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Poultry Feeds & Nutrition

Feeding Game Birds

The following topics are discussed in this information sheet:

Feeding Programs
Medicated Feeds
Dietary Formulations
Nutritional Assistance

All poultry and game bird feeds are referred to as "complete" feeds. They are designed to contain all the protein, energy, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients necessary for proper growth, egg production and health of the birds. Feeding any other ingredients, either mixed with the feed or fed separately, will upset the balance of nutrients in the complete feed. Feeding additional grain or supplement with the complete feed is not recommended.

Young game birds kept for meat production are fed differently than birds saved for egg production or breeding. In addition, meat-type Bobwhite quail have larger bodies and are expected to gain weight more rapidly than birds grown for "flight" purposes. Therefore, birds are fed diets that contain nutrient levels that reflect the dietary needs of the specific type of birds being produced. Meat-type birds are grown as flight birds will be more expensive to produce since they will consume more feed, be larger than necessary and are not considered as good fliers. In contrast, smaller strains of Bobwhite quail that are usually considered as good flight birds are not recommended as good meat producers. They are not efficient converters of feed to meat and produce less desirable carcasses when slaughtered.

Feeding Programs

Feed game bird chicks a "starter" diet soon after hatching. Continue feeding the starter until they reach six or eight weeks of age. The starter diet has the highest level of protein that a bird receives during its lifetime. As the chicks age they require lower levels of most nutrients including dietary protein but need a higher level of energy.

After the chicks reach six or eight weeks of age, feed them either a "finisher" diet (meat-type birds) or a "developer" diet (flight birds or those saved for egg production). Feed meat birds a finisher diet until they reach slaughter size. Feed the flight birds and immature breeders the developer diet until they are sold or about twenty weeks of age. A few weeks prior to expected egg production, the breeders are fed a "layer" diet until they complete their egg production period.

An alternate species of game birds often produced are the coturnix or pharaoh quail. They are grown for both meat and egg production but seldom for flight or hunting. They mature at an earlier age than bobwhite quail and may begin laying eggs as young as six to eight weeks of age. As with bobwhite quail, coturnix grown for meat are provided starter and finisher diets, whereas laying/breeder birds are fed starter and breeder diets.

The minimum dietary requirements for protein, calcium and phosphorus for game bird feeds are shown in Table 1. It is important to provide the correct diet to the birds if desired result are to be attained. Remember, breeders saved for egg production are fed developer diets, not finisher diets. Laying/breeder birds are fed only laying diets. Otherwise, you will observe reduced egg production and increased numbers of thin-shelled eggs.


Vitamins are always added to feeds in amounts that meet minimum dietary requirements. This insures that birds consume plenty of vitamins for proper health and performance. Higher levels are not usually harmful, but extra vitamins are unnecessary and expensive. Minimum vitamin requirements for various ages of birds are shown in Table 2.

When adding vitamins to the diet as a premix, make sure that an adequate amount of all vitamins are provided. It may be necessary to add extra amounts of some vitamins to achieve minimum levels for other vitamins. This may increase the cost of the complete feed but is better than creating vitamin deficiencies that can be more expensive. During periods of stress caused by disease, shipping or sudden changes in the environment it is recommended that extra vitamins and electrolytes be provided in the drinking water until the stressing condition is corrected.


Like vitamins, adequate levels of minerals must be provided to all birds. Minerals in breeder feeds are especially important. Laying hens require higher levels of minerals for egg shell formation. Chicks require high levels of minerals for proper bone formation and development. Breeder feeds are fed only to laying birds. If a breeder feed is fed to chicks reduced growth and unnecessary stress will be placed on the chicks.

Although not always required for survival, better performance is observed if a trace mineral premix is added to diets. Trace minerals are those minerals required at very low levels for good growth and production. Most feed ingredients provide some of these minerals but sometimes contain less than adequate quantities. Many of these minerals are contained in commercial vitamin premixes. An excellent trace mineral premix is shown in Table 3. The premix will provide adequate trace minerals when added at the rate of two pounds per ton of feed.

Medicated Feeds

Game bird feeds are available with several types of medications for preventing or treating diseases. The two most common medications added to feeds are coccidiostats and/or antibiotics.

Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease of the digestive tract. It is difficult to control by sanitation practices alone. The best prevention is to include a drug or coccidiostat in the feed. This coccidiostat is added to the feed at low levels and fed continuously. Some coccidiostats can be given at higher levels to treat the disease after the birds show symptoms. Before increasing the drug level, check with someone who is familiar with the proper use of the coccidiostat in question since some coccidiostats can be toxic at higher levels.

