Animal feed resources information system

Feather meal

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Feather meal, feathermeal, hydrolyzed feather meal, poultry feather meal, hydrolyzed poultry feather meal

Related feed(s) 

Feathers are a by-product of broiler, turkey and poultry processing operations. Variability of feather meal between batches and between plants can be quite high due to differences in what is included (heads, feet, skin, etc.).


Pressurized cooking of feathers is the primary method of processing used in preparing feather meal. Some bacteria have been identified that produce a feather digesting enzyme, that will convert the protein fraction into a digestible form (Shih, 1993). Pepsin digestibility is used as method of assessing the quality of feather meal. Normally a pepsin digestibility of 75 % is considered to be a minimum value to assure that the feather meal has been adequately processed.

Nutritional aspects
Potential constraints 

Feather meals needs to be tested (pepsin digestibility) to assure that it has been processed properly. Care need to be taken to select other supplemental protein sources that will complement to poor amino acid profile of the feather meal, when formulating rations.


In Europe, feather meals are prohibited in the feeding of ruminants and monogastrics, except fish under certain conditions (Regulation (EC) n ° 999/2001 (annex IV)), but it is used in the other continents. Indeed, feather meal is an inexpensive protein source, high in rumen undegradable protein but low in His. It is produced by hydrolysis of hen feathers (i.e. for 30-40 min at 143 °C under 3 atm. of steam pressure), then dried (i.e. 90-110°C for 5 h); Strzetelski et al., 1999.

Digestive characteristics

In situ data on protein ruminal degradation are numerous (Hernandez et al., 1988; Blasi et al., 1991;  Chiou et al., 1995; England et al., 1997; Bargo et al., 2001; Loest et al., 2002; Moreira et al., 2003 ; Scholljegerdes et al., 2005 ; Habib et al., 2013 ; Mora-Luna et al., 2015) and range between 40 to 60%. For a comparable crude protein (CP) content (43% of DM), hydrolyzed feather meal had lower CP degradation than soybean meal (Mora-Luna et al., 2015); feather meal had also a lower CP degradability than sunflower meal (Bargo et al., 2001). The proteins of feather meal have thus low ruminal degradability, but also high intestinal true digestibility (Calsamiglia et al., 1995; Strzetelski et al., 1999; de Oliveira et al., 2003; Rodriguez et al., 2003; Branco et al., 2006; Lee et al., 1997). At similar intake, hydrolyzed feather meal conducted in wethers to similar portal and hepatic nitrogenous nutrient flows (alpha-amino nitrogen, ammonia and urea) than other protein sources (soybean meal, corn gluten meal) (Branco et al., 2004). Finally, feather meal is an effective source of metabolisable protein, and among sulfur AA, but mainly of Cys, with very little Met that may be limiting.

Dairy cattle

Feather meal can be an effective supplemental protein source for lactating dairy cattle in certain conditions. In mid-lactation Holstein cows, feather meal at 3% of DM intake was beneficial at for milk production with corn silage diet at 14% CP but not at 18% CP; feather meal at 6% of DM intake, had no effect on DM intake and milk fat percentage, but reduced CP digestibility and milk protein concentration (Harris et al., 1992).  Indeed, despite a high level of metabolizable protein, profile of amino-acids in feather meal can be limiting for milk production. Iso-metabolizable protein substitution of a balanced protein source by feather meal resulted in a decrease in DM intake, milk yield, milk protein content, and to a higher milk fat content (Stahel et al., 2014). Feeding hydrolysed feather meal at greater than 6.7% of diet DM decreased DM intake, leading to a linear decrease in milk protein concentration and yield (Morris et al., 2020). When cows were given feather meal, a deficiency of specific amino acids prevented the increase in milk and protein yield in response to increasing the frequency of milking, as observed with a better amino acid balance (Yeo et al., 2003). In lactating dairy cows consuming a diet of grass silage and a cereal-based supplement containing feather meal, response of milk production to infusions of His revealed that this amino-acid is first-limiting (Kim et al., 1999). In contrast, when associated to other protein sources to support metabolizable Met and Lys supply, feather meal gave comparable milk production than heat- and lignosulfonate-treated canola meal (Johnson-VanWieringen et al., 2007). A combination of feather meal and blood meal can be used as supplemental protein to support high milk production (>37 kg/d) in early lactation (Johnson et al., 1994). Feeding a combination of feather meal and blood meal was also found to increase milk production in dairy cattle (Grant et al., 1998).

