Let's delve into the complex world of poultry feed, ensuring both the profitability of your farm and the health of your chickens.

Kathryn Thompson :: Wednesday 18th October 2023 :: Latest Blog Posts

Optimising Protein Levels in Poultry Feed: A Comprehensive Guide

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Raising robust, healthy poultry requires careful attention to their feed. Protein, in particular, plays a pivotal role in their well-being and growth. As poultry farmers, it's vital to understand the nuanced protein needs of various poultry types, be it broilers, layers, or free-range chickens. Let's delve into the complex world of poultry feed, ensuring both the profitability of your farm and the health of your chickens. 

The Imperative Role of Protein in Poultry Feed 

Protein is the cornerstone of poultry nutrition, responsible for muscle development, feather growth and overall vitality. Insufficient protein can lead to stunted growth, feather abnormalities and lower resistance to diseases. 

For the farmer, this means decreased production, poor feed conversion ratios and ultimately, diminished profits. Particularly for egg farmers, chickens who are unwell or not functioning at their optimum are likely to be far less productive in their laying habits, which with today's tight margins can hugely impact the success of a poultry unit. In essence, the right protein balance safeguards both the poultry's well-being and the farm's profitability.

Protein Sources for Chickens: Advantages and Challenges

Soybean Meal:

Soya has been the "go-to" protein source for poultry rations historically for several reasons. Nutritionally its amino acid profile is closely matched to laying hen requirements, except for methionine and cysteine, which can be cost-effectively supplied as single amino acids. Soya also has relatively low levels of anti-nutritional factors and offers good nutritional consistency.

However, a significant portion of soybean is imported, increasing the carbon footprint of poultry farming. This dependence on overseas suppliers also exposes farmers to price volatility.

At B&W, we work hard to source as many of our feed ingredients as possible from local farmers and suppliers. We do offer soy feed options but we always ensure they come from assured suppliers who provide sustainable sources.


 Sunflower meal is the most widely used alternative in the UK market. All grades are high in fibre, although the lower the protein level the higher the fibre content. Sunflower meal is higher in the amino acids, methionine and cysteine, so can complement soya in formulations. It has a history and perception of giving issues with dirty eggs if used in certain circumstances, however if introduced gradually the birds can adapt accordingly either through rear and into lay or after placement in the laying house. If sunflower meal is already used consideration should be given to which grade offers best value. 


 Historically there was a risk of taint with brown layers when using rapeseed, but this is now not an issue with modern genetics. There are two types of rapeseed meal on the market; extracted and expelled. Expelled is higher in oil and can offer good value in layers but continuity in supply is not as robust as extracted where market volumes are higher. Rapeseed meal comes with some salmonella risk that should be considered and managed. 

Peas and Beans:

Peas and Beans are topical as home grown proteins although they also contribute valuable energy to rations. Amino acid profile is poorer compared to soya and continuity of supply can be an issue for users requiring larger volumes. If volumes can increase, when combined with single amino acids they have potential to offset soya usage. 


Lupins are also an option but depend on the agronomic conditions as to whether they can be grown successfully. Available volumes are currently considerably lower than peas and beans. However, there is some usage and knowledge and understanding of lupins under UK conditions is growing. 

Remember, your feed doesn't have to be exactly the same all the time. In fact, in many cases, varying the protein source can have benefits for your poultry by reducing the impact of nutrient imbalances that can arise from over-reliance on a single protein source. 


Alfalfa is especially beneficial for free-range birds, as it offers rich natural proteins. However, it can't be solely relied upon to meet all protein needs. It is also a popular choice for some of our organic customers, particularly those who free-range their birds on land that provides a high-enrichment diet with lots of "wild" protein sources such as insects. 

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Decoding Protein Needs by Poultry Type

Broilers: These birds are raised primarily for their meat. Hence, in their early stages, a high-protein diet ensures rapid, healthy growth, setting the stage for optimum meat production. As they mature, protein levels can be moderated but must remain consistent to maintain muscle mass.

Layers: Layers, the egg producers, have distinct protein needs. A consistent protein intake supports steady egg production, with higher levels required during peak laying periods.

Free-Range Chickens: Having the luxury to roam and forage, free-range hens access a varied diet, from insects to seeds. Their natural environment means they ingest diverse protein sources, but their feed still plays a pivotal role in ensuring nutritional balance.

The type of free-range set up will also have a significant impact. Chickens that are free-ranged in agroforestry systems or on a livestock rotation basis with other species such as cattle will require different levels of protein in their feed to those that are kept on a less complex free-range system. 

Life Stages and Their Protein Prerequisites

Chicks: In the initial phase, chicks are developing rapidly. Their skeletal and muscular systems are taking shape, demanding a high-protein feed to support this growth spurt.

Growers: As chicks transition to this stage, their growth rate moderates. While their protein needs decrease slightly, consistency remains key to steady development.

Laying Hens: As the name suggests, the emphasis here shifts to egg production. A balanced protein intake ensures a regular, high-quality egg yield.

Integrating Arable Crops in Poultry Feed: A Thoughtful Strategy

Growing crops for poultry feed can be both economically and nutritionally rewarding. Maize, for instance, serves as a potent energy source, supporting the poultry's daily activities. On the other hand, wheat and barley are nutritionally dense, complementing other protein sources when formulating a balanced poultry feed. Combining these arable crops, either through traditional methods or using services like B&W's Mill and Mix, can create a feed blend tailored to your poultry's specific needs.

Depending on your farm size and set-up, you may wish to consider a static feed mill to allow complete control over managing and producing your own poultry feed on site. For more information, click here or contact us for a brochure. 

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B&W's Mill and Mix Service: Perfecting Protein in Feed 

B&W's renowned Mill and Mix service takes the guesswork out of feed formulation. Our specialist lorries come right to your farm, blending your arable crops with our top-tier additives, ensuring your poultry receives all the nutrients they require. For a detailed look into this service, visit this blog. 

B&W Feeds run a fleet of the most modern and technologically advanced mill lorries in the UK. With depots in Dorset and Kent, they provide full coverage of the South of England. Depending on the setup on farm, these lorries can process at a speed of 20T/hr milling or 10T/hr mixing. Therefore, home-mixing needn't be the time or labour-consuming activity it often was in the past.

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Poultry Feed: The Cornerstone of Thriving Farms and Healthy Birds

Remember, poultry's dietary needs are as intricate as they are vital. With a myriad of choices and variables, tailored solutions remain at the heart of successful poultry farming. B&W remains steadfast in its commitment to supporting farmers in this journey, ensuring every chicken thrives and, by extension, every poultry farm business flourishes.