Brooding -balancing act between Ventilation and Heat Provision
We have spoken previously about heating and ensuring our sheds are well within the recommended temperatures required to create the best brooding environment for our chicks. This time we are adding another critical dimension, which is provision of adequate clean air, also known as ventilation.
Our chicks need fresh air to breathe as well as the right environmental temperatures to grow. They risk poor development and ascites which is also known as water belly when we compromise on provision of both heat and fresh air.
During this winter season especially, we have the lowest temperatures and farmers will be tempted to compromise due to the costs of heating. There are some that will cover their birds in a bid to help reduce wastage of the heat provided, but in the process are blocking movement of fresh air through the shed and especially the brooding area. The balance between heating and ensuring there is adequate freshness in the shed is critical and must be assessed by each farmer according to their situation. While the chicks will tell us when the environment is comfortable with regards to heat, this is more difficult when dealing with ventilation.
A few pointers that will help farmers to ensure they maintain the balance required are as follows:
- When using charcoal burners, these must be prepared outside the shed and placed only when ready for use into the brooding area. This means all the initial burning of the charcoal which needs a lot of oxygen has happened outside and does not compromise the levels of oxygen in the shed.
- Always have at least two charcoal burners so you can interchange without compromising temperatures within the shed.
- Use old sacks that have been sewn together to help with heat retention within the brooding area-these will be the curtains for the shed. The sacks can breathe better than plastic and are recommended especially when one is creating their brooding area. The curtains will need to be doubled on the sides to ensure a tighter close especially at the bottom of the shed where the chicks are located. They should be placed along the fence and tucked under the litter to ensure minimal cold air enters the shed.
- Ensure that the sack curtains are opened from top to bottom always. This avoids a direct cold draft on the chicks towards the bottom where they are resident.
- Always keep a small opening at the top of the curtains on both sides. The size of these openings will be determined by the conditions in your shed. One serves as an entry point for fresh air and is directed towards where the wind is coming from, if there is too much wind this opening is kept small but never totally closed. The outlet opening should be bigger than the entry one as we want to ensure that all the stale and unwanted air, which includes ammonia, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide etc, finds its way out of the shed. It is therefore important that our shed width be within the recommended 10-12 meters as this will allow adequate air movement across the shed.
I am also aware that our small scale farmers are using brooding boxes for their flocks. These are not ideal but will need extra care as the fresh air available is only coming from the top of the box which is already too high in terms of where the birds are resident. Never cover this box with blankets as we further compromise the air quality for the chicks. The ideal remains blocking a small section within the shed where the birds will eventually grow as it will be easier to manage both heating and ventilation.
We spoke about ascites briefly and I would like to expand on it so we are well aware of where it comes from. It is not a disease; rather it is a condition that occurs due to compromises in heating and ventilation which then affect the growth and development of the bird. Effectively it starts in the first week as this is where it is critical to provide the required balance and get the growth required. The signs are seen from week 3 and particularly weeks 4 to slaughter when birds just flip over and die. It is also known as flipover disease, waterbelly due to the liquid that is found in the belly of the bird on post mortem.
Inadequate ventilation and poor temperatures result in poor growth of the internal organs particularly the lungs, heart which when required to support the added weight in later life will not be able to do so resulting in the bird flipping over. The stages of ascites range from a clean carcass on post mortem to one that has the fluid in the belly. Ascites costs the farmer in terms of Feed conversion ratio as well because the birds would have eaten then die later in life.
This July and all winters going forward, prepare for your birds well and ensure you have all that is required for them to thrive despite the cold. The chicks must never know that it is cold after all, they have you as their dedicated farmer and will thrive because you are there doing the very best for them to produce as well. Remember in winter brooding can go up to end of flock, always base your management on the conditions in your area, minimum brooding for winter is at least 3 weeks (21 days). All the best for your projects, I look forward to testimonies of great production.
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