Summer is still coming (Poultry Specialist)
(Editor’s note: Jennifer Timmons is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.)
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, agriculture is faced with a lot of uncertainty, and the poultry industry is no different.
However, there are many factors that are certain when chicks arrive on the farm.
Focusing on chick starts, and bird comfort and cooling are still two management practices that will contribute to maximum bird health and performance.
Ensuring that chicks have enough access to food to promote feed intake is key to bird performance. Using a supplemental feed system (either by paper, lids, or other sources) 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.
A recent publication by University of Georgia poultry scientists reported that during the first seven days of life, chicks appear to have an internal circadian rhythm that is not influenced by 24 hours of artificial light.
The houses used in this study were enclosed windowless houses.
The authors reported that the day after chick placement, there were more chicks exhibiting eating and drinking behavior during the day time hours compared to the eating and drinking behavior exhibited during the following nighttime hours.
This means that newly hatched chicks have an internal clock which plays a role in the amount of “typical” daytime and nighttime activities and that this activity follows a pattern of the whole flock not the individual bird.
Additionally when birds were exposed to 24 hours of light, this study found that the differences between the feeding activity during nighttime hours and daytime hours tended to lessen by end of the first week.
This suggests that the chick’s internal clock may have started to have less of an influence on when birds would eat or drink.
The results of this article also noted, that chicks provided with a light and dark schedule will perform these activities as a group.
If chicks are not provided with a set light and dark schedule, they will tend to perform these activities on an individual basis and not as a flock.
This is important from a management standpoint to ensure there is enough feeder and drinker space available to meet the needs of all of the birds eating and drinking at the same time.
Chicks develop the ability to fully regulate their body temperature around 12-14 days of age. As a result, supplemental heat is needed for them to maintain their body temperature.
It is recommended to preheat the brooding area 36-48 hours prior to placement.
Not only does this provide the chicks with the best temperature, but it also helps to dry the litter.
Recirculating fans can also help to move hot air toward the floor where it is needed to warm chicks.
Chicks that are cold-stressed will have a reduced growth rate and can be more susceptible to diseases.
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.
Other management practices that are beneficial to broiler health and performance are air quality and uniform lighting. If chicks are placed on used litter, it is recommended to apply an ammonia control product following the manufacture’s guidelines. Also pay attention to any dark areas in the house and replace any lights if needed.
In addition to focusing on a successful chick start, preparing the summer flock for warm weather is another way to benefit bird health and performance. Fan, cool cell and generator maintenance are key steps to prepare for the summer months.
Things such as checking and replacing any loose fan belts will provide a huge benefit for keeping the birds cool.
The efficiency of a fan is only as good as its belt.
Cleaning fan blades and shutters before and during a summer flock will also help to maintain maximum fan efficiency. Also, if you haven’t done so in a while, this is also a good time to lubricate fan bearings. Air speed is key to removing heat from a house and maintaining bird comfort.
Preventative maintenance on cool cell pads is also important. If pads are dirty or clogged it will cause the fans to work harder and reduce cooling.
It is also important that holes in the distribution pipe along the top of the pads are not blocked with debris. These lines should also be flushed before charging the system in the spring.
It is recommended that generators are tested weekly for about 30 minutes.
The fuel level should also be checked regularly to ensure there is an adequate supply (at least half full) in case of an emergency.
Due to the uncertainty the industry is facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, production and processing has changed dramatically.
Even though producers may be experiencing unconventional practices such as increased bird densities or extended layouts, it is important to continue to focus on chick starts, cooling and bird comfort as we enter the summer season.
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