a rooster

Rooster Nutrition – It Isn’t All About the Hens

What Do I Feed My Rooster?

It wasn’t very long ago that the primary focus of most poultry flocks, including backyard flocks, was the egg!  To maximize egg production, we focused heavily on hen nutrition.  If your flock had a rooster, his specific nutrient needs probably weren’t top priority and he was usually fed the same feed as the hens.  However, as more people consider their poultry as pets, the specific nutrient needs of roosters has gained focus.  Even if you didn’t intend to get a rooster, he is now firmly part of your flock and you want to make sure his health and nutrient needs are considered in your feeding program.

Today, we are going to focus on rooster nutrition from two different aspects:  1.  Roosters as part of a standard backyard flock and 2.  Roosters as part of a breeding program.

Should Roosters in Backyard Flocks Be Fed Differently Than Hens?

Calcium is an essential nutrient for poultry.  It is required for bone development in all birds and is an essential component of eggshell production in producing females.  The calcium in complete layer feeds can range from 3 to 5% of the total mix.  This works very well for high-producing laying hens.  However, this is more calcium than is required for male poultry.  Male poultry only require about 1% calcium in the total mix.  Excess calcium must be digested and excreted by the kidneys.  If excess calcium is fed for extended periods of time to adult poultry, birds can become susceptible to visceral gout.  

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What You Should Feed Your Roosters

If preventing any potential health problems in your rooster is important to you, then Henhouse Reserve® is the #1 recommendation we make to backyard poultry keepers.  Henhouse Reserve® is different from most layer crumbles or pellets because it contains multiple, independent sources of calcium.  This unique feeding strategy gives your hens all of the calcium they need to produce strong, delicious eggs, while allowing your roosters to self-regulate how much calcium they consume.  

Another popular option is using a maintenance feed, like Flock Maintainer™, for the whole flock.  This feed has a better balance of nutrients for roosters, but does require that you provide a free-choice calcium source for your hens.  This strategy has worked well for some poultry keepers, but does require that you maintain two feeders.  You should also be on the lookout for any egg quality issues.  If your flock develops any issues, contact us and we can make a recommendation that will work best for your specific flock and your specific goals.

Feeding Roosters for Fertility

The frequency and quality of egg production is arguably the most important factor in any successful breeding program and producers are right to focus a lot of their energy on hen nutrition.  However, we should not forget about the importance of a healthy male in any successful breeding program.  

Rooster semen has high levels of nutritional compounds that are meant to protect the sperm cells.  In order for eggs to be successfully fertilized, sperm cells need to remain active and healthy during the breeding process.  Rooster semen contains relatively high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).  These types of fats are very susceptible to damage from oxidative stress.  When a bird is stressed, its body will produce excessive levels of oxidants, causing an imbalance with the antioxidants already in the body.  This imbalance results in higher-than-normal levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can damage cells, including sperm cells.  Your feed choice can help combat some of this damage with optimal nutrition and supplemental antioxidants.  

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Vitamin E and selenium play a vital role as antioxidants in poultry nutrition.  These nutrients help increase testicular development, spermatogenesis, and sperm viability.  Additionally, nutritional supplements, like LifeGuardⓇ, act as powerful antioxidants to help keep cell membranes, including sperm cell membranes, healthy and intact. 

Producers who desire a top-notch breeding program should look for a high-quality feed developed for breeding poultry.  These feeds are often formulated with the nutrient needs of the hen AND THE ROOSTER in mind.  The calcium component in a quality breeder feed will probably be higher than a starter/grower or a maintenance feed.  However, it should be more in-line to the nutrient needs of a rooster than a complete layer feed.  Our Formula of Champions®  Fancy & Feathered® is formulated specifically for adult breeding poultry – hens AND roosters – and is an excellent option for poultry keepers that focus on breeding programs.  

Stay tuned as we continue to explore the topics that are important to you!  Check out our social media pages for more great information about poultry and tips for keeping your flock healthy and happy all year!  

Nancy Jefferson, Ph.D.

Nancy Jefferson, Ph.D.