Feed growing birds a ration containing a coccidiostat from hatch until the last week before slaughter. Feed an unmedicated diet during this last week to assure that no drug residues remain in the tissues of the birds. This feeding of unmedicated diets prior to slaughter is recommended when using any dietary drug, regardless of whether the restriction is required or not.

As birds mature, they develop a resistance to coccidiosis if a controlled exposure to the parasite is allowed. Birds grown for breeder replacements are fed a coccidiostat until about 16 weeks of age. The medicated feed is then replaced with a feed not containing a coccidiostat. Spotty outbreaks of the disease can be controlled by including drugs in the water. Two coccidiostats with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use in game bird feeds are monensin sodium (Coban) and amprolium.

Antibiotics may also be added to some feeds. Antibiotics aid performance and maintain healthy birds. They are added at low (prophylactic) levels to prevent minor diseases and produce faster, more efficient growth. Higher (therapeutic) levels are usually given in water or injected into the bird. Examples of FDA approved antibiotics in game bird diets are bacitracin and penicillin.

Addition of bacitracin to game bird diets is recommended at the rate of 50 grams per ton as a preventative of ulcerative enteritis (quail disease). Higher levels in the diet is not recommended nor permitted by FDA. If higher levels are needed for treatment, it is best to give the antibiotic in the birds' drinking water. This practice is also more effective since sick birds will usually drink water but will not always consume feed. Including bacitracin in diets of all game birds is recommended to maintain healthy, productive birds.

When using any drug, whether the drug is or is not mixed with the feed, all warnings and instructions on the label must be carefully followed. Always comply with all instructions that require a medication withdrawal period prior to bird slaughter or saving eggs for human consumption.

Diet Formulations

Several diets are included that provide adequate levels of all nutrients for the type of birds cited. Diets for meat-type Bobwhite quail are presented in Table 4, flight-conditioned Bobwhite quail in Table 5, and Coturnix or pharaoh quail in Table 6. All ingredients must be used without substitution or alteration of quantities if satisfactory results are expected. Any deviation from the recommended diet will alter the levels of all nutrients and possibly create undesired problems. Always consult with a poultry nutritionist or your County Agent before making dietary changes.

Most commercially prepared game bird feeds are in "crumble" form. These feed particles are formed by pelleting the mixed "mash" feed followed by partial regrinding or crumbling into the desired size particles. Often the crumbles of starter feeds are too large for newly hatched quail to eat. Therefore, it is necessary for additional grinding until the particles are the desired size. Crumbles are not necessary for good production although they have several desirable characteristics. Mash diets made from the dietary formulations shown in Table 4 will produce excellent performance. The assortment of ingredients used has intentionally been kept to a minimum. Many additional ingredients can be used, but the diets need reformulation to compensate for nutritional differences.

Attention to high quality ingredients is required when making bird feeds. Prior to the start of feed manufacturing, make sure that all ingredients are available. High quality ingredients are mandatory if satisfactory results care expected. Often poor quality ingredients are used when making diets for other types of farm animals and poor performance is not observed. If these same ingredients are used in game bird feeds, it is assured that you will experience production problems. Never use a feed ingredient unless it is of highest quality.

Often high-quality commercial game bird feeds are not available and substitutes are needed. Comparable turkey feeds can be substituted for game bird feeds without reduction in performance. In most cases, chicken diets can be fed to growing bobwhite quail that are raised for slaughter. Check with a qualified nutritionist before making dietary substitutions.

If production problems occur that are thought to be "feed related", the first action is to obtain a sample of the suspected feed. About one quart of the feed is adequate in most situations. Contact an Extension Poultry Specialist and obtain his/her assistance in solving the problem. A one to two cup portion of the feed sample is usually submitted to a feed analysis laboratory to check for undesirable nutritional characteristics. Store the remaining sample for future reference.

If production problems are unusually severe, temporary replacement of the suspect feed may be necessary until the cause for the problems is determined. Only use a suitable diet from another feed manufacturer, and preferably, from a different feed dealer. Obtaining additional feed from the same dealer and manufacturer may result in bringing more of the same cause for your problems. If, after determining the cause of the problem and it is not feed related, you can resume use of you favorite dealer's feed.


