FEEDING EXOTIC AND OTHER GAME BIRDS
By C.J. Flegal
Department of Animal Science
Michigan State University
There have been few changes in the feeding of game birds and other related gallinaceous or fowl-like birds in the last 40-50 years. The research into the nutritional requirements have been very limited in exotic and other game birds because of their limited commercial status.
The first advice any nutritionist should share with game bird owners is very simple- they are living creatures and should be treated as such. By this, I mean they must be supplied the basic requirements for well being- food, water, shelter and a suitable environment. If any one of these is absent, the survivability of the game birds could be in jeopardy.
There are several basic suggestions when feeding game birds. Access to water and feed should be provided as soon as possible after hatching. However, all newly hatched chicks should be given access to clean, cool water 1-2 hours prior to the introduction to feed. Young game birds generally have a higher requirement for protein than domestic chickens. If high quality commercial game bird feeds are not available locally, a 28-30 percent protein turkey starter feed will usually provide well balanced game bird nutrition for newly hatched chicks. Be sure this feed is in a mash or very fine crumble form, otherwise the newly hatched chicks may not be able to physically consume the feed simply because of the size of the particle.
During the first five to ten weeks of life, most game bird chicks should be only consuming the high protein starter feed. Grain and supplemental high quality fresh grass and legumes may be introduced gradually at eight to ten weeks of age. Start with an evening feeding of grain and give only a small amount that the birds will consume without waste. Be sure to supply an insoluble chick size grit at all times in a separate feeder when whole grain an other green supplements are fed. Don’t overfeed grain or green feed or your game birds may not get a proper balance of the essential nutrients contained in the commercial feed.
After the birds are 12-14 weeks of age, gradual introduction should be made to a maintenance ration. This ration can be fed until three to four weeks prior to the breeding season along with increasing amounts of grain and other supplemental high quality green feeds.
Nutritional requirements for game birds change at breeding time. For good hatchability and fertility, you must feed a high quality breeder ration. Start breeder birds on a breeder ration at least one month before the breeding season is expected to start. For best results, the change from a maintenance feed to a breeder diet should occur gradually over a 5-7 day period. To change feeds, mix equal quantities of the two feeds together at first, then remove 25 percent of the maintenance feed each day until the breeder diet is the only feed.
Provide plenty feeder space 3 to 4 inches per bird. Don’t allow spillage of feed into the litter. This could lead to eating litter which can have disastrous results. Keep the height of the feeders at about the level of the birds back. When changing feeder and watering equipment, do so gradually otherwise the birds may not recognized new equipment and starve to death.
Never make arbitrary changes in the feeding program without consulting a qualified nutritionist or the results could be very costly.
If you suspect you have a feed problem, the following suggestions will help minimize the problems and get your game birds back on a healthy path.
1. Remove the suspect feed from all birds and replace it with a feed that you have had success with in the past or some other high quality game gird feed.
2. Contact a qualified game bird veterinarian to be absolutely sure you do not have a disease problem.
3. Review all non-feed management practices to be sure accepted techniques are being utilized.
4. Have the suspect feed analyzed for proper nutrient content and/or other contaminants. These suggestions are intended to enhance the game bird keepers pleasure and enjoyment. If you need additions, specific help or suggestions, contact your local State or University game bird specialists for assistance.
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