Merck Manual

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Nutrition in Gallinaceous Birds


Joeke Nijboer

, PhD

Last full review/revision May 2015 | Content last modified Jun 2015

Many gallinaceous birds are omnivorous. Commercial diets for domestic fowl, domestic turkeys, and Japanese quail are available. During nonbreeding periods, a maintenance diet can be offered two or three times daily and generally should contain <20% crude protein. During the breeding season, food should be offered free choice and contain a higher protein content (20%–25% crude protein).

Most quail are primarily seed-eaters and are easy to feed. Some Old World quail species are insectivorous and must be provided a diet with specific protein requirements. Peafowl in general (Pavo spp) consume invertebrates, mollusks, beetle larvae, and in the case of the Indian blue peafowl, even the venomous cobra. Other gallinaceous birds consume almost exclusively vegetable material. The tragopans (Tragopan spp), some pheasants (Syrmaticus spp), and several species of grouse are largely vegetarian. Tragopans consume sprouts, grasses, mosses, berries, and a few insects. In captivity, tragopans can be fed lucerne, grasses, cucumbers, apples, and different kinds of berries. Grouse are noted for their ability to feed on plants containing quinones, which are not consumed by other animals. Captive grouse should receive natural foods or at least large amounts of leaves, grass, and berries supplemented with a limited quantity of pellets and grain. Feeding these largely herbivorous species with game bird or domestic fowl commercial diets will result in suboptimal fertility and health.

Coccidiostats are added to some poultry feeds. Monensin is commonly used and is toxic for guinea fowl. All gallinaceous birds should have access to grit. Poultry pellets generally contain adequate calcium and vitamins, and additional supplementation should be done only when a deficiency exists.

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