The Chicks Are Here! 10 Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiency in Poultry

Yet another sign that spring has arrived, baby chicks and ducks available for purchase at local farm and ranch supply stores.  Especially with the rise in popularity of raising backyard, “City Chickens”, I have received phone calls from owners with nutritionally deficient chickens in June and July, wondering what is happening to their birds and what they can do to solve the problem.  Nutritional deficiencies are especially difficult to sort out as many nutrients display the same symptoms, so the best option is to formulate a diet that meets their basic nutrient requirements based on species, physiological state, production type and production goals.  The 1994 Nutrient Requirements of Poultry is a great resource to balancing poultry diets, and Ward Laboratories Inc. can test your feed ingredients for protein, fiber, minerals and fat to ensure the most accurate formulation.  Here are 13 signs of vitamin and mineral deficiencies common to poultry fed an unbalanced diet:

  1. Decreased or Lack of Energy

Lethargy in poultry can be a result of not enough available carbohydrates, low protein or not enough magnesium to support normal daily activity and function.

  1. Feather Abnormalities

There are several nutrients that when lacking in the diet can lead to abnormal feather appearance.  Deficiency of a specific amino acid, niacin, folic acid, cobalamin or zinc all can result in strange feathering.  Specifically, if feathers appear to be blackened vitamin D is most likely the nutrient missing from the diet.  Deficiency of riboflavin results in “Clubbed Down” a syndrome characterized by down feathers of newly hatched chicks growing curled up inside follicles.

  1. Depigmentation of Feathers

While lack of vitamin D results in blackened feathers, lack of lysine results in loss of pigmentation.  Copper and Iron deficiencies result in decreased specifically red pigmentations.

  1. Dermatitis and Skin Lesions

Irritation and inflammation of the skin can be the result of niacin, biotin, or pantothenic acid deficiencies.  Lesions specifically located on the foot pad can be attributed to biotin deficiency.

  1. Keratinization of Mucous Membranes

Keratinization is the process of filling cells with keratin protein, this prevents them from functioning and transitions the epithelial layers into a hardened covering.  The keratinization of mucous membranes in the body also decreases immune function of the epithelium.  This process is a symptom of vitamin A deficiency.

  1. Muscle Degeneration and Weakness

Depletion of muscles can be caused by thiamin or vitamin E deficiency.  “Crazy Chick Disease” is typically characterized by a chicken unable to support her own head due to muscle degeneration from lack of vitamin E in the diet.

  1. Bone Deformation and Weak Bones

Vitamin A deficiency can cause bone deformation and weak bones.  However, the three major nutrients associated with bone disorders are vitamin D, calcium and phosphorous.  Deficiency of calcium and phosphorous or the incorrect ratio of calcium : phosphorous, results in a condition known as “Cage-layer Disease”.  Cage-layer Disease occurs when chickens mobilize minerals from bone deposits to produce egg shells.  Chickens with this condition have weak, brittle bones and their rib cage is especially fragile and likely to break.

  1. Decreased Egg Production

Lack of vitamin D, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, or chloride is associated with lowered egg production.

  1. Thin Egg Shells and Decreased Hatchability

Thin eggshells and decreased viability of the egg can be signs of vitamin D, folic acid, magnesium or manganese deficiency.

  1. Neurological Disorders

Pantothenic acid and riboflavin deficiencies are both associated with neurological disorders.  “Curled Toe Paralysis” is a syndrome where lack of riboflavin in the diet affects peripheral nerves causing chicks to rest on their hocks and flex their toes due to paralysis of those muscles.

As you can see from the list of nutritional deficiency symptoms above, many of the same signs are caused by different micronutrients.  It is difficult to weed out the specific nutrient deficiency from the symptoms, which often occur in combinaion.  Therefore, the best way to avoid these issues is to reference the Nutrient Requirements of Poultry, test your feed ingredients at Ward Laboratories Inc. and formulate a well-balanced diet.

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