Fairchild discusses chicks with Ag Week attendees
HARRINGTON, Del. — What’s the best way to get chicks off to a good start? At the Jan. 14 poultry session at Delaware Ag Week, Dr. Brian Fairchild of the University of Georgia updated attendees on feeder, drinker and moisture management for brooding chicks.
When setting up a house for chick placement, there are several things to consider. You want uniform lighting throughout the house so chicks can find their food and water. You want uniform house temperature and moderate humidity levels.
Relative humidity of 40 to 60 percent is ideal. More than that, Fairchild said, and floors will be slick and tacky and birds more prone to disease.
Proper litter management is essential. Litter should not be shallow or caked, but loose and at least 3 inches deep, especially near the sidewalls.
Provide good air quality for the chicks, keeping ammonia levels under 25 parts per million.
Finally, you want a well-managed feeder and drinker system, because immediate access to feed and water offers several benefits:
• Stimulation of the gastrointestinal tract and immune system development;
• Quicker utilization of the residual yolk; and
• Higher weights in the first week as birds develop breast and pectoralis major muscles.
Studies such as one conducted in France in 2003 have documented the effects of delayed (more than 48 hours) access to feed, including lower intestinal development and reduced muscle development.
Overseas, Fairchild said, they corral chicks under the feeders and drinkers and put feed on the floor. This method is not used in the United States.
Sometimes, supplemental feed is placed in large cardboard trays.
There have been a number of approaches in attracting checks to feed and water, but there isn’t enough scientific data to show whether these practices actually work.
One study tested whether placing paper under drinker lines would improve the first week performance. A control house had no paper; five test houses used paper.
Low flow water meters and a remote data logging system were used for monitoring, as well as a time lapse camera.
The camera showed there were birds around the food and water, but were they eating and drinking or just there?
The use of paper had no major impact on chick activity around the drinker line in the first day. There was no consistently higher activity, weight or mortality at seven days.
One problem, Fairchild noted, was that the experiment used thin tissue paper. In a second trial, heavier paper was used. Still there was no difference.
However, it was discovered that houses that got larger chicks did show a 20 percent difference in body weight at seven days.
This difference goes back to the age of the breeder stock, with heavier chicks coming from older breeders, Fairchild said.
Researchers also discovered that chicks begin to develop a cyclic drinking pattern in the first 24 hours, averaging two to three cycles per hour.
This cyclic pattern is more noticeable when temperatures in the house were optimal. Inconsistent temperatures resulted in irregular drinking behavior.
Another experiment compared the use of paper with extra feed versus no paper.
Each section of a divided house had 375 pounds of feed spread over two strips of paper.
Data collected included crop fill at 3.6 hours after placement, individual body weights on specific days, bird behavior on time lapse camera and litter quality.
Overall, there was no significant difference in body weights. There was a significantly higher crop score 6 hours after placement, but not at 24 hours.
There was tentatively a 10 percent higher water usage rate with chicks that had paper with supplemental feed.
There was no adverse affect on litter quality or footpad conditions. However, the heavier paper does not decompose and was still visibly present 28 days later.
Another test was to see if circulation fans improve bird health and welfare. Fans mix the air from floor to ceiling, from end to end and from one sidewall to the other. Is more circulation better?
The goal was to mix 10 percent of the total house volume every minute, with drier litter the objective. With aggressive air movement, there
was lower litter moisture and better paw quality, but Fairchild said there are no recommendations on which fans to use yet.
Growers should be prepared for sticker shock, he said.
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