Including Oats in Organic Poultry Diets

eOrganic author:

Dr. Jacquie Jacob Ph.D., University of Kentucky

NOTE: Before using any feed ingredient make sure that the ingredient is organic and that it is listed in your Organic System Plan and approved by your certifier.


Oats (Avena sativa) are grown primarily in cool, wet regions of the world. Oats have several agronomic advantages, including improvement of soil condition and reduced disease pressure compared to wheat and barley.

Oat groats are whole oats that have had the hull removed. Naked oats lose their hulls during harvesting.


Nutrient content of oats (Batal and Dale, 2010)

  • Dry matter: 90%
  • Metabolizable energy: 2550 kcal/kg (1160 kcal/lb)
  • Crude protein: 11.5%
    • Methionine: 0.20%
    • Cysteine: 0.21%
    • Lysine: 0.40%
    • Tryptophan: 0.18%
    • Threonine: 0.28%
  • Crude fat: 4.0%
  • Crude fiber: 10.5%
  • Ash: 4%
    • Calcium: 0.10%
    • Total phosphorus: 0.35%
    • Non-phytate phosphorus: 0.14%

Compared to other cereals, oat grain has higher levels of the essential amino acids lysine, methionine, and cystine. It also has the highest lipid content of all the cereals—primarily comprised of unsaturated oleic and linoleic fatty acids (Maurice et al., 1985). The composition varies widely depending on the variety, climate, and fertilization practices.

The use of oats in poultry diets is limited due to the high fiber content, most of which is in the hull. Hulless, or naked, oats have been developed that have a thin, non-lignified husk on the outside of the grain. This husk falls off during harvesting. For whole oats, the portion made up by the hull varies from 20-45%, resulting in a wide range of nutrient contents. Naked oats are higher in energy, protein, and lipid than conventional hulled oats, but lower in fiber.

Feeding Oats to Poultry

Whole oats

Whole oats have a high fiber content. Since poultry are not able to digest fiber very well, inclusion of oats in their diet reduces nutrient availability. Because of the high fiber and relatively low energy content, whole oats are better suited for use in pullet developer and breeder diets. Feather pecking is a common problem in non-cage systems. The addition of low levels of oat hulls (3%) during the rearing period has been shown to reduce feather pecking in laying hen flocks. However, the inclusion of small amounts of oat hulls negatively impacts pellet quality.

Naked oats

Historically, the primary reason for limiting the use of oats, aside from the high fiber content, was the presence of beta-glucans. Beta-glucans are anti-nutritional factors that reduce nutrient availability. Enzyme supplementation of oats has been shown to improve growth performance in a variety of poultry species. The availability of feed enzymes has renewed interest in alternative grains, including oats.

Research in Australia (Farrell et al., 1991) indicated that broiler diets high in naked oats need to be pelleted for maximum performance. Performance was further improved with the addition of feed enzymes. Up to 84% naked oats included in chick diets resulted in broiler performance similar to what was achieved with wheat-based diets.

Maurice et al. (1985) recommended limiting inclusion of naked oats in broiler diets to 40%. Companies producing feed enzymes indicate that, with supplemental enzymes, the inclusion of whole oats in poultry diets can be increased to 60%. However, inclusion of 50% naked oats in broiler diets was reported to decrease some sensory quality parameters such as juiciness, tenderness, and stringiness of the meat produced, depending on the sex of the bird and other management conditions (Poste et al., 1996).

In feeding trials, it was shown that naked oats can replace corn and soybean meal in layer diets, but additional synthetic methionine and lysine was needed (Cave et al., 1989). The potential of dietary flax seed and oat grains to increase omega-3 fatty acid content of eggs was shown to vary by strain (Scheideler at al., 1998). Canadian research (Burrows, 2004) indicates that up to 60% naked oats can be included in layer diets, replacing corn, soybean meal, and oil. At this level there is no loss in production, but feed efficiency is reduced. Using 30% naked oats in the diet had no negative effect on feed efficiency.

References and Citations

  • Batal, A., and N. Dale. 2010. Feedstuffs Ingredient Analysis Table: 2011 edition [Online]. Feedstuffs. Available at: (verified 6 Dec 2013)
  • Burrows, V.D. 2004. Hulless oats. In: Abdel-Aal, E., and Wood, P. (eds) Specialty Grains for Food and Feed. American Society of Cereal Chemists, St. Paul, Minnesota, pp. 223—251.
  • Cave, N. A., R.M.G. Hamilton, and V. D. Burrows. 1989. Evaluation of naked oats (Avena nuda) as a feedingstuff for laying hens. Canadian Journal of Animal Science 69:789—799. (Available online at: (verified 6 Dec 2013)
  • Farrell, D. J., B. S. Takhar, A. R. Barr, and A. S. Pell. 1991. Naked oats: Their potential as a complete feed for poultry. RANN Conference Proceedings. (Available online at: (verified 6 Dec 2013)
  • Maurice, D. V., J. E. Jones, M. A. Hall, D. J. Castaldo, J. E. Whisenhunt, and J. C. McConnell. 1985. Chemical composition and nutritive value of naked oats (Avena nuda L.) in broiler diets. Poultry Science 64:529—535. (Available for purchase online at: (verified 9 Dec 2013)
  • Poste, L. M., G. Butler, N. A. Cave, and V. D. Burrows. 1996. Sensory analysis of meat from broiler chickens fed diets containing hulless oats (Avena nuda). Canadian Journal of Animal Science 76:313—319. (Available online at: (verified 9 Dec 2013)
  • Scheideler, S. E., D. Jaroni, and G. Froning. 1998. Strain and age effects on egg composition from hens fed diets rich in n-3 fatty acids. Poultry Science 77:192—196. (Available online at: (verified 9 Dec 2013)

Published December 10, 2013

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.