Baby Chick Reception
A successful flock may be impaired by improper planning prior to its reception. The organization and management of the farm are of great importance if the flock is to achieve its performance goals.
It is recommended that the farm be used for flocks of only one age and one type of bird. This is what we call an All In / All Out farm. The vaccination, fumigation and bio-security programs are a lot easier to handle this way.
Prior to the reception of the baby chicks, the houses or coops should be thoroughly cleaned, washed and disinfected. This should be done ideally with high water pressure and disinfecting agents. Insect and rodent control is also very important factors that should be controlled.
Once the house has been washed, it should be disinfected using products strong enough to combat any bacteria or virus that might still be lingering around the house. When fumigating, it is important to make sure that the surfaces you are fumigating are slightly wet and that the house temperature is somewhere around 21°C (70°F) since disinfectants tend to loose potency at lower temperatures.
The wood shavings should be evenly distributed over the house floor at a depth of 5-8 cm (2.5 – 3 in.) and well compacted. An uneven floor distribution can cause access problems to feeders and waterers which
would lead to uniformity problems within the flock. Never use cedar chips, sawdust or treated wood chips for floor bedding. Rice hulls can replace wood shavings.
Prior to chick reception all the waterers and feeders should be in place in the proper configuration. Fig. 1.
The house should be pre-heated 24 hours prior to chick arrival. It is during this time period that the equipment should be tested in order to make sure everything is working properly and that there is a uniform heat distribution throughout the house. Pre-heating also ensures that the floor temperature is adequate for the baby chicks since “cold feet” can stunt the chick’s growth.
Baby chicks require an external heat source to keep warm for the first week. Heat management during this first week is crucial to the chick’s growth. If you don’t have gas brooders and are only planning on raising a few chicks, you can use light bulbs for the heat source. Use a 250 watt bulb for approximately 50 chicks in cold weather or for 100 chicks in warm weather. The light bulb should be about 45 cm (18in.) from the floor.
Always allow room around the brooders or light bulbs so that the baby chicks can move away from the heat source if it starts to get too hot.
At reception, the temperature at chick level should be maintained at 32 – 35 C (90 – 95 F) for the first week. Then gradually reduce the temperature each week until to arrive at 21 C (70 F). Make sure to watch the bird’s behavior and adjust the brooder temperature as needed.
There should be no air drafts directly upon the chicks. Cold air drafts will cause the baby chicks to huddle together to keep warm and won’t be eating their feed ration thus slowing down their growth rate not to mention the possibility of getting sick. Wind breakers can be made up of empty feed bags, plastic curtains, cardboard, etc.
There must be a ventilation system so that the air in the house is constantly changing and harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and ammonia don’t build up. It also helps to keep the floor dry and free of humidity which can lead to foot problems in the chicks.
If the litter gets too humid, you will see that the bird’s feet will start to accumulate “muck” on them. It is important to remove this in order to prevent foot problems. If your flock isn’t too big, you can handle each chick individually and place their feet in a lukewarm water bath and let the “muck” dissolve off their feet.
House temperature can be handled using curtains on the sides of the house. To regulate house temperature, the curtains should be lowered and NOT raised. This way the hot air at the top of the house will be let out and the chicks won’t be exposed to sudden wind drafts. It is recommended that if the house is an open-sided house, it should have curtains at reception. Once the chicks are older, you will be able to remove these curtains. If the house is a closed house, be sure that there are windows in order to regulate temperature. Also, make sure the windows are not at chick level.
Water and Feed
There must always be a fresh water source available to the chicks at all times. Water should be changed every day. The water temperature should be somewhere around 10 – 12 °C (50 – 54 °F). If the water is either too hot (30°C or 86°F) or too cold, the water intake will be reduced and can therefore stunt their growth rate. It is VERY important that the chicks NEVER run out of water.
It is recommended to feed baby chick a dust free crumbled chick starter. The feed should be distributed evenly throughout the house using plastic trays or paper placed on the floor.
Neither waterers nor feeders should be placed directly under the heat source, whether it is brooders or heating lamps.
Feeding on paper is very important as the scratching noise made by the baby chicks when they walk across it, stimulates the other chicks to come and explore finding the feed a lot easier.
When placing the chicks in the house, it is a good practice to show each and every one of them where the water is by placing their beaks into the waterers. This will ensure that they all know where it is and won’t run the risk of dehydration.
Feeder and water space is also a very important factor which should be considered. For example, for every 1,000 baby chicks, it is recommended having at least 6 bell waterers, 6 gallon waterers, 12 plastic tray feeders and 25% floor coverage with paper. Once the chicks have been placed in the house, you should leave them alone for about 2 hours so that they can become accustomed to their new environment. Then, you can start adjusting feeder and water space as needed.
When feeding the baby chicks, it is recommended that the daily ration be distributed throughout the day in 6 to 7 servings and not just one big serving in the morning. This will greatly improve chick uniformity and reduce the number of starve-outs.
If you start to see that the chicks are losing uniformity i.e. small and large chicks running around together, the best practice is to remove the small chicks and place them in a separate area with their own feeders and waterers so that they won’t have to compete with the larger chicks and will be able to grow and match these chicks.
The baby chicks should be received at the lowest density possible. It is recommended to place 50 – 75 baby chicks per M2. As the chicks grow the density should be reduced even further until they are at around 10 birds per M2 or less if ambient temperature is high.
Reading the Signs
There are certain management criteria which need to be addressed. Thermometers should be placed at chick level and NOT above them. We need to be monitoring the actual temperature the baby chicks are experiencing so we can make the proper adjustments when needed (see Fig.2).