Deworm your adult birds once per month to stop the life cycle of worms. [iStockphoto]

Growth performance is one of the most critical factors of well-being in any kind of livestock raised for food production. Although different breeds of chicken show different growth rates, to gain weight, birds must eat plenty of well-balanced feed and drink plenty of good-quality water. They must also stay in a comfortable environment; must possess good genes of growth, and be disease-free or relatively healthy. Here are some factors that may trigger poor weight gain.

Poor nutrition

Robust feed is one of the key elements a chicken needs for organ and skeletal development. Gastrointestinal organ development is extremely important as the supply chain for the development of other organs such as the liver, heart, kidney, brain, lungs, and muscles. This is what is referred to as physical growth. So, the body essentially requires feed rich in carbohydrates for maintenance, amino acids for growth and cell replacement, and minerals, vitamins, and fiber as a balanced compound for vitality. If your feed is deficient in any of these components, the flock is likely to lose body condition. Water is essential for life - birds need plenty of clean, fresh, and potable water all the time. Chickens on average will drink twice as much water as the feed consumed in a normal day. The volume of water required may increase if the environment temperature is higher. If you deprive chickens of water over a period, feed intake will come down and such birds will waste away and eventually die. Do not restrict the amount and access to fresh clean water all the time.

High stocking density, poor ventilation, and poor lighting 

Birds naturally require minimum available space for feeding, playing, dustbathing, stretching and generally moving around as they grow. This space must be provided as soon as the birds are placed on the farm. The rule of thumb for fast-growing birds is to provide a minimum space of 1 square foot per bird, the more the better. Ventilation is the introduction of fresh air in the poultry unit and the expulsion of stale gases of ammonia, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide. It is good practice to establish minimum ventilation in the units, this will ensure fresh air is always available for better development. For the first 7 days of placement, the birds need 23 hours of light to allow them to locate feed and water and stimulate feed intake, this should then be gradually reduced to ensure that broilers have a maximum of 4-6 hours of darkness to ensure adequate growth and development. If birds are not attaining target weights, do not introduce darkness, delay until your birds are back to standard weights.

Coccidiosis and other worm infestation

Coccidiosis is a disease common in any environment where birds or chickens are raised. In highly intensive production systems with deep litter manure, coccidia parasites will lodge in the gut of chickens and multiply and burrow deep into the intestine tissues ultimately destroying them.

If not treated immediately the condition will result in poor digestion and nutrient absorption leading to wasting. Any signs of bloody fecal dropping must be investigated and if coccidiosis is confirmed, birds must be treated promptly. Ensure good sanitation of your chicken house before placement and manage your litter very well to avoid wetness, especially under the drinkers. The two common worms in poultry are the tapeworms and round worms, they are frequent in the deep litter systems and if not controlled will have a far-reaching effect on the health and wellbeing of our flocks.

The intestinal health of birds is very important. A healthy intestine will ensure good digestion and absorption of feed, thus maximising performance. The worms tend to destroy intestinal integrity leading to feed waste, emaciation, weakness, and death. Deworm your adult birds once per month using appropriate drugs containing Levamisole compound to stop the life cycle of worms.

Cleaning and disinfection

Have you done a proper cleaning and disinfection of the chicken unit (roof, walls, and floor) and the equipment? Failure to ensure a high level of hygiene before the next placement is the biggest contributor to stunted growth in birds due to high viral loads from the previous flocks. After cleaning and disinfection ensure that the house can rest for 14-21 days downtime before restocking.

[For more information, contact Dr Messo via]