Function and Utilization of Essential Vitamins and Minerals in Chickens

Just like for us humans, to chickens, vitamins and minerals are very important for health. Lack of  of these, known as a deficiency,  causes problems, varying from something more minor such as decreased egg production to much more serious conditions, such as anaemia and death.

Chickens need all known vitamins and minerals, with the exception of Vitamin C.

Below is a list of Vitamins and Minerals, and the effects suffered by chickens in case of deficiency.



Vitamin/ Mineral

Vitamin and Mineral Function Deficiency symptoms

Vitamin A (Retinol)

Good feathering, egg production, reproduction Weakness, lack of growth, decreased egg production
Thiamine (B1) involved in enzyme systems, Loss of apetite, Death, chick paralysis
Riboflavin (B2) Essential in many enzyme systems Poor growth, poor egg production and curly toe
Pantothenic Acid Essential for Growth, hatchability, feathering Dermatitis and lesions on feet and around beak and eyes
Niacin Fat protein and carbohydrate metabolism Bowed legs, inflamed mouth cavity
Choline Fat metabolism, Fatty liver, poor growth
Vitamin B12 Growth, good hatchability Anaemia, poor growth, embryonic
Vitamin D Bone growth, egg shell production, Calcium and Phosphorus utilization Rickets
Vitamin E Normal reproduction and fertility. Antioxidant Enlarged hocks, crazy chick disease
Vitamin K Blood clotting, haemorrhage
Folic Acid Prevents perosis, good feathering Anaemia, poor feathering, poor growth, anaemia
Biotin maintains blood glucose levels, involved in carbohydrate conversion Perosis, poor hatchability
Below are some important minerals essential to chickens’ health
Calcium Important for healthy bones, and strong eggshells, and hatchability Soft shelled eggs, poor hatchability and rickets
Cobalt Activates enzymes, synthesises B12, needed for pyrimidine synthesis Slow growth, mortality, reduced hatchability
Copper Iron metabolism, controls the movement of iron anaemia
Iodine Thyroxyn synthesis, regulates neuromuscular functions goitre
Iron Important in haemoglobin formation, Transports oxygen anaemia
Magnesium energy metabolism, nerve impulse transmission Sudden death,
Manganese Important in the formation of bone cartilage Perosis, poor hatchability, bone shortening, bowing bones
molybdenum Synthesis of haemoglobin Deficiency rare, excess more common, causes reduction in copper availability
Phosphorus Component of bone, helps bone structuring Poor egg shell quality, rickets, bad hatchability
sodium Acid-base balance, salt balance dehydration
Selenium Antioxidant, increases vit. E absorbsion, Poor fertility and hatchability
Zinc Essential for over 2oo enzyme systems Short bones, poor feathering, poor eggshell formation



Examining a chickens Health

Experienced poultry keepers develop a ‘sixth sense’ and are able to tell if their birds are behaving normally with so little as a glance. Experienced or not, it is important to learn how to tell if your birds are in good shape. Signs to look out for include comb, feathers, vent, eyes etc. Comb; This can serve as a good indicator, if its red in cockerels, then the cockerel is generally healthy. If it is red in hens, the hen is healthy and in lay. If a hens comb is pink she is not in lay but is still healthy. If the comb is blue tinged, then circulation is poor. The wattles should be red and the earlobes should be red/white according to breed standard.

Head; This is also a good indicator, the nostrils should be clear and free of fluid. If they have runny discharge, the birds could be trying to fight off bacterial or viral infection, otherwise they may be suffering from respiratory disease. Listening to their breathing should determine if they have difficulty breathing, if they wheeze or their breath rattles, they may be suffering from respiratory disease.                                                                                                                                                                   Eyes should be bright and alert, with no discharge or frothy mucus. the beak should lie normally, it should be brown/black/yellow/blue as breed standard will determine.

Legs, feathers and feet; Legs should be smooth, the scales should lie flat. They should be ‘clean’ both in terms of cleanliness and featherless (unless the breed standard calls for it). Their feet should have four toes, no more no less (unless by breed standard they have five toes eg. silkies).                    Feathers  should be smooth, colourful and shiny. They should have appropriate markings for the breed. Some breeds are referred to as ‘soft feathered’ while others are ‘hard feathered’. This refers to feather texture, for example Brahmas feathers are soft and they are classified as soft feathered. Chickens feathers and markings should agree with their breed classification.                                      The vent should be clean and muck free, the base of the feathers should be regularly checked for the buildup of lice, because, along with the wing feathers, the vent feathers are a prime place for lice. It is very important to bear all of this information into account when buying new birds.

It is extremely important to keep your chickens healthy, and if you do, you will be rewarded with eggs and cute chicks.