Early care of chicks stressed as vital
OCEAN CITY, Md. — Getting chicks off to a great start is essential to maximizing production, Dr. Leonard Fussell, a veterinarian with Cobb-Ventress, told attendees at the National Meeting on Poultry Health, Processing, and Live Production, on Oct. 10, presented by Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc.
He said the objectives of brooding include feed conversion, uniformity and paw yield.
The economics of brooding require minimizing the use of fuel, feed and labor, he said, reminding the audience that brooding requires correct feed, light, air, water, heat and control of bacteria.
Fussell presented case studies of farms with brooding problems and explained how good management practices are essential from the start of brooding and even before chicks are delivered.
“A lot of what we do now is when the chickens are not even on the farm. There is a flurry of activity once the birds leave the farm,” he said, stressing the need for adequate outtime for drying litter and to allow for the development of beneficial microflora.
He described a case in which the chicks “just sat down and did not consume.” Their crops were determined to be only 7 percent full when they should have been 95 percent full.
Preheating and light level in the house were correct, but the CO2 level was high, Fussell reported. When ventilation was increased, the birds “were up and eating within an hour.”
He stressed that early intake problems need to be solved immediately. “We really grow chickens by the hour, so any moment that things go wrong has a negative outcome for us in our business.
“Problems can challenge chicks, resulting in less than optimum production. Keep in mind that intake is so terribly critical. Even though we think we have things set up right, they can go wrong.
“Don’t let feed presentation be a reason that you don’t get intake. If we don’t get intake, we’re not going to have uniformity,” he said, noting that chicks can be picky about the form of their feed.
He advised growers to examine their feed and ask “Is the grind uniform? Is it coarse? Is it fine? Do we have pellets in the starter feed? These things are negative. They affect intake.”
He said a crumb should look like a small form of Grape-Nuts cereal. “If it’s fine, the birds are not going to eat it.”
Temperature, too, can be an issue, Fussell said. “If it’s too hot we can run birds off feed. If it’s too cool, we can pull birds off feed. Either one of these is a problem.”
He cited one case where the heating system had a bad sensor. “At placement, the birds ran to the side walls and the birds were loud.” Controller history showed the heaters in the middle of the house ran for eight hours while those at the sides ran for less than two hours. “Normally we expect extra run time to be on the ends of the houses and not in the center,” he said,
“Birds were going down in their legs. Mortality was concentrated in the middle section of the house.
The birds were found to suffer from BCO.”
Controller history was the key in figuring out why; replacing the sensor solved the problem for the next flock.
On another farm where there had been respiratory problems and a high condemnation rate, chicks were a little bit dehydrated.
Fussell said the question was whether this was a brooding problem at all.
A check of the operation showed ventilation was reasonable, there was no overheating, and litter moisture was in “reasonable check.” But, when the drinker line was opened¸ it produced brown water with a foul odor and the nipples were hard to trigger.
Nipples were replaced and an aggressive water sanitation program begun and “things improved.”
“What we had was a nipple drinker that was as dirty as the drinkers we had 20 years ago because we weren’t managing it. We need to continue emphasizing this because I see it getting slack in many complexes,” he reported, adding “We have seen evidence that chicks drink more if the water is cool.
It doesn’t need to be warmer than 80 degrees and it certainly doesn’t need to be 90 degrees. Flushing the line makes the water cleaner and the birds like to drink it more.”
Fussell emphasized that the most important tool for the control of respiratory disease in broilers in the last 40 years has been nipple drinkers. Not only does line need to be sanitized, it needs to be flushed periodically and “birds like a cool drink of water just like you do.”
In another example, a house had high mortality and poor paw grade at the plant. The grower had tried to windrow with a blade resulting in an uneven floor. “Uneven floors put extra stress on the birds,” Dr. Fussell reported. Paw burns, leg problems, respiratory problems and severe BCO can result, he said.
“House prep was poor. There was early loss of moisture control because you can’t get drinker height right with an uneven floor.
“Moisture control must be handled as an emergency and addressed right away because it doesn’t take long to lose control. You have got to address it, not just walk past it. The faster you respond, the outcome can at least be less severe than if you don’t handle it quickly.”
He stressed that there are many ways to lose moisture control: poor house prep carryover, poor drinker management, pressure too high or drinkers worn out. Ventilation is essential, too, he said. “We have got to exceed those ventilation minimums. Ventilation is what you do to dry the floors. You have got to stay on top of it.”
He concluded by summarizing some of the issues faced during brooding: feed intake problems, overheating, house prep problems, water sanitation, and moisture problems. “The key to being successful is minimizing these errors and doing it right. Checking all the boxes is not always enough.”
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