A young chick only eats about 100g of feed from hatch to day five, which is about 3% of the total feed intake. 

But this relatively small volume of feed can have a big impact on lifecycle performance. 

Luke Barnard joined Cargill UK’s poultry team in March 2023 as UK technical application specialist. He studied biological sciences and took this knowledge into animal nutrition, spending 12 years in technical and product development roles in global animal nutrition companies, focusing mainly on poultry.

An investment in a highly tuned, highly digestible diet in the chick’s first few days of life can bring significant welfare and economic benefits. 

These improved diets are considerate of the young chicks’ immature gastrointestinal (GI) tract, both in terms of its structure and its production of digestive enzymes.  

One of the main functions of the GI tract is to absorb dietary nutrients. 

To ‘access’ these nutrients, the feed needs to be broken down into suitable-sized chunks by enzymes and absorbed.

So, in effect, we have a bit of a disconnect here, particularly in the chick’s first few days of life. 

Figure 1 shows the low level of protein, starch and fat digestive enzyme production in the first days of life in broilers and the ‘lag time’ in the onset of optimal enzymatic secretion. 

This limits their ability to break down the feed substrates. The chick’s enzymatic secretions increase rapidly in the first week, but they are not at peak levels until after seven days of age.

Figure 1

Levels of digestive enzyme production in the first days of life in broilers

Levels of digestive enzyme production in the first days of life in broilers. Source: Adapted from Noy and Sklan 1995

Without efficient enzyme secretion, the GI tract cannot absorb nutrients and therefore many nutrients will pass through the GI tract undigested. 

This reduces feed efficiency and increases the risk of unfavourable bacteria in the latter part of the gastrointestinal tract. 

Also, the excretion of ‘waste’ nutrients can have a negative environmental impact and reduce unit sustainability. 

It is important, therefore, that producers look towards using improved young chick diets with more highly digestible raw materials, allowing the animal to make the most of its first feeds. 

Trials have shown large differences in the digestibility of amino acids when easily digestible ingredients are fed compared to standard crumb diets. 

This effect, shown in Figure 2, is most pronounced in birds up to seven days of age and diminishes as birds get older.

Figure 2

Amino acid digestibility in a diet with more purified protein sources compared to a traditional diet, red numbers show % increase in amino acid digestibility at different ages. Source: Adapted from Batal and Parsons 2002

Amino acid digestibility in a diet with more purified protein sources compared to a traditional diet, red numbers show % increase in amino acid digestibility at different ages. Source: Adapted from Batal and Parsons 2002

Cargill has designed its Neochicc diets for chicks up to 120 hours old. 

This mini pellet focuses on highly digestible raw materials and its ingredients are designed to accelerate the growth and maturation of the GI tract and the microbiota and improve feed use. 

Lifetime benefits 

Cargill’s research has demonstrated that feeding a diet with highly digestible protein sources, particularly in the first four days of life, has a beneficial carry-over effect on the body weight gain and feed efficiency at the end of the life cycle of the broilers. 

This is shown in Figure 3, where improvements in growth rates and feed conversion above a standard control are shown.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Improved performance of feeding a highly digestible protein diet compared with a standard diet in the first days of life Source: Cargill internal research

Improved performance of feeding a highly digestible protein diet compared with a standard diet in the first days of life Source: Cargill internal research

There is a huge amount of pressure, particularly on young chicks, to maximise feed input, reduce waste and achieve sustainable and cost-efficient production. 

A better understanding of the GI tract in the first few days of life and its crucial role in lifetime performance supports the commitment to improved highly digestible early starter diets. 

KEY FACTS

  • The first days after hatch is a really important time in terms of gastrointestinal development.
  • Gastrointestinal tract development up to five days from hatch relies on a diet with highly digestible protein sources and the precise balance of amino acids.
  • The benefits of a high quality, highly digestible diet, particularly from hatch to day four or five are seen in improved weight gain and feed efficiency at the end of the broiler life cycle. 
  • Advanced diets like Neochicc support growth and gastrointestinal development in the first few days after hatch and support lifetime productivity.

 

NEOCHICC

Cargill has designed a complete diet for broiler and layer chicks in mini-pellet form for feeding in the first 120 hours of life to promote productivity and unit performance.  It includes precise amounts of protein, starch and fat coming from highly digestible ingredients to promote maximum nutrient digestibility as well as a carefully selected package of additives to support the development of the animal. On-farm trial results show that this new diet, Neochicc®, can improve feed conversion rates, chick weights, and overall profitability.  The mini 1.8mm pellet is dust-free and encourages intakes of a consistent diet, stimulating early development of the gut, enzyme production and microbiota maturation.  These factors all support gut health, the immune system development and overall feed efficiency.   For more details see www.provimi.eu/uk-neochicc