In several cases, higher rumen undegradable protein supply provided by feather meal is not limiting for milk production, i.e. for cows on pasture producing less than 22 kg of milk (Bargo et al., 2001). In lactating beef cows fed Bromegrass hay ad libitum, supplement as feather meal-blood meal combination had only little effect on body weight, condition score, milk production, or calf body weight compared to vegetable supplements (Encinias et al., 2005)

Beef cattle

At similar DM intake, feather meal led to higher or similar daily weight gain than other protein sources (urea or soybean meal) in crossbred (Charoles/RedAngus/Nelore) castrated calves fed sorghum (Vargas et al, 2003). In calves fed iso-metabolizable protein and energy diets based on 40% of sorghum silage and 60% of concentrate, feather meal provided lower weight gains, higher intake and lower feed:gain ratio than the fish meal, soybean meal being intermediary (de Oliveira et al., 2002). Compared to soybean meal given at 1 kg/d from 45 days prior calving to the end of the breeding season in Brahman pregnant heifers, hydrolyzed feather meal induces lower body weight and condition score, but pregnancy rate was not affected  (Mora-Luna, et al., 2014). The lack of a response in protein efficiency to ruminally protected methionine and lysine suggested that feather meal as primary supplemental protein was adequate in these amino acids for growing calves (Klemesrud et al., 1998), but in another experiment feather meal promoted a gain response equal to 50% of the response obtained with rumen-protected Met (Klemesrud et al., 2000). Also, the replacement of a traditional grain by feather meal higher in metabolizable arginine (56 to 175 mg/kg body weight), did not affect weight gain in grazing growing Limousin heifers (Johnson et al., 2019). When feather meal was incorporated into liquid supplements to replace a portion of the CP provided by urea, average daily gain and reproductive performance was improved in mature beef cows (Pate et al., 1995). Feeding a combination of feather and blood meals resulted in the best growth in calves (Blasi et al., 1991).


In lambs, supplementation with feather meal showed no effect on straw digestion in lambs (Thomas et al., 1994). In contrast, feather meal increased daily gain when it replaced soybean meal and urea (Punsri, 1991) or soybean meal (Thomas et al., 1994). In wethers, substitution of soybean meal/urea by hydrolyzed feather meal produced an increase in protein intake and nitrogen retention, but also in in feces and urine nitrogen excretion, digestibility of nutrients being reduced (Branco et al., 2003). The nitrogen utilization of diets were comparable when soybean meal was replaced by feather meal and blood meal (Cozzi et al., 1995; Viswanathan et al., 2009). With a dietary concentrate level of 70% and at least 13% CP, differences in amino acid profiles among blood, corn gluten, feather, fish and soybean meals did not impact rate or efficiency of growth by Boer x Spanish wethers (Soto-Navarro et al., 2004). Also, wool fiber diameter and sulfur content of wool didn't differ in lambs fed feather meal vs soybean meal (Thomas et al., 1994).


The use of hydrolyzed feather meal with blood meal can improve the nutritive value of the diet and milk quality of dairy goats (Andrighetto et al., 1994). Also, hydrolyzing the hard tissue (feather and bone) and coextruded it with soybean hulls conducted to a palatable by-product meal for meat goats, supporting nitrogen metabolism similar to that of traditional protein sources (Freeman et al, 2009). West African Dwarf goats fed 12.5% feather meal plus 12.5% rice husk showed encouraging results in terms of DM intake, and nutrient digestibilities (Belewu, et al., 2009).


Swine feeding trials found that when feather meal replaced soybean meal that ADG and FC declined (Duangsmorn Sinchermsiri et al., 1989). High levels (5 and 7.5 %) of dietary feather meal decreased digestibility of DM and CP, decreased loin eye area, decreased FC and decreased feed intake in swine (Rachan Buaban, 1988). Feather meal when fed up to 10% of diet didn't was not found to affect DDM or DCP of the diet in swine (Rachan Buaban et al., 1989). In growing-finishing swine rations feather meal could provide up to 25 % of the dietary protein with significantly affecting performance (Khajarern et al., 1982b). No difference in performance was observed when up to 4 % feather meal was fed to swine 0-4 weeks of age and up to 8 % could be fed to the 4 to 8 week old age group (Khajarern et al., 1982b). Levels up to 10 % of feather meal in the diets of swine didn't affect total diet DM or CP digestibility, but as feather meal increased the Biological Value of the dietary CP decreased (Rachan Buaban et al., 1989).


Broilers and laying hens

Pullets fed feather meal was found to grow satisfactorily, the addition of methionine was found to improve performance (Khajarern et al., 1982a). The effect of supplementing feather meal with 0.2 to 0.5 % methionine was found to increase carcass quality in broilers and egg weight and shell thickness in layers (Miranda et al., 1981)


Feather meal can provide up to 50 % of the supplemental protein for young growing duckling, 100 % for older growing ducks and 50 % in ducks that are laying (Sucheep Suksupath, 1980).


In carps, feather meal was found to between poultry by-product meal and blood meal in its feeding value (Trzebiatowski et al., 1982).

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: This datasheet is pending revision and updating; its contents are currently derived from FAO's Animal Feed Resources Information System (1991-2002) and from Bo Göhl's Tropical Feeds (1976-1982).

