Including Pearl Millet 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.


Millet is one of the most drought-tolerant food crops. While there are several grains called millets, the most commonly grown varieties are pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), and foxtail millet (Setaria italica). Pearl millet is the most commonly used of these three small-seeded grains, and is an important tropical food cereal in West Africa and India. It is an early-maturing, deep-rooted summer crop that is able to use residual nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in the soil. As such, it may not require the levels of fertility as some other summer grains (Lee et al., 2004). Pearl millet is also well-suited for double cropping and crop rotations.

Until recently, pearl millet was grown in the United States primarily as a forage crop. Breeding programs in Georgia and Kansas have produced pearl millet hybrids with higher grain yields, thus increasing interest in pearl millet grain (Andrews et al., 1996). Although it can be grown in areas not favorable to corn, and the grain can be used in poultry diets, production of pearl millet grain has been limited due to its susceptibility to rust disease. Rust-resistant hybrids have been developed that would alleviate this concern. The pearl millet grown in the United States appears to be resistant to Aspergillus flavus infection, reducing concerns about mycotoxins. However, pearl millet grain is susceptible to Fusarium (fungus), but the level of Fusarium toxins are usually low.

One additional factor that has limited the use of pearl millet is the fact that most mills do not have two post-grinding bins for grains. Research has shown that inclusion of up to 10% whole pearl millet seeds can be used in broiler diets without adversely affecting performance or pellet quality (Hidalgo et al., 2004). This eliminates the costs associated with grinding millet, and the need for bin space to store ground millet.


Nutrient content of pearl millet (Batal and Dale, 2010)

  • Dry matter: 90%
  • Metabolizable energy: 3240 kcal/kg (1470 kcal/lb)
  • Crude protein: 12.0%
    • Methionine: 0.28%
    • Cysteine: 0.24%
    • Lysine: 0.35%
    • Tryptophan: 0.20%
    • Threonine: 0.44%
  • Crude fat: 4.2%
  • Crude fiber: 1.8%
  • Ash: 2.5%
    • Calcium: 0.05%
    • Total phosphorus: 0.30%
    • Non-phytate phosphorus: 0.10%

Pearl millet grain does not have many of the anti-nutritional factors that are present in other alternative grains (Andrews et al., 1996). Compared to rye and sorghum, pearl millet is low in tannins. It does not appear to require heat treatment to destroy any protease inhibitor or other harmful factors. Pearl millet grain does, however, contain saponins, which are known to damage the lining of the digestive tract.

Pearl millet has a higher oil content than corn, averaging 5% (Amini and Ruiz-Feria, 2007). Linolenic acid makes up 4% of the total fatty acids in the oil, making pearl millet a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Feeding pearl millet to poultry

Research out of Canada (Baurhoo et al., 2011) indicates that in comparison to broilers fed corn-based diets, pearl millet-based diets require less soybean meal. Broilers fed the pearl millet-based diets had better growth performance and improved intestinal health. Supplementation with feed enzymes increased digestibility of crude protein and amino acid availability. Similar results were reported in the southeastern United States, where substituting pearl millet for corn in broiler diets resulted in the same or better performance as broilers fed typical corn-soybean meal diets (Davis et al., 2003).

Pearl millet has been shown to be a suitable feedstuff for poultry diets. It can be added to the diets of laying hens without adversely effecting egg production or feed efficiency, but the fatty acid profile is altered (Amini and Ruiz-Feria, 2007). The eggs from hens fed the pearl millet-based diets were higher in omega-3 and lower in omega-6 fatty acids than those from hens fed a corn-based diet and can be sold at a higher price in the United States than that of conventional eggs.

Pearl millet is also higher in methionine than corn, alleviating some of the need for synthetic methionine supplementation in organic poultry diets (Andrews et al., 1996).

References and Citations

Published December 6, 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.