AgricultureLife Hack

Tips to properly manage day-old chicks

POULTRY hatchery business is a highly specialised job and, therefore, the industry is characterised by a few accredited firms mainly concentrated in some parts of the country.

Usually, poultry farmers place their orders for day-old chicks from these hatcheries through agents and distributors. 

Chicks from different hatcheries vary greatly in terms of quality, and as such, the type you stock has an implication on the success of your venture. For starters, you need to identify your hatchery of choice. It is advisable that you carry out a comprehensive investigation before choosing a hatchery. 

What to consider
• Does the hatchery maintain a breeding flock to produce fertilised eggs for incubation or does it outsource from different farms?

• Does the hatchery have a comprehensive history of vaccination and health management programme for the breeding flock? 

A reliable hatchery should be able to provide its customers with this information in addition to a performance guide on production and efficiency of their stock, whether layers, broilers or local. 

Second, the farmer should never compromise on the quality of chicks for the sake of costs. 

Quality assessment of chicks should be done at the hatchery by observing that:

They are clean, dry and free from dirt and contamination and have clear and bright eyes. 

The chicks are active and alert, that is, they can stand on their feet and are capable of getting up after being placed on their backs.

The navels are completely sealed since poorly closed navel is an indication of yolk sac infection which results to death. The chicks are free from any obvious deformity such as crossed beak or missing eye. The legs have no swelling, hock or skin lesion. They should be firm and have straight toes.

Use a well-aerated vehicle
Transport the chicks when the weather is friendly – cool. This should be done very early in the morning or evening when the sun has set, but not between noon and 4pm. During the transportation, go straight to the farm. Avoid unnecessary stop-overs. Before arrival, the brooder environment and equipment should be prepared three to four weeks in advance.

This involves cleaning and disinfecting all equipment, brooder house and its surrounding environment. Thereafter, decide on the type of heat source that you will use.

Artificial heat sources include infrared bulbs, heat lamps, electric and gas hovers, a stove and hot water radiators. Each of the heat sources works satisfactorily as long as it is set-up in a safe manner and maintains a constant temperature comfortable for the chicks. 

Choose litter material that helps in temperature regulation of the poultry house and is easy to manage. 

Avoid sawdust as this may cause respiratory problems to the chicks while wet litter forms a conducive environment for coccidiosis. 

For the first week, it is good practice to put feeds on a spread out carton or newspaper to help the chicks distinguish feed from litter as well as for easy accessibility.  Six hours prior to the arrival of chicks on the farm, the artificial heat source should be turned on to preheat the brooder house. 

If the period is during the rainy season, preheat the brooder 12 hours before arrival of the day-old chicks. Temperature on arrival must be in the range of 32 to 34*c. 

Management in the first four weeks of the chicks’ life is by far the most valuable skill a poultry farmer must acquire because the birds are totally dependent upon you to meet their needs. 

Key pointers
Space requirement: Provide brooder floor spacing of 25 chicks per square metre for layers and 20 chicks per square metre for broilers to prevent overcrowding. 

Ensure the brooder is corner free by using hard boards and wooden pegs to avoid piling of chicks in corners. 

Depending on the type of heat source being used, allow 1,000 chicks per hover or 200 chicks per infrared bulb. 

Provide one drinker (water fountain of three to four litres) for every 50 chicks. Use drinkers that chicks can reach but not fall into to avoid drowning. Use chick feeders of 0.5m for every 20 chicks.

Room temperature
• If the temperature is right, chicks are evenly distributed throughout the brooding area indicating comfort. If temperature is low, chicks tend to huddle under the heat source. If temperature is high, chicks stray far away from the heat source. 

• You can also tell if the temperature is too extreme by looking at the chicks’ legs. If the chicks are chilled, their legs will be cold when you touch and appear puffy and swollen. If the brooding area is extremely hot, the legs will look dry, thin and dehydrated.

Before chicks attain two weeks of age, strictly adhere to the temperature range. 

Feeding
For layer chicks, provide chick mash at the rate of 35 to 75g/bird/day, increasing the amount gradually from the first to the eighth week.  For broiler chicks, provide broiler starter at the rate of 35 to 90g/bird/day, increasing the amount gradually for the first three weeks. 

Provide your chicks with feeds that are of high quality. Ensure the feeds contain coccidiostat to help control coccidiosis and for the broiler starter, antioxidants should be included. Provide clean drinking water on daily basis. 

Health management 
Brooder house should be isolated with restricted access to help reduce disease outbreak. Have a footbath with a disinfectant at the entrance.  Do not close the brooder house completely to allow proper ventilation. Change the litter material every fortnight and in the case of wet litter, this should be changed immediately to prevent diseases.  

The vaccination schedule should be done in the following order; a combined vaccine of Newcastle Disease (NCD) and Infectious Bronchitis should be done on the seventh day and on the 21st day, while Gumboro (IBD) should be administered on the 14th day and on the 28th day.  

The second vaccination of each of the diseases is done to boost the first vaccination. Ensure after each vaccination, chicks are provided with water containing either glucose or anti-stress agents to reduce the adverse effects of the vaccine.

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