Broiler chickens are mainly raised in intensive deep litter system. Here, they are kept indoors and provided with comfortable conditions in form of dry litter, good ventilation, spacious accommodation, natural lights and good nutrition.
It is the wish of every farmer to rear their birds with highest livability of 96 per cent, attaining high average live weight of 1.75kg and fed adequately and yet be ready for market in a short period that is 33 to 35 days.
At times, some birds grow slower and end up being small or stunted compared with others in a brood. They consume more feed but do not convert into meat resulting in total loss at the end of the crop. So, what could be some of the reasons for poor uniformity and stunted growth in a certain batch of chicks? Here are six tips to help you avoid this situation.
1. Flock source
No matter where you buy your chicks, it is important that your supplier or hatchery only give you chicks of the same size and weight and most preferably from parents of the same age or closely of the same age bracket. Chicks from young parents are naturally smaller than chicks from older parents; the two should never be mixed in a box at the time of purchase. The consequences of such a mistake will result into younger chicks being bullied by the bigger brothers during feeding, water consumption and space occupancy.
2. Chick hydration
As soon as the chicks are hatched, they need access to drinking water. Although they have a yolk sac full of water and nutrients to keep them going for the next 66 hours, prolonged delay in water provision will result into delayed growth. Clean, fresh and cool drinking water is important in a poultry house. But that is not enough, the water must always be readily available to the chicks and must be free from bacterial contamination at the point of intake. One bell drinker per 50 chicks is most ideal and must be positioned not more than three metres from the other.
3. Good brooding conditions and adequate spacing
Juvenile chicks are hatched without intrinsic ability to control their body temperatures. They will therefore rely on external source of heat for at least the first 14 days to stay active and make use of the feed in the gut. The best source of heat are lit jikos or gas which must be adjusted to maintain temperatures of 35 to 36 degrees centigrade in the first week and gradually reduced by two to three degrees every week until the end of the brooding period depending on the season. Humidity and ventilation must also be checked to keep the litter dry all the time and the units fresh and less humid. Provide adequate stocking density for the type of unit you have. My rule of thumb is to do one bird per square feet.
4. Good quality and adequate feed
Source for best quality feed in the market. Poor quality feed will result into low intake and un-even growth. Feed structure and consistency is equally important in broiler production system. Crumble and pelleted feed of uniform and right chop length is important for better digestive tract function and to discourage selective eating. Choose your feed miller carefully. Feeding space must be adjusted to avoid unnecessary overcrowding around feeders resulting into fights during feeding and subsequently poor uniformity. Rule of thumb, one feeder tube to 50 chicks.
5. Adequate downtime
This is the period between the last bird out and the first bird in. It is the period set aside for thorough cleaning and sanitation of the units. This must be done professionally using right equipment (car wash machine), detergents and disinfectant to reduce the bacterial load in the units. This is followed by a period of 14 to 21 days when the units are left to dry out and rest before new flocks are introduced.
6. Disease free flock
Observe good bio-security and vaccinate your birds according to the local disease condition. Consult your vet if there are signs of ill health.
[Dr Watson Messo Odwako, Head Vet, Kenchic Limited]