from kinking.

Track feeders

Feeders should only run when they are required to fill the feeding system, and it is good practice to allow the birds to eat up all presented feed. Systems that run too frequently damage the pellet and lead to excess waste.

It is good practice to run the chain when it is possible to see the bottom of the track and not to have too much feed in the track. It has been shown that managing the track and chain in this way can improve feed conversion by at least five points.

Pan feeders

Until consumption is such that pans run regularly, it is good practice to have the feeders running only a few times per day, reducing the risk of one line running empty for long periods of time. As the birds age, the number of times the feeders are on per day, and the length of time that they run for, has to be increased.

Feed clear up

In all systems it is advisable (after seven days) to have at least one period per day when the birds are allowed to clear up completely before receiving new feed. This should occur at the same time every day.

This not only prevents the build- up of fines, but avoids a reservoir of coccidistats developing that could be consumed within a withdrawal period shortly before slaughter.


Water should be stored in a light-proof tank to prevent the formation of algae. In recent years, there has been a general move to using borehole water due to the increasing cost of mains water.

If borehole water is used, it needs to be filtered to prevent the build- up of sediment and where applicable softened. Furthermore, the mineral content of the water and the effect that this will have on the birds must be considered.

All water should be regularly tested for microbial load and mineral content, and appropriate actions taken in response to test results.

Water should be provided at all times when the lights are on. It is important to ensure that water storage is sufficient to supply the peak demand for water which occurs when the lights come on.

Reductions in water flow will decrease growth a good rule of thumb for flow rates is (weeks of age x 7) + 20ml/min. Whatever management programme is being used (feed or water) the over-riding factor is consistency without compromising the needs of the bird.