Jane Meja at her poultry farm in Shamiloli village in Shinyalu sub county feeding her birds. [Mumo Munuve, Standard]

Managing layer performance is a goal for every successful egg farmer. As the egg market continues to boom, it is important that layer farmers make their farming operations more efficient, dependable, and predictable. There will be some operations that will do well with automation like water and feed supply to achieve set targets. However, for most of our small-scale producers, they will have to do with simple cost-effective tasks.

As experts, it is our duty to make this industry more attractive to our young professionals. To curb needless chicken deaths that lead to losses, here are useful tips:

  1. Use the one-age/one site (all in/all out) programme

Make sure you keep one age of flocks in one site because management, sanitation, and vaccination programme becomes more difficult and less effective on a multi-age site. Ensure that equipment, housing, and its surrounding areas are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected to safeguard against disease carryover. 

  1. Provide adequate wood shavings or chicken bedding.  

The bedding should be level in the brooding area. Uneven litter creates uneven floor temperatures causing groups of chicks to huddle in pockets of shavings or under equipment, depriving themselves of feed and water at a critical time when growth is most rapid.

  1. Flock source (do not mix flocks of different sources)

Aim to use one flock source to fill each house. If, however, this is not practical, always endeavour to match chicks hatched from parent flocks of a similar age. This reduces the risk of competition between chicks.

  1. Flock arrival (always be prepared

Determine the expected delivery time from the hatchery and be ready to receive the chicks. Do not leave things to chance, communicate well in advance with your chick supplier.

  1. Heaters (jikos)                                                             

Check that the heaters are working correctly and then start pre-heating 24 hours (minimum 12 hours) before the chicks arrive. This will help to ensure the shavings, floor and walls are warmed through and the air temperature is correct when the chicks are delivered.

If using gas: (39000btus) then 1 brooder / 1,000 chicks are sufficient. Charcoal jikos (18-inch diameter) use 1/750 chicks.

  1. Ventilation                                                                    

Ensure there is adequate fresh air entering the house especially when using direct fired heating system while at the same time taking care to avoid draughts. Poor ventilation will result in respiratory infections and in severe cases can cause chick mortality.

  1. Drinkers

Use one manual chick font per 50-80 chicks: These should all be filled with clean fresh water at room temperature immediately before placement.

  1. Vitamins

Addition of multivitamins in the water for the first few days may help counteract stress in the chicks that is linked to the hatchery, transport, vaccinations. Assists slow-starting chicks and help them to catch up.

  1. Space   

Additional feeding space should be given for the first few days in the form of paper sheeting or newspapers, covering at least 65 per cent of the brooding area. This should be topped up little and often to ensure fresh clean feed is always available.

  1. Feed

Starter crumbs or chick and duck mash should be dust-free and of consistent and correct size. Feed should be placed in the house immediately before placement. Chicks should consume 65 grams feed within the first three days of life. Do not place feed and water directly under, or too near the brooders, as chicks need freedom to move around.

  1. Thermometers

Use maximum/minimum thermometers to check and record brooder and house temperature. With the whole house brooding, check that temperature is even throughout the house.

Data loggers that detect and record temperature through the brooding cycle may also be used to monitor the temperature profiles.  Before placing chicks, make a final check to ensure that all the heaters are working correctly, drinkers are free of litter and feed is available in sufficient quantities.

[The writer is Head Vet at Kenchic]