How to improve poultry performance

By Nan Smith | 15 April 2017

A poultry specialists, Dr Mick Versfeld, drills down into the issues that should be looked at if your chickens aren’t performing as well as they should be.


At least 60% of the cost of farming poultry is feed, so efficient management of feed is vital for optimal production. Fresh feed should always be available and spillage should be minimised without restricting feed intake.

For a day-old chick, feed must be in a scratch tray or on paper, within a meter of the heat source. If the feed is in a cold part of the poultry house, chicks won’t move away to eat, resulting in retarded growth and poor body weight at slaughter.

There should be enough space at the feed pan so that chickens can gain access to feed at peak feeding time – usually daybreak.

Look at, taste and smell, all the feed you buy before feeding it out to the chickens. They won’t eat at the usual rate if there is a change in consistency, colour or taste and might not eat at all for a few days, which will affect production.

Take note of how many bags of feed are eaten, per day, per house, or per group of chickens. Excessive feed consumption could be due to theft; if feed is consumed very slowly it may be due to a lack of sufficient water not necessarily unpalatable feed.

If you want to check feed quality, keep a 500g sample from each delivery so that there is enough feed to send off for analysis.


Chickens drink twice as much water as the quantity of feed they consume. Water should be drinkable and fresh at all times. Check water for mineral content at least once a year and for bacterial contamination at least three times a year.

Clean, fresh water can be contaminated in dirty holding tanks, and by drinker lines and drinkers that haven’t been washed, sanitised and flushed. It is very important to note that contaminated water will have a severe effect on poultry performance. Don’t lose production by neglecting something so basic.

Day-old chicks need access to water at room temperature otherwise they won’t drink so freely. In summer the water should be cool; in fact flush the lines regularly to ensure that water stays cool. There needs to be more than enough space at the drinkers for the chickens especially during summer.

If water intake is even slightly restricted, feed intakes will be affected. The result will be a drop in egg production or in the growth of the chickens.

A drop in water consumption is an indication of problems in the chicken house, so check this daily.

Next time: Air, temperature and light.

Please mail, with any farming questions.