Venter Poultry

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Broiler Information

A broiler is a type of chicken raised specifically for meat production.  Commercial broilers are specially bred for large scale, efficient meat production and grow much faster than egg, or traditional dual purpose breeds.  They are noted for having very fast growth rates, a high feed conversion ratio and low levels of activity.

Photo: Wikipedia

The ability of a broiler chick to reach its potential body mass at around the seven week old mark is determined to a larger extent by what treatment it receives in the first two weeks of life, as this is the foundation period on which the remaining five weeks will be built.

Buying a quality chick from a reputable supplier is therefore imperative.  “Quality” however, goes far beyond the simple observation that the day old chick looks bright and chirpy.

Final broiler performance and profitability are dependent upon attention to detail throughout the entire production process.  This involves genetic potential, hatchery practice and efficient delivery of chicks at the breeder farms.

General Broiler Management Principles

Housing

Broiler houses are furnished with equipment to deliver feed and water to the birds and to provide a comfortable and protective environment.  The floor of the house is covered with bedding material consisting of organic matter such as wood chips, rice hulls, or peanut shells, straw, etc.  Because dry bedding helps maintain flock health, most broiler houses have enclosed watering systems rather than open troughs, because enclosed systems (“nipple drinkers” or “bell drinkers”) reduce spillage and help keep the litter dry.

Some houses are equipped with curtain walls, which can be rolled up in good weather to admit natural light and fresh air.  In that case, a fine mesh screen keeps insects, rodents and wild birds out of the house and away from the broilers.  Biosecurity measures are critical to ensuring the health of the flock.

Most broiler houses feature “tunnel ventilation,” in which a bank of fans draws fresh air through the house. Tunnel ventilation significantly improves the bird’s atmosphere and litter quality helping to maintain the health of the birds.

Lighting

Continuous lighting should be provided for the first 48 - 72 hours after chick placement.  Provide an intensity of 20 - 60 lux for the first 7 days to help chicks find feed and water more easily.

Temperature

Chicks cannot regulate their own body temperature until they are around 12-14 days of age. Optimal body temperature must be attained through provision of optimal environmental temperature. Floor temperature at chick placement is as important as air temperature, so preheating the house is essential.  Houses should be preheated for a minimum of 24 hours prior to chick arrival.  Temperature and relative humidity (RH) should be stabilized at recommended values to ensure a comfortable environment for the chicks upon their arrival.  It may be necessary to preheat houses for longer than 24 hours prior to chick arrival to allow the internal structure of the house to be warmed effectively. 

With whole-house space heating, the ideal floor temperature should be at least 32°C.

Observe chicks and adjust for their comfort, making sure not to overheat.  Chicks that become overheated or chilled will experience problems such as pasting, unabsorbed yolks, stress and dehydration.  Good performance requires close monitoring and adjustment of brooder temperatures and house ventilation to prevent these conditions from occurring.  An excellent indicator of floor temperature is the temperature of the chick’s feet.  If the feet are cold, re-evaluate the heating system and litter temperature.  If they are comfortably warm, the chicks should be actively moving around the brooding area.  If chicks are grouped together, under heaters or within the brooding area, this indicates they are too cold and temperature and/or relative humidity should be increased.  If chicks are crowded near the house walls or brooding surrounds, away from heating sources and/or they are panting, this indicates they are too hot, temperature and/or relative humidity should be reduced. 

Ventilation 

Ventilation is the main means of controlling the birds’ environment.  Ventilation maintains acceptable air quality in the house while keeping the birds within their comfort temperature. Ventilation provides adequate fresh air, removes excess moisture, and limits the build-up of potentially harmful gases and airborne by-products. 

During the early stages of the birds’ life, ventilation supplies heat into the house to keep the birds warm and comfortable, and provides sufficient fresh air to maintain an acceptable air quality in the house.  As the birds grow and start to produce more heat, higher ventilation rates are needed to remove heat and the products of respiration (moisture) from the house.  Monitor bird behaviour and adjust ventilation in response to bird behaviour to ensure that bird comfort and activity is maintained is key.

Litter Management 

Prior to chick arrival, litter material should be spread evenly to a depth of 5 to 10 cm.  Uneven bedding material can restrict access to feed and water and may lead to a loss in flock uniformity.  Where adequate floor temperatures (28 - 30°C) are achieved, a minimum litter depth of 5 cm can be used if litter disposal costs are an issue.  Litter depths of less than 5 cm are not advised as they will not provide adequate insulation from cold house floors, will have poorer moisture absorption, and will result in increased contact with manure.  Inadequate litter depth also increases condensation levels from the house floor.  In geographical regions with cold winter months, heat retention of concrete floors is much lower.  Litter depths of 10 cm are beneficial in providing greater insulation in these conditions, even where extended preheating is provided. 

Feed 

Starter feed should be fed during this period in either a mash or fine crumb form. Birds should be given the amount of feed necessary to achieve the recommended bodyweight at 7 days. Achieving a uniform body weight and frame size at 4 weeks of age is an essential component to getting the flock off to the best possible start during start-up period.  

Provide adequate feeder space at all times taking into consideration the flock age.  The feeding time should be consistent from day to day and feed should be distributed evenly to all birds throughout the house.   The feeder height should be adjusted so that it rests on the litter during the first 14 days to ensure all birds can easily access feed without having to climb into the feeder.  Thereafter, feeders should be raised incrementally throughout the growing period so that the lip of the feeder trough is level with the birds’ back at all times. Weekly feed increases should be based on body weight targets. 

If early feed consumption doesn’t take place the chick will use both fat and protein in the yolk for energy resulting in inadequate protein levels for growth. 

For the first 7 days, provide 23 hours of light with 30-40 lux intensity and 1 hour of dark (less than 0.4 lux) to help the chicks adapt to the new environment and encourage feed and water intake. 

Water 

Adequate fresh, clean water must be available at all times to all birds with access points at an appropriate height.  Nipple lines should be installed at 12 birds per nipple and bell drinkers at a minimum of 6 drinkers per 1 000 chicks.  Drinkers should be filled immediately prior to chick arrival.  Do not give chilled water to chicks. 

Water consumption should equal approximately 1.6 - 2.0 times the feed intake by weight on a daily basis.  Intake will vary based on environmental temperature, feed quality and bird health. 

Chick Handling 

Prior to delivery of chicks to the broiler house, a final check should be made of feed and water availability and distribution within the house.  At placement, chicks must be placed quickly, gently, and evenly within the brooding area.  The longer the chicks remain in the boxes after hatching, the greater the degree of potential dehydration.  This may result in early mortality and reduced growth.  The empty chick boxes should be removed from the house without delay. 

After placement, chicks should be left to settle for 1 to 2 hours to become accustomed to their new environment.  A check should then be made to see that all chicks have easy access to feed and water and that environmental conditions are correct.  Adjustments should be made to equipment and temperatures where necessary.

*Source:  Ross Broiler Management Guide