Broilers: the all important first seven days
The first seven days are the most important time in the life of a broiler chicken. It is a period when you, the farmer, need to pay extra attention to nutrition, temperature, drinking water and lighting to get your chicks off to the best possible start.
The impact of problems in the first week has big repercussions on the fully developed bird in terms of target weights, time to market and general health. The first seven days are critically important to the profitability of a broiler project so be sure to get it right and avoid common pitfalls. In this article we will try to layout the best practices for this foundational period in your broiler’s life.
Whilst the first seven days are critical, the preparation of house and equipment for the placement of chicks is equally important so we need to cover that first.
Two weeks prior to placement
Biosecurity of broiler houses is often overlooked in an attempt to increase cycle times. This is a false economy! Be sure to leave your house empty for two weeks prior to placing any day-old chicks. Use this time to throughly clean and disinfect the house. This is your chance to ensure that any disease pathogens from the previous flock don’t get passed onto your new birds. The first stage is to remove the litter and spray with a broad spectrum insecticide to treat for litter beetles. Next dry clean the buildings, removing any visible soiling. Following on from that, rinse the house down with water from a pressure washer preferrably. Next use a high foaming detergent which is designed specifically for cutting grease and clearing animal waste. This can be applied using a low pressure foaming unit or or simply by hand with the aid of a cloth, mop or brush. Rinse the detergent from the building using a pressure washer. Next use a super concentrated disinfectant at the correct dilution rate on all surfaces. A high quality disinfectant will cut up to 99% of pathogens. Once you have disinfected the house place disinfectant footbaths at the entrances to ensure you don’t reintroduce germs when going in and out of the house. During this time ensure that you disinfect all equipment. If you are using automatic drinkers be sure to flush them with appropriate disinfectant. Place rodent controls to ensure that rats don’t introduce disease to the house. For advice on which products to use visit one of our Veterinary Health companies in the directory. Allow the house to rest until you are ready to place your next flock.
The day before placement
Spray the floors and one metre up the walls with an insecticide to minimize the likelihood of litter beetles. Setup your brooder. The chicks will be introduced to the brooder, their first home. Be sure it is comfortable, warm and draught-free with at least half a metre square per chick. The area should be circular and expandable. Install a heat lamp in the centre of the brooder for bird warmth. Hang the heat lamp about fifty centimetres above the litter, with about ninety centimetres between the lamp and the brooder walls. The temperature under the heat lamp should be thirty two degrees Celcius and plenty of room in the brooder should be available for the chicks to get out from under the lamp if they get too hot. Add a layer of absorbent wood shavings to act as bedding or litter to the floor of the brooder. Place bedding ten centimetres deep to keep the area dry and odour-free. Do not use pine shavings or other types of shavings that have a strong smell because they could affect the long-term health of the bird. Ensure that you have your lights setup and they are working well. It is advisable to have light in the brooder for 23 hours a day in the first week. The equivalent of a 40 watt light bulb for three metres squared should be used as a guide. Get your feeding trays and water equipment ready. Don’t place feed in the house yet. You can place water fonts, outside the comfort zone, or fill your automatic drinkers to ensure that when the chicks arrive the water is at room temperature. Ensure that you have quality
Minimize stress and transport quickly
The key thing to remember is that your day-old chicks are as vunerable as a new born human baby and they should be treated with as much care. It is important to minimize the amount of stress that they endure on day one. They will have been transported to your day-old chick distributor, usually early in the morning, in covered chick boxes. It is important that you get these little babies into their comfortable, warm and draught-free accomodation as soon as possible. Avoid delays and transport them as quickly as possible to the brooder.
Introduce the chicks to water
Once chicks arrive, introduce them to the brooding area. Water, at room temperature, should be available, but wait a couple hours to introduce feed. This gives the chicks a couple hours to drink and rehydrate before introducing feed. Teach the chicks to drink by dipping the beaks of some chicks into the water to help them locate it. These chicks will then teach the rest of the group to drink. It is a good idea to purchase a stress pack additive, a mixture of vitamins, amino acids and minerals, to add to their water. These additives give the chicks a strong defence against the pressures of the first few days of life.
Introduce an high quality complete starter feed
After the chicks have had the chance to drink, its time to teach them to eat. Provide a feed with a high protein content to help support the extra energy needed for early growth. The feed should also include amino acids for chick development; prebiotics, probiotics and yeast for immune health; and vitamins and minerals to support bone health. Most animal feed companies produce a starter mash formulated to provide everything your chicks will need to develop into strong and healthy adult birds. First, teach the chicks to eat by placing feed on simple squares of paper.
Check on your chicks a few hours after placement
Ensure they are comfortable. If you observe chicks panting, huddling, chirping loudly or irregularly distributed within the brooding area investigate the cause or contact your day-old distributor for advice. As a general rule if you are feeling uncomfortably hot or cold in the brooding house the chicks probably will be too. Chicks cannot regulate their own temperature until 12 – 14 days of age. Optimal body temperature must be attained through provision of optimal environment. Floor temperature at chick placement is as important as air temperature, as well as relative humidity and ventilation. The best indicator of correct environment is chick behaviour and spacing.
Lighting and humidity
Keep your day-old chicks in twenty three hours of light and allow one hour of dark. This allows to a good start. It is recommended to keep the relative humidity (RH) for day old chicks at a high level, 60-70%.
Day 2 to 7
Introduce chick trays to the house. Once the chicks learn to eat you can introduce chick trays. When they are used to eating from the chick trays you can dispose of the squares of paper.
Ensure you have enough water drinkers and feed trays. As a general rule provide three 4 litre water fonts and three chick trays per hundred birds. Empty, clean and refill waterers and feeders daily. Administer the stress pack in the correct dilution into the water drinkers for the first five days.
If litter becomes wet under drinkers adjust drinker heights. Fresh litter should be used to replace wet area.
Keep your chicks in twenty three hours of light at a relative humidity of 60-70% for the first seven days. 60-70%.
Day 7 onwards
You will have given your birds the best possible start if you followed these instructions closely. It is now time to think about the long term health of the birds. As chicks mature, their nutritional needs change. Depending on your feeding programme you will need to change to a feed formulated for older birds at either fourteen or twenty one days. As the chicks become capable of controlling their own body temperature the need for high temperatures and humidty lessens. From day ten you need to start vaccinating your birds against Newcastle Disease (ND) and Infectious Bursal Disease (IBD) – this will be covered in more detail in a later article.
Keeping broilers can be a very profitable enterprise especially when the control measures and best practices are followed. We’ve equipped you with all the information you will need for the first seven days. Good luck and here’s hoping you have happy healthy birds that provide you with a sizable profit!