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Home / Livestock

Delicate art of taking care of chicks

Hello Daktari.

Which medicine should I give my day-old chicks. See, I was given ‘chicks start’ and ‘chick formula’, but after three days, they started becoming weak and died...  [Gladys Amboga]

Dear Ms Amboga

Your concern is a legitimate problem experienced by a lot of our poultry farming community. Regrettably, most of our farmers are still experiencing high early chick mortality due to poor brooding practices and believe ‘medicine’ is the solution. Chick start or chick formula are merely multivitamins, your biggest concern is proper brooding. Brooding is the provision of artificial heat to help the chicks in temperature regulation. The heat can be provided by gas, electricity, or charcoal. Here are areas to watch out for.

  1. Before chicks’ arrival

The brooder area should be ready at least 24 hours before the chicks arrive. The first 14-21 days of a chick’s life sets the precedent for good performance. Extra effort during the brooding phase will be rewarded in the final flock performance. Provide the chicks with bio-secure, clean housing environment. Arrange feeding and water equipment to enable the chicks to access water and feed easily upon arrival. Chicks should not have to move more than one metre (3ft) to find water or feed in the first 24 hours. Position supplementary feeders and drinkers near the main feeding and drinking systems. Pre-heat the house and stabilise temperature and humidity before chick arrival – achieve a floor temperature of 28 degrees centigrade to 30 degrees centigrade.

  1. Chicks’ arrival

On arrival at the farm, unload, and place chicks quickly. Ensure feed and water is available immediately. Allow chicks to settle for one to two hours then check behaviour. During brooding, emphasis should be on temperature, spacing, ventilation, feeding and water supply. Temperature should be monitored by installing brooder thermometers at the height of the chicks but away from heat source.

Also use chick behaviour to determine if temperature is correct. Excessive chick noise during brooding is an indication that the chicks are uncomfortable. 

Young broiler chickens at the poultry farm

  1. Chilled chicks

Chicks will huddle together especially under the brooder, leading to poor early feed intake and low water intake hence dehydration. Birds will discharge watery intestinal and feacal contents leading to watery/ wet droppings and wet pasted vents. In all situations, giving chick start or chick formula will not address the problem, until root cause analysis is properly done, and problem corrected.

  1. Overheated chicks

Chicks will be found lying prostrate with their head and neck stretched out on the floor and panting with open beaks. There will be increased water consumption by the chicks, leading to distention of the crop and intestines. Some chicks will move away from the heat source and seek cooler parts of the brooder.

  1. Spacing

The brooding area should occupy a third of the house during the first week of life. Expand the brooder area after every two days and the birds should occupy two thirds of the house by the time they are 14 days. The birds should be allowed to occupy the whole house by the time they are three weeks old. Proper spacing in the brooder ensures easy accessibility to feed and water hence good uniformity. Congestion leads to high mortality due to starve outs and poor uniformity and stunted birds.

  1. Ventilation

During brooding, it is essential to maintain proper ventilation regardless of the cost of maintaining the brooder temperatures. Ventilation is important in removing the ammonia from the house and ensuring that the litter is dry thereby reducing disease challenge. Chicks also require fresh air to grow and be productive.

  1. Feeding

When chicks start to feed, they tend to eat a good meal, so provide balanced quality feed. If chicks are feeding and drinking properly, the crop fills with a mixture of feed and water. Gentle handling within the first 24 hours can indicate the chicks’ progress. Check a sample of birds two hours after arrival to ensure all chicks have found feed and water. Gently sample the crop of 30-40 chicks from three or four different places in the brooder. This is called crop fill assessment: a minimum of 95 per cent of the crops should feel soft and pliable indicating chicks have found feed and water. Hard crops indicate chicks have not found adequate water and availability should be checked immediately. A swollen and distended crop indicates chicks have located water but insufficient feed.

[The writer is Head Vet at Kenchic]

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