The way we transport live chickens from farms to hotels doesn’t get a lot of attention. Only when we cross borders through government inspection points do we see transportation conditions being considered critical.
Many times I have encountered local chickens tied on long rods heads upside down on motorcycles or hanging on matatus in absolute contravention of animal welfare. The same goes with young juvenile chicks. I believe there is an influence on the way of transportation on the chick quality and performance. I believe from an animal welfare point of view we should all try to make chickens comfortable during transportation. Here are five optimal conditions that poultry on transit need to abide with.
Considering our tropical climatic conditions, temperature is probably the most important factor to control during transport. There is a high chance you will lose chicks or mature birds due to excessive temperatures. Birds generally feel comfortable at 40-41 degrees Celsius, if temperatures go beyond this range, birds tend to pant and spread wings where they can. If temperatures are not controlled, the birds are likely to die due to multiple organ failures. Mature birds need to be kept in quality plastic crates which go for Sh1,400-1,600 and can carry up to 12 birds per crate. Make sure that you choose a vehicle with plenty of airflow during transportation. I prefer birds to be transported early or late in the evening. Avoid transporting birds during the scorching sun of the day.
It is quite normal for birds in transit to lose some moisture during normal breathing cycles. It is estimated that birds will lose up to 5% of their body weight through the nostrils by panting. If you are transporting birds to the market, ensure the birds have 100% access to drinking water several hours before the movement. The birds must be stacked in crates to avoid overheating, the main cause of panting and hence dehydration. For day-old chicks, the presence of yolk inside the abdomen reduces the chance of severe dehydration.
If you confine your birds in a stuffy fully covered vehicle, you risk the build-up of carbon dioxide, which may kill your birds. Thus, minimal ventilation is required to remove excess toxic gases and heat. For chicks, a ventilation rate of 10-15m3 per hour is enough to keep oxygen and carbon dioxide in check.
If you are transporting day-old chicks over a short distance, there is no need to supplement some feed as the chicks will rely on the egg yolk inside the abdomen for 66 hours. For long distances, the addition of pelleted feed or concentrated jelly rehydrates in the chick boxes will go a long way.
One of the best ways to assess the comfort of your birds during transportation is to listen to the level of noise that they make. Comfortable chicks or birds will remain calm, collected, and will rarely shift positions. They stay down and will only become active as soon as you open the carriage doors. Stressed birds will make quacking noise and will move a lot looking for comfortable positions.