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Poultry production: Get to grips with feed conversion in broilers

An expert gives some suggestions to improve feed conversion ratios (FCR) in broilers.

The secret of successful broiler nutrition is to adopt the correct feeding strategy to ensure the best possible feed conversion ratios (FCR). Rick Kleyn from Spesfeed, an animal nutrition company, has some suggestions on how farmers can achieve this. But first we must analyse the nature of the feed conversion ratio.


The FCR is the ratio between the kilograms of feed consumed and the weight of chicken sold. For example, if a farmer uses 3.5 kg of feed to produce a 1.75 kg chicken, then the FCR is 2 (3.5 divided by 1.75).

FCR is the measure for an entire flock of birds and not for individuals. The lower the FCR, the more profitable the broiler production will be.

Kleyn says that although FCR is widely used to determine performance efficiency, one should keep in mind that performance is not always the same as profitability and producers should also consider calculating the margin over feed (MOF).

Assume that you can sell broilers for R10/kg, and that the average feed price is R3/kg, in which case the MOF would be R7/bird [(1.75 times 10) minus (3.5 times 3)]. MOF feed cost measures both technical and financial efficiency.

Kleyn explains that the sooner a broiler reaches market weight, the less feed it will require and the better the FCR will be. Broiler production is a business and any business has to maximise profits. To farm profitably with broilers, farmers must improve the efficiency of production.


Feed companies produce a variety of feed ranges, which have varying nutrient densities. Kleyn says feed that has a higher nutrient density is generally more expensive and contains more dense ingredients, such as oil and full-fat soybean meal.

Lower density diets – which are usually cheaper – contain less dense ingredients that is higher in fibre, such as wheat bran and sunflower oilcake.

“In my experience, more dense diets tend to give improved FCR values, but do not always lead to maximum profits,” he says, adding that farmers should do the MOF calculation to make the correct decision about feed purchases.
Ask the technical advisor from the feed supplier to help you make the correct choice.


As broilers grow older they require more energy and less protein and other nutrients in their feed. Bigger birds also require more energy to remain alive (known as the maintenance requirement) and grow at a relatively slower rate.

“Bigger birds have a greater capacity to consume feed and to match the birds’
requirements, you need to adjust their diets as they age,” he explains.

This maintains the correct balance of energy and other nutrients in the flock. For example, if the diet contains too little protein, the birds’ growth rate will be reduced.

On the other hand, if a bird consumes too much protein, then energy is required to excrete the surplus protein in the urine. A deficiency of energy reduces the broiler’s ability to build tissue, which reduces its growth rate.


For a broiler business to be efficient and profitable, birds must eat enough feed as quickly as possible to reach market weight. Kleyn encourages farmers to feed pellets, even though it may be more expensive than mash.

The FCR is better, feed intake is higher, and there is less wastage. “Birds spend less time eating pellets and so their energy requirement is reduced,” he explains.

When feeding mash, birds tend to spend 3 times as much time eating, water intake is higher as the birds need more water to ingest the food and wastage is higher. Drinker cups become extremely dirty, because the birds need water with which to down the feed.

Flock variability also increases on mash diets. Whichever method you use, check if the particle size is correct. If the feed particle size is too small (below 800 micron), feed intake will diminish. The optimal size is medium-sized particles (1 130 to 1 230 microns).


Water is an essential ingredient in a broiler’s diet. “If you restrict water intake, you restrict feed intake,” explains Kleyn.

Broilers need water to ingest dry feed effectively. Water helps to transport nutrients, adjust the body temperature, transport waste, and excrete waste, especially urea.


When buying chicks, ensure that they are not too light or that they arrive at the farm in a dehydrated condition, warns Kleyn. Check that you are buying the correct breed of chicken for your farm.

“Once chicks have been placed in the broiler house, ensure that the birds eat as much feed as possible,” he says.

It’s important that they be brooded at the correct temperature. If birds are too cold, they will huddle and stop eating, but often they are too warm, which causes them to move away from the feeders and stop eating.

Birds also need sufficient oxygen for normal growth. Producers need to ensure that birds receive enough fresh air without chilling them.

To make sure that birds consume enough feed, producers should always make sure that there are enough feeder pans and drinkers in the house. Birds will consume roughly twice as much feed as water.

By the time chicks are 7 days old, producers should be able to achieve good weights. A good rule of thumb for modern broiler farmers would be about 160 g at 7 days. “If you are achieving less than this, then there is a problem. A 10 g weight improvement at 7 days of age leads to a 35 g to 40 g improvement at 35 days of age,” says Kleyn.


Kleyn advises farmers not to buy feed only based on price. “In the broiler industry, farmers can save money by buying cheaper feeds, but this may well lead to a reduction in growth and feed conversion ratio, which will bring about a reduction in profit,” he explains.

On the other hand, farmers cannot only rely on good feed to run a profitable business. Kleyn explains that good-quality feed cannot be used to overcome bad management if your production system is poor.


Test borehole water quality after periods of heavy rain to see whether there is any contammination from surface run-off.

Also read:
Poultry production: Feeding the modern broiler
Poultry production: What causes poor body weight in broilers?
Poultry production: Raising broiler chickens without electricity
Poultry production: How to source day-old chicks

  • This article was written by Wilma den Hartigh and first appeared in Farming SA.

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