Sourcing, care and management of 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. However, given that demand for day-old chicks is more than supply, (sometimes orders take as long as a month or more before they are executed especially during peak periods), desperation on the part of the farmers and agents has resulted in sourcing and supply of chicks from unknown hatcheries yet the birds are the foundation of poultry farming.
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
1. Does the hatchery maintain a breeding flock to produce fertilised eggs for incubation or does it outsource from different farms?
2. 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 kienyeji.
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 body is firm when you touch and there should be no sign of respiratory distress.
The legs have no swelling, hock or skin lesion. They should be firm and have straight toes.
It is also important to have the vaccination profile of the chicks from the hatchery. This includes evidence of vaccination for Mareks disease. In most cases, the hatchery will issue a certificate of vaccination and further a vaccination guide that you are expected to continue with on your farm to ensure proper health management of your stock.
Once chicks have been purchased, transportation from hatchery to the farm has to be done cautiously to reduce or eliminate mortality. Day-old chicks are very tender and must be handled with care. Mortality during transit should not be more than two per cent of the whole stock.
During transportation, consider the following:-
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. Consider fresh wood shavings that are dry and clean. Ensure the wood shavings are spread out evenly (3-inch level) as an uneven litter creates uneven pockets of temperature, which may cause grouping of chicks, depriving them feed and water.
Avoid saw dust 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. Remember that chicks should never be brooded on slippery surfaces as this might cause permanent leg damage.
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.
This will ensure that shavings are warm and the environment and air temperature is conducive for the chicks since their performance and liveliness depends on this. Temperature on arrival must be in the range of 32 to 340c.
Upon arrival at the farm house, transfer the chicks to the brooder gently to avoid damage or stress. Provide warm water that has been mixed with glucose, chick formula and liquid paraffin to give them energy and help them get off to a better start for the first three to five days. Do not feed them immediately; introduce feeds on the third day.
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 ON SUCCESSFUL BROODING MANAGEMENT:
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.
Temperature regulation: Use both the thermometer and chick behaviour to guide you on regulation of temperature in the brooder house. The table below shows the recommended brooding temperature regulated on a weekly basis at the rate of 20c until room temperature is achieved by the fourth week.
Observe the following chick behaviours to gauge if they are comfortable:
1. 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.
2. 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. At this stage, they cannot adjust to wide range of temperature fluctuations on their own. After two weeks, they are capable of regulating their own body temperature due to feathering and increased physical activities.
By the fourth week, the birds would have started eating large quantity of feeds and their body would be totally covered with feathers, therefore, heating should be discontinued. Provide dim light 24 hours to maximise on feed intake. Bbright light is not advisable as it may cause toes to shine leading to toe pecking.
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 inclusive. Provide clean drinking water on daily basis.
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 New Castle 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.
By following these tips, mortality rate should not exceed 10 per cent of the initial population. Watch your flock daily for signs of unusual behaviour. Failure to eat, drink or react normally is an indication of a problem. A quick diagnosis and treatment from a specialist can save your flock from unnecessary mortality.