Many producers overlook the importance of providing clean, fresh water to their flocks. Water, though not considered a nutrient by many producers, is the most important nutrient for animals. Like all farm animals, game birds need clean water at all times. Drinking water must not get too hot or cold, or the birds will not drink it.

Clean the water troughs and replace with fresh water at least once daily. You must keep water and feed troughs clean from droppings, litter, soil and other contaminants.

Keep feed troughs clean and dry. Place them so the feed stays dry. Empty the feed troughs at least two or three times weekly (daily if necessary) and refill with dry, fresh feed. Do not wash feed troughs unless they are excessively contaminated with wastes or unless the feed gets wet. Do not let the feed get moldy. Moldy feeds can kill quail.

Nutritional Assistance

If you need assistance with any problem related to game bird production, contact your local County Agent or the Extension Poultry Specialists at Mississippi State University.



Diet Protein(%) Calcium(%) Phosphorus(%)
Bobwhite Quail
Starter (0 - 6 wk) 23.0 1.0 .50
Finisher (6 wk - mkt) 19.0 90 50
Starter (0 - 6 wk) 26.0 1.0 50
Developer (6 - 16 wk) 22.0 .90 .50
Starter (0 - 6 wk) 26.0 1.0 .50
Developer (6 - 20 wk) 18.0 1.0 .50
Layer (20 wk +) 19.0 2.75 .65
Coturnix (Pharaoh) Quail
Starter (0 - 6 wk ) 24.0 .85 .60
Finisher (6 wk - mkt) 18.0 .65 .50
Layer (6 wk +) 18.0 2.75 .65


Amount of vitamin per:
Vitamin (units) Pound Ton
Vitamin A (IU) 2000 4 million
Vitamin E (IU) 15 30,000
Vitamin D3 (IU) 1000 2 million
Vitamin K (mg) .3 600
Riboflavin (mg) 2 4,000
Pantothenate (mg) 8 16,000
Niacin (mg) 20 40,000
Pyridoxine (mg) 2 4,000
Vitamin B12 (mg) .005 10
Choline (g) .7 1,400
IU = International Unit, mg = milligram, g = gram


Ingredient Amount for 10 lb of Premix
Manganous Sulfate 1.25 lb
Zinc Oxide 1.25 lb
Ferrous Sulfate 5 oz
Copper Sulfate 1 oz
Limestone or Oyster Shell 7.1 lb
Add to diet at rate of .1% or 2 lb/Ton.


(Expressed in table as percentages)*

Ingredient Starter Finisher Breeder
Yellow Corn 58.00 67.93 60.89
48% Soybean Meal 37.23 27.30 28.50
Wheat Middlings --- --- ---
Limestone 1.84 1.87 7.17
Dicalcium PO4 1.77 1.82 1.84
Salt .56 .57 .44
Feed Fat --- --- .70
dl-Methionine .15 .06 .06
Bacitracin .05 .05 .05
Coccidiostat .05 .05 ---
Vitamin Premix .25 .25 .25
Mineral Premix .10 .10 .10
*To determine the amount of each ingredient necessary for one-Ton of diet, multiply each number by 20.


(Expressed in table as percentages)*

Ingredient Starter Conditioner Breeder
Yellow Corn 43.73 42.27 60.89
48% Soybean Meal 48.27 17.98 28.50
Wheat Middlings --- 36.43 ---
Limestone 1.23 1.18 7.17
Dicalcium PO4 1.72 1.59 1.84
Salt .43 --- .44
Feed Fat 4.03 --- .70
dl-Methionine .14 .12 .06
Bacitracin .05 .05 .05
Coccidiostat .05 .05 ---
Vitamin Premix .25 .25 .25
Mineral Premix .10 .10 .10
*To determine the amount of each ingredient necessary for one-Tonof diet, multiply each number by 20.


(Expressed in table as percentages)*

Ingredient Starter Finisher Layer
Yellow Corn 49.75 65.59 63.47
48% Soybean Meal 42.95 29.13 25.93
Wheat Middlings --- 1.44 ---
Limestone 1.13 .80 6.59
Dicalcium PO4 2.01 2.07 2.67
Salt .44 .42 .44
Feed Fat 3.16 --- .39
dl-Methionine .11 .15 .11
Bacitracin .05 .05 .05
Coccidiostat .05 --- ---
Vitamin Premix .25 .25 .25
Mineral Premix .10 .10 .10
*To determine the amount of each ingredient necessary for one-Ton of diet, multiply each number by 20.