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 92.1 1.9 88.3 95.7 107
Crude protein % DM 85.7 5.0 73.8 96.5 118
Crude fibre % DM 0.9 0.6 0.3 2.9 18
NDF % DM 55.8 1.9 53.8 57.5 3
ADF % DM 6.5 2.9 2.0 11.7 10
Lignin % DM 5.5 2.2 4.1 8.0 3
Ether extract % DM 6.7 2.5 2.5 13.6 46
Ether extract, HCl hydrolysis % DM 9.5 1.8 4.8 12.9 57
Ash % DM 5.5 3.8 1.3 16.0 115
Total sugars % DM 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.6 4
Gross energy MJ/kg DM 23.5 0.4 22.7 24.0 18 *
Minerals Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Calcium g/kg DM 12.7 4.1 3.6 16.8 22 *
Phosphorus g/kg DM 8.2 1.9 2.6 8.8 22 *
Potassium g/kg DM 1.3 0.2 1.0 1.5 10
Sodium g/kg DM 1.3 0.2 1.0 1.4 10
Magnesium g/kg DM 0.9 1.3 0.4 4.5 10
Manganese mg/kg DM 16 6 7 21 7
Zinc mg/kg DM 142 20 106 157 7
Copper mg/kg DM 10 1 7 11 6
Iron mg/kg DM 625 213 246 833 6
Amino acids Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Alanine % protein 4.6 0.3 4.1 5.3 19
Arginine % protein 6.7 0.4 5.6 7.4 24
Aspartic acid % protein 6.7 0.2 6.5 7.0 19
Cystine % protein 4.3 0.3 4.0 5.0 23
Glutamic acid % protein 10.6 0.9 8.6 11.6 19
Glycine % protein 7.3 0.5 6.1 8.3 21
Histidine % protein 0.8 0.2 0.5 1.4 24
Isoleucine % protein 4.9 0.4 3.5 5.3 25
Leucine % protein 8.0 0.5 7.3 9.2 26
Lysine % protein 2.1 0.2 1.7 2.6 27
Methionine % protein 0.7 0.1 0.6 1.0 26
Phenylalanine % protein 4.7 0.4 3.9 5.4 25
Proline % protein 9.4 0.3 8.8 10.0 17
Serine % protein 11.4 0.9 8.5 12.0 19
Threonine % protein 4.6 0.4 3.7 5.3 26
Tryptophan % protein 0.6 0.1 0.5 0.8 7
Tyrosine % protein 2.5 0.3 2.1 3.3 18
Valine % protein 7.2 1.1 5.1 8.1 25
Ruminant nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
OM digestibility, Ruminant % 76.8 4.1 72.0 82.7 6
Energy digestibility, ruminants % 82.6 1.0 71.0 82.6 4 *
DE ruminants MJ/kg DM 19.4 0.5 15.9 19.4 4 *
ME ruminants MJ/kg DM 13.3 0.5 13.3 14.5 4 *
Nitrogen digestibility, ruminants % 74.1 5.9 69.0 85.2 6
a (N) % 15.8 1
b (N) % 48.3 1
c (N) h-1 0.055 1
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=4%) % 44 *
Nitrogen degradability (effective, k=6%) % 39 28 39 2 *
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 88.7 *
DE growing pig MJ/kg DM 20.8 *
MEn growing pig MJ/kg DM 18.9 *
NE growing pig MJ/kg DM 11.6 *
Nitrogen digestibility, growing pig % 72.1 71.1 73.0 2
Poultry nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
AMEn cockerel MJ/kg DM 12.5 0.5 12.5 14.4 5 *
AMEn broiler MJ/kg DM 11.7 *
Fish nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Energy digestibility, salmonids % 63.7 57.4 70.1 2
Nitrogen digestibility, salmonids % 64.4 58.0 70.8 2

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


ADAS, 1988; ADAS, 1990; Aderibigbe et al., 1983; AFZ, 2011; Church et al., 1982; Dewar, 1967; Fialho et al., 1995; Furuya et al., 1988; Hajen et al., 1993; Hegedüs et al., 1990; Howie et al., 1996; Huston et al., 1971; Jongbloed et al., 1990; Kamalak et al., 2005; Kellems et al., 1998; Knabe et al., 1989; Knaus et al., 1998; Latshaw et al., 1994; McDowell et al., 1974; Munguti et al., 2009; Nengas et al., 1995; NRC, 1994; Pansri et al., 1987; Papadopoulos et al., 1986; Papadopoulos, 1986; Petit, 1992; Quilici, 1967; Schang et al., 1982; Swanek et al., 2001

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:43:31

Datasheet citation 

DATASHEET UNDER CONSTRUCTION. DO NOT QUOTE. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/213 Last updated on May 15, 2020, 14:29

Image credits