By General Beven Mundida, Livestock consultant
The first seven days are the most important time in the life of a broiler chicken. It is a period when the farmer, needs to pay extra attention to nutrition, temperature, drinking water and lighting to get the chicks off to the best possible start.
The impact of problems occurred in the first week has big repercussions on the fully developed bird in terms of target weights, time to market and general health. These first seven days are critically important to the profitability of a chicken project so be sure to get it right and avoid common pitfalls. In this article I will try to layout the best practices for this foundational period in your broiler’s life. Whilst the first seven days are critical, the placement of chicks is equally important so I need to cover that first.
- 1. Early placement of chicks
Early placement of chicks in the house, access to fresh clean water and feed after arrival is important. The time of transport from the hatchery or collection point to the farm should be as quick as possible. This is because the hatch window might be close to 12-24 hours after hatching and there is no need for further delay once you have collected your birds from the hatchery/sales point. On placement, provide an hour of clean water mixed with glucose or stress pack, and wait to give feed until the one-hour period of water is done. This helps to avoid constipation issues in chicks.
Once again, make sure good feed and fresh clean drinking water is readily available and easily accessible to reduce time for searching for feed and water by the newly arrived chicks. Please note that putting water/drinkers near braziers (mbaura) or any other heat source is not good, when water is hot birds do not drink it. Four hours after placement, randomly pick some of the chicks and check the crop fill. The target crop fill should be 85%. After 12hrs, it should be above 95%, and after 24hrs, the target crop fill should be above 98 to 100%.
- 2. Use of digestible raw materials in making feed or procurement of feed from reputable commercial feed manufacturers
Use of digestible raw materials in making feed for the chicks is necessary as their digestive system is not mature or procurement of chicks feed from reputable commercial feed manufacturer. Do not compose your own feed if you are not an expert in that field, instead purchase good feed from approved feed suppliers within your locality to avoid stories that touch.
- 3. Place highly hygienic materials that have been adequately sanitized and disinfected in the brooding house.
You should know that the chicks’ immune response is not fully developed any health compromise might be more devastating for young chicks compared to older ones. One major route of disease entry in chicks is the equipment used for feeding and drinking, so your chicks should be protected. Biosecurity measures like foot baths, disinfection of premises and disinfection of equipment should be done using a strut and trusted disinfectant.
Biosecurity measures should not be taken lightly – if you miss it, then you miss out. Restrict access to your day old chicks, have some workers dedicated to look after the brooder but not allowing everyone to enter, and these workers should not be working anywhere else, all equipment should be washed, disinfected and sanitised with appropriate disinfectants. A designated uniform/clothing for the purpose of caring for your birds should be worn by the person/stockman caring for the birds. If not, once immunity of your birds is compromised, be ready to start counting your losses from the onset.
- 4. Provide breed specific diet
Providing breed specific dietof high quality will enable the chicks to consume the amount needed for adequate growth. For broilers, you should give broiler feed. Which has both starter, grower and finisher.
- 5. Avoid overcrowding
Avoid overcrowding as this leads to competition for feed and water. Overcrowding also causes pecking in chicks. Moreover, this will lead ultimately to a high number of lighter birds that will end up being at a disadvantaged when it is time for scrambling for feed in the midst of other heavier birds in the flock. These lighter birds that you created in the brooder are the same birds you will see in your poultry house being chased around, and hiding in laying boxes and perches. Over crowding leads to poor growth and low production percentage when birds grow.
- 6. Ventilation
Inasmuch as I advise that you should keep the brooder sealed off from draught, I do not mean that you deny the birds air exchange. Do not just seal off everywhere, leave some little breathing space in the brooder. Do not leave ammonia to build up in the house, open up during day for the ammonia and dust to get out.
Try to achieve good uniformity, that is birds falling within similar average body weight. In layers, lighter and heavier birds are difficult to design feed programme for. These can be separated and grown in different groups such that the light birds gain weight faster and catch up before laying begins. This will enable a large percentage of the whole flock to attain peak production at the same time.
Remember, the main aim is to maximise profit in poultry by stopping disease challenges, reduced mortality, reduced antibiotics expenses and veterinary bills, and keeping the chicks healthy and productive.
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Healthy broiler chickens from a well-managed brooder system