Learn to influence chicks’ feed intake (Poultry Specialist)
(Editor’s note: Jennifer Timmons is an assistant professor with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.)
Today’s broilers now reach market weight at a younger age and the first week represents a larger percentage of the bird’s life.
Therefore, how chicks are raised during their first week of life will have a significant impact on flock performance at movement.
A chick’s body weight increases significantly during the first week and substantial changes in gut and muscle weight occurs from 0-7 days of age.
Limiting feed and water access in the first few days of a chick’s life can decrease final body weight and weaken the chick’s ability to respond to a disease challenge.
A chick’s weight should quadruple during the first week. This rate of growth does not occur any other time in the bird’s life. In an article published on the Poultry Site, it was suggested that the chick’s organs can be separated into two groups. These are supply tissues which are respiratory system, cardiovascular system and the intestines.
The other group is demand tissues which are skeleton, muscles and fat tissue. It is thought that available nutrients are first directed to meet the needs of the supply tissues before the demand tissues.
This is thought to be true since after hatch, there is larger growth and development of the intestines compared to other parts of the chick’s body.
One way to influence the rate of gain during the first week is to increase feed intake.
There are several factors that influence feed intake in chicks. First, the chick has to visually recognize the feed as feed. It has been reported that poultry have a natural preference for feed to be the size of small seeds.
Early studies suggested that chicks have a preference for food of certain colors. One study suggested that chicks preferred feed that was colored green over feed that was colored red.
So how do you know if your chicks are receiving enough feed in the first week?
A simple way to assess this is by evaluating the fill of their crops 24 hours post placement. Collect samples of 30-40 chicks at three or four different locations in the house and examine each chick’s crop.
Chicks that have found feed and water will have full, soft rounded crops.
If the crop is full (and hard) but the texture of the feed is obvious, the chick has consumed mainly feed and not enough water.
Drinkers should be checked to ensure adequate water is available.
Ninety five to 100 percent of the chicks sampled should have crops that are full of both feed and water.
Using supplemental feed lids (about one lid per 75-100 chicks) for the first week increases the surface area of feeder space and appears to enhance early feed intake.
It is important that supplementary feed never run empty, and feed is refreshed at least three times per day to stimulate feed consumption.
Providing small amounts of feed several times a day is a better management practice than having too much feed out at any given time which promotes feed wastage.
In addition to feed intake, constant access to water is also important to chick health and performance. Water is the most essential nutrient of the bird’s diet, but its significance is often overlooked.
Sometimes with nipple drinkers, constant water availability to birds is taken for granted and water availability may not be checked as often as feedlines are checked for feed.
Especially at chick placement, it is important that water pressure and drinker height are managed to provide chicks easy access to water.
Occasionally during layout, nipples can stick making it difficult for chicks to trigger the nipple for water.
Triggering nipple drinkers at placement will stimulate chicks to approach the drinker line and take a drink of water.
Reports show that delayed feeding of newly hatched chicks slows the development of body systems that begin growing in the chick only after the addition of nutrients.
Gut and immune system development play an essential role in the early stages of chick growth and survival.
At hatch these systems are growing at rapid rates and any reduction in growth or damage incurred to these systems early in a chick’s life may impact bird performance later on in the flock.
Several studies have reported lower weight gains in birds that were delayed feeding at placement.
One study evaluated the effect of delayed feeding at placement on the body weight gain of 39 day old broilers.
One group of chicks were delayed feeding for 34 hours while a second group of chicks was provided free access to feed immediately upon arrival to their facilities. Upon completion of the study, the average final body weight of birds fed immediately at chick placement was about 10-percent higher (0.5 pounds) compared to the body weight of birds that were delayed fed.
Applying the bird weight differences observed in this study to commercial broiler production numbers translates to an increase of 12,500 pounds per 25,000 birds when feed is provided promptly to chicks upon placement. Results of this study may seem extreme and bird weight differences observed in other studies may be less; however, this example clearly illustrates how early feed intake at placement can influence the weight of the flock at movement.
Stress also influences feed intake of broiler chickens.
When stress hormones are elevated, they cause energy stores to be mobilized to fuel the “fight or flight” response.
When a bird’s body is responding to a stressor, nutrient absorption and gut motility decreases along with feed intake.
Chronic stress can have a long-term effect on feed intake.
Some poultry producers provide newly hatched chicks with hatching supplement products to help prevent dehydration and provide nourishment to chicks during the period in which chicks are being transported to the farm.
Hatching supplements usually contain high levels of moisture, and other nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
Some studies have demonstrated enhanced bird performance when chicks were fed hatching supplements immediately after hatch.
Feed intake can have a large impact both on body weight gain and feed conversion in broiler chickens. Since there are multiple factors that can influence feed intake it is hard to determine what the exact issue may be.
Management and flock health issues are usually more likely to cause a reduction in feed intake than the diet itself.
It is important to identify any management practices that may contribute to a reduction in feed intake and correct these for future flocks.
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