Feeding Wheat to Poultry

Small and Backyard Flocks May 05, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Written by: Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky

Wheat (Triticum aestivum) is often used in poultry diets in western Canada and parts of Europe. The husk of wheat detaches from the grain during threshing (in conventional barley and oats, the husk remains attached), reducing the grain's fiber content. The energy content of wheat is 94% to 96% that of corn. Wheat is higher in protein and the amino acids lysine and tryptophan than corn. Wheat contains gluten, which is advantageous in the making of pellets because it eliminates the need for pellet binders.

Wheat varieties are categorized according to three classifications.

  • Wheat varieties can be classified as soft or hard depending on their gluten content. Hard wheat varieties tend to have high protein content, while soft wheat varieties have a high starch content. Durum wheat, used most often for human consumption, is the hardest of the wheat varieties.
  • Wheat types are also classified as red or white depending on the grain color.
  • The third classification reflects the variety's growing season. Winter wheat, planted in the fall, becomes dormant to tolerate winter temperatures until spring. Spring wheat lacks the dormancy capability and can be planted only in the spring.

Different wheat varieties contain different types of starches, some of which are difficult for the foregut to digest. These starches become food sources for lower gut bacteria that may form waxy particles and lead to sticky fecal material. The use of supplemental feed enzymes helps alleviate this problem in chickens.

Recently there has been interest in feeding whole grains to poultry. Some experts believe feeding whole wheat feeds to chickens improves their digestive tracts, increasing the birds' ability to resist coccidiosis challenge. Including a high percentage of ground wheat in feed can result in flour buildup in feeders, so producers who do so must take extra care to prevent mold contamination.

Table 1. Nutrient content of hard and soft wheat (Source: Feedstuffs Ingredient Analysis Table: 2011 edition, by Amy Batal and Nick Dale, University of Georgia)

Dry matter, % 88 86
Metabolizable energy, kcal/kg 3170 3210
Metabolizable energy, kcal/lb 1440 1460
Crude protein, % 13.5 10.8
Methionine, % 0.25 0.14
Cysteine, % 0.30 0.20
Lysine, % 0.40 0.30
Tryptophan, % 0.18 0.12
Threonine, % 0.35 0.28
Crude fat, % 1.9 1.7
Crude fiber, % 3.0 2.8
Ash, % 2.0 2.0
Calcium, % 0.05 0.05
Total phosphorus, % 0.41 0.30
Non-phytate phosphorus, % 0.12 0.11

Wheat By-Products 

  • Wheat bran consists mainly of the outer coatings of wheat kernels.
  • Wheat red dog, sometimes referred to as "light shorts," is a product from the tail of the mill that consists mainly of the aleurone layer with small particles of bran, germ, and flour.
  • Wheat middling consists of fine particles of bran and germ, with very little red dog.
  • Wheat shorts consist of bran, germ, flour, and tailings.
  • Wheat screenings consist of thin, broken, and shrunken wheat kernels, weed seeds, and other contaminants, including straw, chaff, and dust. Commercial products should have at least 35% grain, less than 8% small weed seeds (for example, wild and domestic mustard, flax, rapeseed), and not have more than 8% wild oats.

Table 2. Comparing the nutrient content of wheat and wheat by-products (SOURCE: Feedstuffs Ingredient Analysis Table: 2011 edition, by Amy Batal and Nick Dale, University of Georgia)

Ingredient DM Energy CP EE CF Ca Met Lys
Wheat, hard, grain 88 1440 13.5 1.9 3.0 0.05 0.25 0.40
Wheat, soft, grain 86 1460 10.8 1.7 2.8 0.05 0.14 0.30
Wheat bran 89 590 14.8 4.0 10.0 0.14 0.20 0.60
Wheat shorts 89 1150 16.0 4.2 6.0 0.11 0.18 0.78
Wheat germ meal 89 1280 25.0 7.0 3.5 0.01 0.42 1.37
Wheat middlings 89 950 15.0 3.6 8.5 0.15 0.12 0.70
Wheat grain screenings, #1 89 1265 14.8 2.6 6.2 0.18 0.17 0.40
Wheat grain screenings, #2 92 1205 12.5 3.9 7.6 0.13 0.12 0.48

DM = Dry matter, %; Energy in kcal/lb; CP = Crude protein, %; EE = Crude fat (ether extract), %; CF = Crude fiber, %; Ca = Calcium, %; Met = Methionine, %; Lys = Lysine, %

For More Information

Wheat as a replacement for corn in poultry diets. Robert Blair and Stewart Paulson, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The feeding of whole wheat to broilers. John Summers, Poultry Industry Council (Canada).

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.