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Updated: Jan 16, 2023

Quote Worth Re-quoting -

"Haters will see you walk on water and say it's because you can't swim."

I have had some interesting dialogue regarding feeding milk to poultry and I think there are several points that need to be addressed in regards to feeding milk to poultry:

  • Chickens love milk and all forms of milk product, there is no doubt this is a true statement. That being said, you should know that chickens will consume more than they actually need for a daily requirement when milk is being added to feed. This effect is kind of like humans going to a really good buffet. On average we tend to eat a little more than we should.

  • Milk in liquid form is only between 3% from a high producing dairy animal and 8% protein from sheep or yaks.

  • Dried whole milk is on average 26.7% protein from cattle.

  • Poultry diets are calculated on “As Fed” or “As Is” basis not “Dry Matter” as with ruminants.

  • Therefore milk in liquid form straight from the cow is between 3-4% protein depending on the breed of bovine.

This data on the protein levels of milk can be gotten from most dairy farmers who sells to wholesalers that pay them based on protein and butter fat content of their milk.

The data I am using is from Feedstuffs magazine, reference issue 2002.

Morrison’s Feeds and Feedings, 1957 show’s milk protein level to be 3.5%.

I really don’t want to be the wet blanket on this subject and I think there is a place for milk in a poultry diet. But on the other hand I have autopsied several birds-broilers that have had severely enlarged livers that were pale or uniformly discolored from free choice milk feeding.

  • A chicken’s liver only has so much capacity to process fats in the diet and only a portion of which can come from milk or animal fats.

  • Fat levels in a modern chicken diet must be between 4-6% of the diet total.

  • If you choose to feed milk to poultry the feed ration must be compensated for the fat content of the milk and therefore the milk quantity should be measured and controlled.

Changes to feeding and poultry over the past century-

  • Due to the genetic selection and breeding of poultry over the past 100 or more years the modern breeds whether Cornish Cross or Production Layers, their diet requirements are much higher than those of there ancestors 100 years ago.

  • 100 years ago the average hen laid 150-200 eggs per year in comparison to 290-310 for modern production layers.

  • The protein requirement of today’s layer are 17-18% protein at the onset of lay - for heritage breeds 12-14% was sufficient to support good egg production.

  • The same hold true for the broiler of today vs. White Rock dual purpose birds of a century ago. Now the broiler requires 18-22% protein to develop on time or even to live well. If this value is not achieved they will suffer and be metabolic deficiencies. While the older breeds that were used for meat would have done well with a 16-17% protein Starter-grower and 12-14% finisher and their growing period was over 14-16 or more weeks.

  • Years ago broiler or meat birds would have hatched in the spring May to early June when temperatures would have been milder, bugs would be available and a good scratch grain with left over milk would make a decent feed. Because of this, their feed requirement wasn’t as high as today’s super birds.

Milk is a really nice treat for poultry and if used judiciously can provide great help when fighting Coccidiosis and Necrotic Enteritis.

Milk is not really an effective modern breed poultry feed ingredient that will have enough protein to significantly offset the use of soybean, peas, fishmeal, crab meal, or other protein inputs.

I honestly wish someone would do the SARE Grant to prove me and the data I have access to wrong. I think milk is a wonderful whole food but not for poultry.

Written and shared with permission by our nutritionist Jeff Mattocks


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