Alternative Feed Ingredients for Poultry Diets

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

Written by: Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky

Corn and soybean meal are the two most commonly used feed ingredients in commercial poultry diets. Demand for corn has increased with the use of corn in ethanol, and as a result, the price of corn has risen. The U.S. drought has also resulted in increased prices for corn and soybean meals. This has increased the interest in alternative feed ingredients for use in poultry diets.

Energy Sources


Amaranth is an ancient crop that has been grown for thousands of years. The grain was a staple in the diet of the Aztecs. The crop has recently been "rediscovered" and has potential as a food and as a feed ingredient.

Spent Brewer's Grains

Brewer's grains are a by-product of beer making. Beer is the fifth most consumed drink in the world, surpassed only by tea, carbonate drinks, milk, and coffee.


Buckwheat is often grouped with the cereals, but it is actually not a cereal. It has a cereal-like fruit seed that is related more closely to rhubbarb than to cereals. It is often referred to as a pseudocereal. Buckwheat is a summer annual that has a potential role in organic crop production.


Oats are more tolerant of wet weather and acidic soils than wheat or barley. Oats also require less agrochemical and fertilizer input. There has been renewed interest in oats as a feed ingredient.

Pearl Millet

Pearl millet is typically resistant to drought and heat, so it is grown widely in tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Some pearl millet is also grown in the United States.


Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wa) is a pseudocereal grown for its edible seeds. It is not a member of the grass family (and therefore is not a cereal) and is more closely related to species such as beets and spinach.

Rice Bran

Rice bran is high in fiber and low in energy. Rice bran also contains the antinutritional factor trypsin inhibitor. As a result, it is recommended that rice bran make up no more than 10% to 15% of the total content of a poultry diet.


Rye is a versatile crop. It can be grown as forage for cattle and other ruminant livestock or as a green manure in crop rotations in organic farming. It can also be grown for grain that can be used as a feed ingredient, for alcohol distillation, or for human consumption.

Spelt Wheat

Spelt is an ancient wheat species that shows a higher resistance to environmental influences than common wheat.


Triticale is a hybrid developed by crossing wheat and rye. It is reported to grow well in regions not suitable for corn or wheat.

Protein Sources

Camelina Meal

Camelina is also known as false flax. Camelina meal is a new by-product of oil extraction for biodiesel production.

Cottonseed Meal

Cottonseed meal has less crude protein, dietary energy, and available lysine content than more conventionally used soybean meal. Cottonseed meal also contains the antinutritional factors gossypol and cyclopropenoid fatty acids. New glandless cottonseed developed for meal production has almost no gossypol.


It is common for free-range chickens to consume earthworms. Recently there has been interest in the commercial production of earthworm meal for use in animal feed.

Flaxseed Meal

Flax was first brought to North America for its stem fiber, which was used in the making of linen and paper. Today flaxseed is grown in the United States and Canada as a commercial oil crop. Linseed oil is pressed from flaxseed and is further extracted with a petroleum solvent. Industrial linseed is not suitable for food or feed. The remaining flaxseed meal can be used in animal feeds.


Lupins are adapted to grow on poor, acidic soils, so most lupin production occurs in areas where other crops struggle. Australia is the dominant world producer of lupins, accounting for about 85% of world production. Lupins are also produced in the United Kingdom and western Canada. The high price of organic feed has been hampering the development of organic poultry production, which has resulted in increased interest in organically grown lupins. Lupins have the advantage of not requiring roasting prior to feeding.

Peanut Meal

It is unclear whether allergens from peanuts are carried over into eggs and meat from poultry fed peanut meal (also referred to as groundnut meal). Because of its low availability nationally and the potential for mycotoxin contamination, very little research has been done on the use of peanut meal in poultry diets.

Potato Protein

Potato protein is a by-product of the production of potato starch. Potato starch is used in Europe in applications that would commonly call for corn starch in the United States.

Safflower Meal

Safflower seed is a productive crop under semiarid conditions or in nonirragated conditions (that is, conditions in which rain is the sole source of water). Most of the U.S. safflower crop is grown in California, primarily for the bird feed industry. Safflower was originally grown for its flowers, which were used to create red and yellow dyes for clothing and coloring for foods. Today safflower is grown primarily  for its oil, which is used for food and industrial purposes.

Sesame Seed Meal

Sesame is primarily grown for use in human nutrition. The seeds contain more than 50% oil. Sesame seed meal is a by-product of oil extraction. Compared to soybean meal, sesame seed meal is low in lysine, isoleucine, leucine, and valine, but it is a good source of methionine.

Sunflower Seed Meal

Sunflower is a widely distributed oilseed. Sunflower seed meal is a by-product of oil extraction from sunflower seeds. Processing time and temperature during extraction affect the amount of lysine available in the final meal. The fiber level of the product depends on the extent to which the seeds are removed prior to oil extraction. Higher levels of hulls improve oil extraction efficiency but also increase the fiber content of the meal, reducing its potential as a feed ingredient in poultry diets. The variability in the percentage of hulls remaining is the reason that there is a high variability in poultry performance depending on the sources of sunflower seed meal.

Protein and Energy Sources

Various Legumes

A variety of legumes can be used in poultry diets. Legume seeds have twice as much protein as grains and are also a dietary energy source.

Connect with us

  • Facebook
  • YouTube


This is where you can find research-based information from America's land-grant universities enabled by



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