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5 ways to reduce chick deaths in cold season

 Young broiler chickens at the poultry farm. [iStockphoto]

The current demand for chicken meat and eggs in the country remains healthy, the market outlook, therefore, continues to be strong and different hatcheries are registering good orders. Despite the favourable prices and good tides, the high cost of inputs and the cold periods are signaling some uncertainty.

With this cold season setting in, night temperatures in some regions are getting to eight to ten degrees Celsius, making ideal brooding conditions challenging to achieve. According to industry standards, a poultry farmer should aim at achieving mortality of not more than 0.7 per cent cumulatively over the first seven days of brooding. Here are five strategic approaches to control early chick mortality on your farm during this cold season.

A good quality chick has a better chance of survival

Hatcheries can have a tremendous impact on the success of chick rearing. The hatching process from egg to farm can be stressful. Choose your chick supplier carefully and make efforts to minimise stress to ensure you maintain good chick quality. These are some of the characteristics of a good quality chick: well-dried, long-fluffed down, bright round active eyes, playful and alert. Chicks should have completely healed navels and legs should be bright and waxy to the touch. Chicks should be free from deformities (crooked legs, twisted necks, and cross beaks). It is now a normal practice world over to vaccinate chicks at the hatchery. Chicks vaccinated at the hatchery are less stressed and develop uniform immunity against diseases much earlier than farm vaccinated flock.

Early pre-placement preparedness

Before chicks arrive ensure that the house and equipment are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected and free of disease-causing organisms. The side walls with chicken wire must be covered with curtains, either made of gunny bags or tarpaulins. During this cold season, I always advise my farmers to place a false ceiling made of gunny bags just above the chicks in the brooding area. Please note, under no circumstances should one use polythene curtains as these tend to suffocate birds.

Consistently heat the house to keep chicks warm

Chicks do not have the ability to regulate their body temperature for the first seven days of their life and thermo-regulation is not fully developed until two weeks of age. Chick survival is therefore highly dependent on the housing system to provide the proper environmental temperature. For young juvenile birds, consistent ambient and floor temperatures are key factors needed for good activity and normal behaviour. Provide heaters in form of a 'jiko', stove or gas brooder for your young chicks.

Feed your birds immediately after arrival in the unit

Nutrition which involves the provision of feed, supplements and water is critical for a good flock performance. The feed should be of high quality, balanced and able to meet the bird's energy and protein requirements for both growth and immunity. The feed must be accessible, available and of the right particle size for the birds. In the first five to six days, the feed should be spread on top of paper or trays. Depending on the strain of the bird, they should be given chick and duck mash or broiler crumble starter, never give full pellets(3-4mm) until the birds are older than 18 days. To find out if your birds are feeding properly, pick 20-30 chicks at three to four different places in the house. Gently feel the crop of each chick, a) Full, round and soft texture, means the chick has taken feed and water, b) Full but hard with original feed texture, which means the chick has taken feed but with little or no water.

Prevent the introduction of germs in your flock house

Poultry workers should always wear clean, disinfected footwear and clothing. When visiting birds of different ages, start with the youngest flock and always visit sick flocks last, irrespective of their age. Take measures to control all rodents, wild birds, and insects, as they are known vectors of poultry diseases. Do not permit the introduction of materials and/ or equipment into the poultry house without thorough cleaning and disinfection as these items can be carriers of disease-causing organisms.

[The writer is Head Vet at Kenchic]

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