Building an ideal poultry house and successfully rearing healthy and productive chickens rarely involves rocket science. From design and engineering to funding and getting a farm off the ground takes efforts from the farm owner or contractor with bold ideas, experience, and skills.
- Drainage and orientation
When a farmer is planning for the construction of a poultry house, he or she should select a well-drained site that has plenty of natural air movements. I have witnessed flocks of chickens swept by floods purely due to the wrong building sights. The barns should be constructed on an East-West axis to minimize the direct sunlight on the sidewalls during the hottest part of the day. This will reduce the temperature fluctuation during the day thus enhancing feed conversion, comfort, and good growth rates.
- Roofing and insulation
It is in the interest of the farmer to maximise the performance of her chickens. This can be achieved by the provision of a consistent house environment, brought about by a well-designed and insulated roof. An insulated roof will reduce heating costs, and minimise solar energy. I prefer a false ceiling made of gunny bags to absorb heat radiation from the roofing material. The roof overhangs (1.25 meters or 4 feet) should be elongated to prevent direct sunlight from hitting the birds on the open sides and a roof ridge with narrow outlets on the tip of the roof ridge will allow escape of hot air from the floor. Examples of insulating materials in the market include cellulose blown, expanded polystyrene and fiberglass bat.
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- Use of curtains
Most farmers grow their chickens in open-sided housing systems, which in hot weather is not always easy. The sides with chicken wire must therefore be provided with curtains, either made of gunny bags or tarpaulins. Under no circumstances should one use polythene curtains as these tend to suffocate birds during the hot weather.
- Drinker system
Providing clean, cool, and fresh potable water is a critical requirement for a high feed intake and better flock production. Bell drinkers are commonly used although they have the disadvantages of difficulty maintaining water hygiene and dry litter leading to footpad damage and condemnation. A good bell drinker should provide at least 0.6cm of drinking space per bird. Today, nipple system is more recommended at an application of 10-12 birds per nipple. It keeps water clean with minimal spillage and less hustle cleaning them. Birds should never travel more than 3 meters to find a watering point.
- Feeding system
There are so many feeding systems available today, regardless of the type you choose, it is important to provide enough feeder space. Insufficient feeder space will result in poor growth rates and compromised uniformity. A feeder pan measuring 33 cm diameter for 50-70 birds is common and most recommended. Do not set the pan too high or too low, the height should be adjusted so that the lip of the pan should always be level with the bird’s back.
- Heating system
Chicks cannot regulate body temperature for the first 7 days of their lives, thermo- regulation is not fully developed until 2 weeks of age. Chick survival is highly dependent on the housing system to provide the proper environmental temperature. For young juvenile birds, consistent ambient and floor temperatures are key factors needed for good activity and normal behavior. The heating capacity is determined by the ambient temperature, level of roof insulation and sealing of the units. Farmers should then supplement these conditions with portable heaters.
Chick internal temperature above 41 ºC (106 ºF) will lead to panting. Chick internal temperature below 40 ºC (104 ºF) indicates the chick is too cold. A comfortable chick will breathe through its nostrils and loss 1-2 g of moisture in the first 24 hours.
In conclusion, Improper housing can result in poor livability, poor flock uniformity and overall poor performance in the flock and pen house leading to a higher chick cost