University of Maryland Extension

Carbohydrates: Inexpensive Sources of Energy

Carbohydrates in feed are composed of sugars, starches and cellulose. Cellulose (classified as crude fiber) is the insoluble portion of carbohydrates and cannot be utilized efficiently by birds.

Carbohydrates make up the largest portion of the poultry diet. Carbohydrates in feedstuffs are ultimately broken down by the digestive tract to glucose. Glucose is the ultimate source of energy in the body. Carbohydrates serve as a major energy source of the diet; however, they only make up less than 1% of the weight of animals. Limited carbohydrate storage occurs in the liver and muscle in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is a highly branched structure composed of glucose. Plants store carbohydrate energy in the form of starch, which is also a branched structure composed of glucose. Carbohydrates and fats are usually grouped together under another category known as energy.

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Carbohydrates provide the cheapest source of energy in the diet. Proteins can be used for energy, but they are an inefficient and expensive source of fuel for the animal because the process required to break down proteins to glucose requires energy input by the animal. Dietary energy is needed to support bird production and maintenance.

Carbohydrates are a major component of plants and make up 70-85% of the total dry matter in forage and grains. Some plant sources used in poultry diets to provide carbohydrates are corn, wheat, barley, rice, and sorghum. These feedstuffs are typically high in carbohydrates and low in crude protein.

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