Finger millet is rarely used as a poultry feed (Esele, 1986). It is of lower quality for poultry than maize, sorghum and pearl millet, due to its lower protein and higher fibre contents (Rao et al., 2002; Elangovan et al., 2004). Another reason for the lower performance may be its tannin content, though this has not been recently demonstrated (Abate et al., 1984). Its metabolizable energy content has been reported lower than that of maize (Purushothaman et al., 1995; Reddy et al., 1995; Reddy et al., 1970; cited by Nageswara et al., 2003). However, in regions where it is available at a low cost, it can be an alternative to maize or to pearl millet.
Several trials found that finger millet could substitute safely up to 25% of maize grain (about 15% of the diet) without affecting weight gain, carcass yields and immunity in commercial broiler diets. Inclusion of finger millet also reduced the fat deposition in the thigh muscle, liver and abdominal area compared to maize (Rao et al., 2005). At higher substitution levels, it depressed growth in the starting phase though this effect was less noticeable during the finishing phase (Tyagi et al., 2004; Abate et al., 1984). Substitution with finger millet at 75 and 100% depressed feed efficiency at 21 and 42 days of age (Rao et al., 2005). However, another study found that a 75% substitution did not affect body weight gain, feed efficiency and feed consumption and that it was economically efficient (Jayanaik et al., 2008). Enzyme supplementation of finger millet-based diets improved feed intake, body weight gain and feed efficiency (Jayanaik et al., 2008; Elangovan et al., 2004).
It is important that the grain is fed ground: whole finger millet depressed body weight and feed efficiency, which improved in animals fed ground grains (Raju et al., 2003; Raju et al., 2004). Studies have reported an increase in gizzard, giblet and intestine weight or size due to the higher fibre content of finger millet (Rao et al., 2002; Raju et al., 2003; Raju et al., 2004).
Laying hens (breeders)
The complete replacement of maize by finger millet in the diet of broiler breeders was generally detrimental to performance (egg production, energy utilization efficiency and yolk colour index) but may be economically viable depending on the local prices for maize and millet (Rao et al., 2000).
Total substitution of maize by unground finger millet (57% inclusion rate) in the diet of layer ducks did not affect performance (egg production, hatchability, livability and egg quality) though feed intake was higher. Using finger millet was found to be economically viable (Nageswara et al., 2003).