Winter brooding series blog
In my experience with rearing broilers, winters have the best performance in terms of weights, food conversion ratios and, when well managed, mortality too. Food conversion ratio (FCR) measures the amount of feed that is used to produce a kg of meat. The lower this number is the better the saving on feed and the better the efficiency of production. Target FCR range from 1.55 to 1.8.
The chicks are brought into a well cleaned and disinfected shed, which has been prepared for them in advance to ensure it meets their initial requirements. Broilers are made for eating, drinking, sleeping, and growing. Yes, they’ll play sometimes, but given their limited space and short lifespan, their main activities lie in their growth more than anywhere else. This is why it is important for us as farmers to ensure our birds get the best possible attention and requirements for them to meet our targets.
Preheating is done for at least 24-48 hours before placing chicks. The aim is to ensure the floor, usually concrete, gets heated up to 30-32 degrees Celsius. Chicks get easily chilled when they step on cold floors, even on ones that have bedding placed. When checking the floor temperature it’s important to check on the concrete directly rather than on top of the bedding.
The recommended bedding is wood shavings as these are more absorbent than any other. They are not easily eaten by chicks, unlike sawdust, which is the finer form of wood shavings. Depth of the bedding must be between 10-15 cm. A soft landing is essential for the broiler feet to remain soft and edible, it is after all one of the best delicacies on the broiler. Blankets, cloths and newspapers cannot be used as bedding. Other recommended options for bedding include wheat straw, veld grass, groundnut shells among other things. Wet litter must never be permitted to spend time in the shed as it adds to chilling birds as well as ammonia gas, all very detrimental to the birds performance.
Temperatures are managed by way of curtains that demarcate the initial space of 25-30 birds per square metre. Curtains can be made from sewn together sacks, hessian or canvas tents. Plastics may be used but greater care needs to be taken as they do not breathe well and allow essential air into the shed.
Sources of heat include Infra-red lights, charcoal burners, and gas brooders. Remember to allow 500 birds per drum charcoal burner or 2 Infra-red lights per 100 birds. Birds crowding under the heat source indicate low temperature within the shed. Birds must only know where the feeders and drinkers are, as the aim is to ensure the entire room attains the comfortable temperature for them to be spread out evenly throughtout the shed. Birds that are mainly in the edges of the shed indicate too much heat hence they run to the cooler sides of the shed.
Water bottles are NOT recommended for brooding and should not be used in the shed. Blankets covering brooding boxes are NOT recommended. Brooding boxes tend to be too high to allow adequate ventilation. If used this should be done with caution, otherwise they’re NOT recommended. They’re also mostly wooden and cannot be cleaned and disinfected adequately. The best remains brooding the chicks in a smaller section within the main shed as it also reduces the stress of moving them around.
Chick behaviour is a critical parameter for us to keep an eye on as this is the best indicator of chick comfort.
Thermometers may be installed, but the best thermometers are the chicks which when read well will let you know when they’re in discomfort. As a farmer the aim is for us to be proactive and ensure the chicks are always comfortable. Regular visits to the shed both day and especially night will allow us to address any areas that need to be sorted out and keep chicks well catered for in all aspects for growth.
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