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Six survival tips for our broiler farmers

ost broiler farmers are operating under thin margins, thanks to very high feed costs that is currently at 70 per cent of the total cost. The per capita availability of poultry meat in Kenya is only 0.9-1.2kg which is way below recommendation of 10kg meat per capita per annum. To increase production amidst the tough reality, a farmer needs to employ a solid strategy. Here are some of the top six challenges facing the Kenyan broiler farmer and tips on how to overcome them.

Feeding

You need to ensure a low early feed consumption, and this naturally leads to insufficient weights and poor flock weight uniformity. The most important considerations here are the feed form, milling process, diet specification and the raw materials used in feed formulations. Are the pellets hard enough? Is the mash feed of uniform particle size? Are they all manufactured to specific standards (proteins, energy, fibre, vitamins, minerals, fats, calcium/phosphorus, and premixes)? Poor grinding, inadequate conditioning, use of wrong raw materials, low or high moisture contents, uncontrolled heating will all affect the feed quality. Digestion of feed requires gastric and pancreatic secretions, and early feed intake increases these secretions.

Young broiler chickens at the poultry farm

Access to feed as much and as early as possible will have better developed, more digestion surface area and more available digestive juices in the gut and so improving chick health, feed conversion and growth.

Chick start

Chick start covers chick quality, delivery, and brooding. Of the three, quality is very critical factor. It starts with the donor flock nutrition, vaccination, egg hygiene and storage and disease /health status of the breeders. The other challenge is associated with the incubation conditions in the hatchery such as temperature and moisture control, egg turning angle, ventilation and hygiene. Chick delivery from the hatcheries may be affected by the conveyor temperatures, humidity, air exchange and general truck hygiene. If these conditions are not critically looked at, the start off can easily be compromised resulting into a poor start, navel ill infection and early chick mortality. Brooding conditions at the farm can heavily impact on chick start. Things like temperature regulations, humidity control, stocking density, chick spread, and behavior must all be determined to manage day seven mortality.

Feeders and drinkers

Many farmers are using pan and tube feeders and the challenges are many. Feed distribution, feeder heights, feeder space per bird, feed levels in pan, mechanical maintenance, feed waste/spillage and feeder hygiene and cleanliness are all factors to be considered. On drinkers, the challenges lie in the drinker height, water levels, cleanliness, maintenance, filters, water pressure and birds per drinker. Water quality in most farms is wanting. We must deal with high mineral contents, carry out microbiological analysis and institute prudent water sanitation methods to ensure birds only consume clean and fresh water.

Ventilation and temperature

There are so many factors that will alter the environment conducive for good performance. The levels of ammonia, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, litter condition and moisture levels, temperature, air speed, air exchange, humidity and negative pressure must all be managed properly by skilled poultry managers to ensure top performance. Ventilation must also be kept adequate by curtain management and use of mixing fans for added air circulation.

Lighting

Lighting should be oriented to provide an even distribution of light at the floor level. Attraction lights running centrally along the length of the brooding area, are placed above the heat source to attract chicks to feed and water. We are lucky that most units are open sided and hence plenty of light available to the birds.

Health

For a healthy flock, you need to ensure good biosecurity, proper disease and gut health management. To achieve that, you need a good cleaning and disinfection programme to manage any previous flock contamination. Rodents and other pests must be controlled through baiting and use of insecticides to disrupt their life cycles. A good vaccination programme is also key and dead birds must be disposed of by burying or decomposition.

[The writer is Head vet at Kenchic [email protected]]


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