Having discussed in some detail the variable inputs (chicks, feed and water) and having touched on the fixed inputs (housing and equipment) it is now time to throw in the catalyst that makes it all work, i.e. management. The definition of management in the context of chicken rearing is “the utilization of available resources in order to achieve the maximum performance from the investment”, and whether one is managing a “string and chewing gum” operation or a “Rolls-Royce” operation the definition still applies. The following recommendations are intended as a management guide in order to produce a well-brooded two week-old broiler.
The type of litter used will depend largely on availability and suitability. If available, pine shavings make the best litter, but other alternatives include rice hulls, straw, corn cobs, shredded newsprint and peanut hulls. Try to avoid using hardwood shavings due to their high tannin content and because they splinter easily. Litter should be laid in the clean house at a depth of 8cm and in the brooding area at a depth of 10cm. Litter should be managed in such a way that a moisture level of 20 to 25% is maintained. Below this level will give rise to dusty conditions, and above this level will result in litter becoming wet ant caked.
Heat is generated by gas, oil, electricity, coal, wood or other fuels, and is supplied to the broilers in the following forms.
• Localised – where the birds have a central heat source and access to a cooler unheated area
• Whole house – where the complete house is heated to the same temperature.
• Combination – where the birds have central heat source and the remaining areas are warmed by the use of space heaters.
• Part house brooding – where brooding is performed by enclosing a section of the house with plastic curtains and brooding all the chicks in the reduced area for the first 10 to 21 days.
Most growers with open housing favour the latter alternative with suspended radiant or infrared brooders placed in the centre of the brooding area Careful attention has to be paid to ventilation with this system, but if the ambient temperature can be maintained at around 23 to 25°C superior results will be obtained. Do not overstock brooders. If the manufacturers’ recommendation is for 1000 chicks, then stick to it.
The brooders should be set 24 hours before the chicks arrive and a temperature of 33 to 34°C should be recorded at the edge of the brooder 5cm above the litter. Place a 50cm high solid surround around each brooder approximately 1.25m from the edge of the brooder. During summer months this surround can be made of wire netting. Remember to expand the surround a little each day until it is on a gradual basis. It takes around 20 days for a chick to develop its own internal temperature control system, by which time the brooding area should be close to ambient temperatures. Generally speaking a reduction of 0.3°C per day is accepted practice.
Fresh water must always be available and it I recommended that at least 10 founts per 1000 chicks be located close to the heat-source, the most acceptable temperature of water for a chicken is about 19°C. Starting on the third day automatic drinkers can be introduced so that by the eighth day all chick founts have been replaced by automatics.
Feed should be supplied in the form of broiler starter crumbles for the firs 21 to 24 days, or, an allocation of 1 kg of starter per bird is often considered sufficient before changing over to finisher pellets. Initially, feed should be provided in cut down chick boxes, feeder bases or proper plastic chick trays. Up to 25% of the brooding area can be allocated to feeding area. Try to alternate feed trays with water founts. By the 10th day the regular feeding system should be in full use, all trays having been removed.
Lighting is very important and often overlooked. There is no point in supplying lots of lovely grub and water if it cannot be seen half the time. Therefore, suspend 60w lights in the brooding area, sufficient for the chicks to be able to find their way around.
As a rule it should not be necessary t administer soluble antibiotic to baby chicks, however, the use of vitamins and electrolytes for the first three days may be of value, especially if chicks have been stressed by dehydration, chilling etc. The use of an anti-mycoplasma product is strongly recommended, particularly in winter when the effect of MG can be quite devastating.
During the first 14 days it will often be necessary to vaccinate chicks, usually against Newcastle disease and Gumboro disease. Whilst the birds are in the confines o their surrounds the most effective method of administering vaccine is by the eye-drop method.