How to reduce mortality on your new poultry farm

Emmanuel Ragot, a 29-year-old poultry farmer at his farm in HomaBay County.

Dear Dr Messo, I have recently started broiler farming with 200 chicks, of which only 150 chicks made it to maturity. It is hard for me to justify this business with such a high mortality rate. What should I do to ensure that all my next batch makes it to maturity? [Mrs. Njeri, Kiambu County]

Dear Mrs. Njeri, A 25 per cent cumulative mortality rate is extremely high by any standard in broiler rearing commercial ventures. In my experience, there are obviously factors or combinations of reasons associated with such mortalities. Most well-managed farms will experience a mortality rate of 2-4 per cent, with average live weights of 1.75 kilogrammes and a slaughter age of 33 days.

A good start requires a clean start. Ensure that the flock units are properly cleaned and sanitised before bringing in new flocks. After disposing of or selling the initial crop of birds, thoroughly dry clean and remove old litter, dirt, and dust from the units. This is important to reduce the bacterial and viral load in the chicken house. This is followed by a wet phase where the roof, walls, floor, and equipment are cleaned with water and disinfected with appropriate chemicals. Wet cleaning with general-purpose detergents will destroy 92 per cent of all poultry pathogens in a house, while a good disinfectant will wipe out the remaining three per cent of stubborn and resistant microorganisms.

Every farmer should take the first seven days of the life of a chicken more critically as this is the period of organ development. Ensure your brooding conditions are adequate for the first seven days. Keep chicks at the right temperature of 33-35 degrees Celsius in the first 5 days when they cannot regulate their own body temperatures. Cold stress disturbs gut health and lowers resistance, making birds susceptible to diseases.

Disease outbreaks are one of the scary occurrences that farmers face. But this need not be, if one takes time to understand what it takes to keep a broiler flock healthy. There is a greater opportunity to reap maximum benefits from disease-free poultry production.

The single most important disease control strategy on a new poultry farm is having knowledgeable staff or attendants in charge of the flock. The farm attendants should preferably stay on the farm and avoid visits to other poultry farms, slaughterhouses, or chicken markets. They should be provided with clean uniforms, boots, and head coverings, and the farm should have showering facilities. Training in basic flock health care, feeding and watering techniques, and the ability to spot sick, isolated, and depressed birds is a prerequisite for better performance.

Watch out for early chick mortality, which may be due to microbial infection brought about by an unhygienic environment, dirty equipment, and a dirty hatchery. Buy your chicks from a reputable company with a proven track record. Make sure early navel infection is treated immediately when it is noticed. Consult your local veterinarian as soon as you notice unusual chick behavior.

It is important to provide feed and water ad-libitum, enough spacing, appropriate ventilation, and the correct temperatures. The target growth rate must be above 80 per cent of the breed standard, and by Day Seven, birds should weigh between 160-180g live weight. The environment must be conducive to chick comfort in terms of warmth, air quality, dry and friable bedding, and with minimum wind draft.

Chicks must be vaccinated at the right time using the correct technique and with the right vaccine. This will allow them to develop adequate immunity against the most common broiler diseases like Gumboro, Newcastle, and Infectious bronchitis. A good start during the rearing period will guarantee a good finish with less mortality and better conversions. Keep a close watch on your flocks at least twice per day, in the morning when you are feeding them and in the evening before you retire to bed. Finally, look for signs of sickness like huddling together, wheezing sounds during respiration, unsteady walking gait, lack of appetite, greenish, reddish, or whitish colour of chick droppings, and report these signs to your local vet.

[For more information, contact [email protected]]

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