Recognise and Treat Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency in Chickens
Keeping your backyard chickens healthy needn't be an overwhelming operation. However, it is important to understand the role of vitamins and minerals in your birds' diet. Below we describe the signs and symptoms of deficiencies, but further to this you need to understand that even a slight deficiency can quickly lead to a reduction in disease resistance and increase ill-health, not to mention poor egg production!
If your chickens have a deficiency, they are probably lacking more than just one vitamin or mineral. Chicken feed is usually supplemented with the vitamins and minerals a chicken needs to thrive, often as a pellet or powder. Unless your chicken has an underlying health issue, a deficiency indicates that they are not getting what they need from their diet. Not only is it important for your chickens to receive adequate vitamins and minerals, they should also be supplied in the correct ratio.
There are many possible reasons why this might be the case - maybe you are not giving your chickens the right sort of feed, they are selectively eating or they have too many scraps and treats. Other causes of deficiency include parasites and, occasionally, illness or genetic problems.
Ultimately, if you want healthy chickens who lay tasty eggs for your morning breakfast, then it's important to take note of their vitamin intake.
Signs of Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency in Chickens
Each vitamin and mineral is vital to different bodily functions. For instance, Vitamin B is essential for the health of the chicken's nervous system; it is not normally stored in the body so your hens must consume it regularly for normal nerve function.
The signs of vitamin and mineral deficiency in chickens can also be caused by illness, parasites or even just a stomach upset. But if these symptoms are becoming a regular pattern, or several symptoms are combined, then they should be investigated.
Signs of vitamin and mineral deficiency in chickens include:
- General ill-health
- Poor or reduced egg production
- Stunted or slow growth
- Reduced appetite or poor feed conversion
- Decreased egg production
- Feather-pecking and eating
- Weight loss
- Sparse feathers (often a B12 deficiency) or poor feather condition
- Watery eye discharge or crusted eyes
- Poor egg shell quality, including thin-shelled eggs (usually a calcium or vitamin D3 deficiency)
- Leg weakness, especially in chicks
- Nervous disorders (poor balance, involuntary movement)
- Curled toes
- Excessive bleeding or bruising from minor injuries
- Reduced immunity to parasites and disease
Chickens with a deficiency may just look a little worse for wear - they won't be glossing, bright-eyed, energetic or well-feathered like a healthy chicken is.
Many of these symptoms can be caused by various different vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Therefore, it is usually easier to provide a broad vitamin and mineral supplement. If the general supplement doesn't work, then you need to look into diagnosing the exact deficiency.
As a general rule, if more than one bird shows symptoms of deficiency, you can assume that the whole flock has some level of deficiency. If only one bird is showing symptoms, it is worth looking more closely into the health and behaviour of that hen.
The symptoms of deficiency also overlap with those caused by parasites as well as many common chicken diseases. For this reason, it is important to seek veterinary advice if you are concerned about your chickens.
Causes of Vitamin Deficiencies in Hens
Without a doubt, chickens are very much like toddlers: Picky eaters with poor table manners. Chickens are notoriously selective eaters, casting aside tasty pieces of food to only eat small morsels that will satisfy their fussy taste buds.
This particular behaviour can ultimately lead to a series of symptoms that herald major vitamin and mineral deficiency. It is also the reason why we do not recommend any feed that allows your hens to be selective.
Chicken scratch (or scratch) is a common chicken feed comprised of seeds, corn and other grains, which are high in fibre but not nutrients. These feeds look appealing, and chickens love the opportunity to eat only what they like and not necessarily what their body needs. Not only does this cause far more spillage and feed waste, it results in deficiencies. If you've every noticed a certain seed or grain left in the bottom of the feeder, your chickens are eating selectively.
Some chicken scratch also contains a pelleted or powdered vitamin and mineral supplement, which means it can be marketed as a "complete" feed. Complete feeds contain everything chickens need to thrive. But the problem is, if your chickens only gobble what they want, and are not getting the vitamins and minerals they need stay healthy.
Excessive kitchen scraps and treats may also cause your chickens to develop a vitamin or mineral deficiency, as can using old or spoiled feed. But the most common cause is selective feeding, usually with a scratch-style feed.
Parasites Cause Vitamin Deficiencies in Chickens
Backyard chicken coops can become a breeding ground for different external and internal parasites. These parasites attack the intestinal tract, disrupting the absorption of vital nutrients needed for egg production and bodily functions.
Parasites spread easily within the coop, quickly infecting your entire flock. For more information on identifying and treating parasites, visit our blog.
How to Fix a Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency
We recommend a few methods to ensure your chicken's nutritional requirements are met:
- Pelleted Feed - A complete pelleted feed will include a spectrum of vitamins and minerals and it will also remove any possibility of selective feeding. Crumb feeds are also good.
- Vitamin and Mineral Supplement - If your chickens have a deficiency, give them a broad-range vitamin and mineral supplement. But we also like using a low-dose supplement regularly, as insurance against deficiency and to give layers a little extra boost.
- Treat Parasites - Treat parasites fast and organise a regular preventative treatment to keep your birds free from internal worms.
Happy chicken keeping!
Rachael at Dine a Chook