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The 48-hour rule in poultry farming

By Dr Watson Messo
Fredrick Makokha and his wife Lilian Ayuma feed their Chicken at their home at Mahondo. [Duncan Ocholla, Standard]

The three topmost lucrative agri-ventures are horticulture, poultry and cattle/dairy farming. I have witnessed a surge in the orders of broiler and improved exotic slow growing breeds by young and middle-aged business people in all our distribution centres in Kenya.

If you went into Maasai land today you will see long expansive poultry houses some built on leased land by young entrepreneurs trying to supply the growing population with a cheap, nutritive and safe source of chicken protein.

This is the beginning of the high season for poultry and its products as business-minded Kenyans gear up for end-year festivities. Hatcheries are operating on full capacity as they channel out young day-old chicks to their new homes.

Here are a few things any upcoming farmer should take heed of:


The first 48 hours are crucial for chicks, always ensure a balanced nutrient, care, and comfort from day one. Here are some tips to get your first 48 hours a seamless take off.

Prepare the brooder well in advance

Using a three-ply wood or iron sheet, make a circular brooder ring within the far end of your poultry unit. To make sure it is comfortable, warm and well ventilated, introduce softwood shaving preferably from Cyprus wood, curtains made of used but clean gunny bags, leaving adjustable vents on the top of the vertical wall. The area should be expandable and circular to avoid stampede and smothering of chicks at night.

Heat source

The young chicks have not developed yet the ability to regulate their own body temperatures, and therefore we must provided the right brooding conditions until two weeks when they are able to produce metabolic energy to warm themselves in a cold environment. There are several sources of heat, you can use charcoal in modified jikos, gas brooders, and diesel burners. In open sided units, using charcoal jikos you can spend about Sh10 per chick while in environmentally controlled large-scale operations, this figure can go down to Sh3 per chick on gas or diesel burners. Whatever heat source you choose, aim to achieve a temperature of 32-33 degrees Celsius in the first 48 hours constantly and adequate space for movement and comfort of your chicks.


The best litter for young chicks is soft wood shavings. However, the recent ban on logging has made this commodity so scarce that farmers have resorted to the use of rice husks, coffee husks and even sand. I suggest that you should never use sawdust as chicken beddings, as they tend to cause irritation of the chicken sinuses/nostrils.

The most important activity is to make sure the litter is dry and friable all the time. This will reduce the incidence of gastro-intestinal infections, coccidiosis, and worms.


Provide enough 24 hours lighting from day one to day seven without introducing darkness and ensure you weigh 10 per cent of the birds to make sure that your birds are attaining the target liveweights (160-185g at day 7 for broilers and 380-400g at five weeks for layers. The chicks need light to help locate feed and water in the first 48 hours, never reduce light hours when your birds are not gaining weight to breed standard.

Drinkers and Feeders

Provide unlimited access to feed and water to baby chicks. Provide feed by sprinkling or broadcasting them on a piece of newspapers or paper trays for the first four days. Provide adequate drinker fonts (1 per 50 chicks) with clean portable water with multivitamin anti-stress. Do not put the waterers below the heat source. Water is life, my rule of thumb is that if you cannot consume the water in the chicken house, then it is not fit for your bird’s consumption. Treat water by adding chlorine or waterguard on a weekly basis.

Balanced feed diet

Provide a balanced and nutritive diet for your birds. As soon as the feed is consumed and lands in the chicken coop, it will stimulate immediate reabsorption of the yolk-rich in proteins and energy for a good start. Adult feeders should also be introduced from day one to train the birds on to feeding on this equipment.


Vaccinate your birds as per the programme and ensure they are protected from disease-causing organisms.

For more information write to us on [email protected]

[Dr Watson Messo Odwako is vet at Kenchic]


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