Raising Guinea Fowl in NZ & Supa Chick Starter Feed Concern - Protein & Lysine

2 months 4 weeks ago - 2 months 3 weeks ago #559382 by Zander
Hi all,

I've been a long time lurker on LSB, and finally thought to have a reason to post and share some experiences as a bit of a guide for others to find.

I am raising some Guinea Fowl Keets (chicks) and its been hard to find good info about Keets in New Zealand, so this is my failings and learnings. 

I incubated my Keets over Christmas and they're now 3-weeks old.  They were doing great but then one-by-one started getting weak, "drunk", floundering and then dying.  I am now sadly down to 5 out of the original 8 healthy hatchlings (plus 1 runt sadly), out of about 25 variable-quality eggs.

I understand that Keets desire higher protein than Chicks, but that we can't get such high protein feeds readily in New Zealand (e.g. Turkey Starter).  Some people say they need 30% protein feeds, or add dried cat-food to chick starter.

Based on this I chose the Supa Chick Starter which boasts 21% protein, whereas the the others were 19%.  It had the Bovatec medication for coccidiostat - these kinds of medications have mixed reviews, but mostly good.  Knowing that Keets want more protein, I looked up ways to add - and realised Top Flite Dried Mealworms sound great, at 50% protein, if a bit expensive.  They also sound like the ideal food chicks might hunt out.  I calculated that an 80:20 ratio of Supa Chick Starter to Dried Mealworms would give about 27% protein.  I ground up the desired amount of mealworms and mixed in with their feed.  They seemed to thrive on this.

However, I then found  a study saying 24% protein is optimal , so I reduced the ratio to more like 90:10.  The chicks seemed fine, and I wondered if they even needed the mealworms so I may even have given them a feed without any mealworms. 

Around this time, they were getting a bit too hot in the spare room I was brooding them, so thought they could handle being just outside in a tent brooder, with their chick warmer-plate.  Before moving them, we notice one was having difficulty walking and falling over backwards.  I thought maybe it was heat-stroke, so we urgently moved them outside to a bit cooler.  The keets initially seemed very happy.

A day or so later though, the poorly keet passed away and to my shock another healthy one too!  The temperature may have been a bit too cold, from one extreme to the other.  They were a bit too young to go outside, but had the hot plate and shelter.  Another keet was looking "drunk" and all the others were looking a bit weak, shaky and off their food.

We quickly brought them into the lounge for a "perfect" temperature, new smaller brood-tent etc.  They were still all quite lethargic, and after a day or so the poorly one died and yet another was starting to look "drunk".  I popped to the vets to ask, though the receptionist ladies couldn't advise and I never heard back from the vet.  I also asked a friendly local lady who says she raises Keets fine on NRM Chick Starter.

Around this time I posted on Backyard Chickens  asking for help where someone commented about nutrients, not just protein.  Supa Chick Starter listed lots of good nutrients, but not the quantities or proportions.  I noticed a bag of NRM Chick Starter I bought but not used had only 19% protein, but clearly stated it has 0.95% Lysine - even though it looks more "manufactured" than natural.

Lysine - what is that?  A bit of Googling and its an essential amino acid.  It is apparently important to promote appetite, and also vital for brain and organ development in chicks. In this study it was found that 1.1% lysine in keet feed is optimal .  But also that 0.8% or less is pretty much fatal to keets!  I messaged Supa Feed to ask their lysine content and was told just 0.15% !  Chicks need about 0.9% lysine too.   I then looked up lysine in mealworms - and guess what, they're awesome with potentially 2.67% lysine !

So, a bit of Sherlock Holmes deduction, and I believe my adding mealworms to their feed was (more importantly than protein) adding lysine to their diet from the minimal 0.15% available in the Supa Chick Starter - raising it to 0.65%, still too low but at least something.  When I reduced the mealworms to 24% protein, the lycine from the mealworms reduced to 0.5%. Then when I gave a feed or 2 without mealworms they were down to 0.15%.  This was around the same time we saw the first groggy one and we were moving them outside.

I have since swapped to NRM's Chick Starter with 0.95% lysine (after bringing them into the lounge).  After a couple of days of lethargy, they are bouncing back, their appetite and energy restored!  Even the last "ill/weak" one I was expecting to die next is getting better.  I have also recently started giving them whole dried mealworms which they love (they didn't like the dried cat food I tried, or even boiled egg).

I calculate that a ratio of 90:10 NRM Chick Starter : Mealworms will yield around 22% protein and 1.1% lysine - a little low on protein but fine.  Alternatively a 85:15 ratio will yield around 24% protein and 1.2% lysine - a little high on lysine but still ok.  Mealworms also have loads of other needed amino acids and nutrients.

In short, I recommend NRM Chick Starter and Mealworms.  I cannot recommend Supa Chick Starter sadly.  It may even be dangerous to keets and chicks having such low lysine, though my circumstances may have magnified this "danger" somewhat (keets being too hot/too cold etc).

I hope this post is useful to someone, and maybe even saves some keets or chicks.  Who knows, I may encounter more troubles with my keets in which case I'll update this post, but things are looking promising again.

Other tips:

* Pop-up brooder tents are great.  Though don't make my mistake, start with the smallest and get larger if need be.  I got a very large one, expecting lots of eggs to hatch (after candling), but then the little keets/chicks can easily run away, become "wild", and the area is that much bigger and more difficult to clean!  The Warehouse 80cm play pen is working great for the 5, 3-week old keets I have left.
* Consider getting 2 pop-up brooders with 'doors' so you can shoo the keets/chicks through from the dirty to a clean one.
* The best bedding I've found is rubber "shelf mat" and cheap astroturf (Warehouse) so far.  The keets peck and tear up kitchen roll, and puppy pads!  Make sure they have some fine grit to "digest" this junk.
* Chick hot-plates are great too - they are safe, low power (18W) and the chicks can choose their own position & temperature.
* Train keets to use a nipple-drinker early, or they may be too scared/dumb to learn later :-/
* Little webcams are great to keep an eye on the keets, and identify what and when things go wrong.


Last edit: 2 months 3 weeks ago by Zander. Reason: Clearer title

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2 months 4 weeks ago #559385 by tonybaker
could it be that most feeds today contain soy as the protein instead of the good old blood and bone?

5 acres, Ferguson 35X and implements, Hanmay pto shredder, BMW Z3, Countax ride on mower, chooks, Dorper and Wiltshire sheep. Bosky wood burning central heating stove and radiators. Retro caravan. Growing our own food and preserving it. Small vineyard, crap wine. :)

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2 months 4 weeks ago - 2 months 4 weeks ago #559389 by Zander
A bit interesting, but NRM Chick Starter says it does contain animal protein whereas Supa Chick Starter says it contains no animal protein :-/

Chicks, especially game and wild birds, need bug protein and amino acids at least it seems.
Last edit: 2 months 4 weeks ago by Zander. Reason: Spelling mistake

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2 months 3 weeks ago #559396 by Ruth
What a great post, even though I personally never want to hear another Guinea fowl again.

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