Escalating commodity prices are squeezing profit margins and driving producers to seek ways of optimising their performance. Growers need to take a hard look at their management to find ways to fine tune their performance and gain the extra couple of cents per kg advantage. This includes feeder choice and management.
By Andrew Bourne , broiler specialist, world technical support, Cobb-Vantress, USA
The importance of feed intake during the first seven days cannot be emphasised enough, as this is the only opportunity to achieve such growth in a single week. Early feed intake sets the precedent for good performance.
To achieve the best start, the grower must provide the optimum transition from a hatchery to brooding environment which includes making sure the chicks begin feeding and drinking straightaway. The key to success lies in establishing the physiological “building blocks”, a well developed skeleton and healthy cardiovascular system.
From the time the chicks arrive on the farm they should have immediate access to clean, fresh feed and water. Chicks should never have to search for their next meal. Adequate access and quantity is essential to maximise the genetic potential and take advantage of the modern broiler chick’s voracious appetite. The following are some key tips to ensure great consumption and successful seven-day body weights.
Brood chamber preparation
Providing sufficient feeding space for the birds is essential. This can be achieved by covering at least 50% of the house with chick paper. At least 50 to 65 grams of feed per chick on the paper must be offered, which will be easily consumed in three to four days.
If chick trays are being used, ensure at least one tray per 50 chicks. The trays must be evenly distributed throughout the house and only removed once the chicks have access to a flooded feed pan. Removal of the feed trays too early is often obvious when 14-day body weights are below standard.
A simple crop fill evaluation (“Chick Check”) in the morning after placement should result in an absolute minimum of 85% full crops. A sample of at least 100 chicks in three positions in the house is needed. Table 1
is a basic evaluation tool to record these findings. In a brooding success story, results for 15 million broilers were evaluated. Initially the “chick check” measured 73.3% crop fill and a slaughter weight of 2kg. Then, after some considerable improvements in feed availability during brooding, the results for 15.5 million broilers were measured. The “chick check” resulted in 86.1% (+12.8%). The improved daily gain (2kg target body weight) was achieved 0.5 day earlier, meaning an improved feed conversion of 0.22 points.
Automatic feeder pans
Regardless of which type of feeding system is used, feeding space is absolutely critical. If feeder space is insufficient, growth rates will be reduced and uniformity severely compromised. Feed distribution and the proximity of the feeder to the birds are key to achieving target feed consumption rates. All feeder systems should be calibrated to allow for sufficient feed volume with minimal waste. 60-70 birds per 33 cm (12 inch) diameter pan are recommended (same applies to hand feed system). Adopt overflow (flood) setting for chick start.
Pan feeders are generally recommended as they allow for unrestricted bird movement throughout the house, have a lower incidence of feed spillage and improve feed conversion.
Feeder pans should be primed on each entry to the house to keep the system full. If birds are “tipping” the pans to reach the feed, then the pans are set too high. Table 2
is a guideline as to the number of feeder lines generally required in a closed environment broiler house.
Correct litter and ambient temperatures are vital to ensure chick activity and feed intake. Pre-heating is important and should begin at least 24 to 48 hours before placement, even during summer. This will ensure the litter temperature is at least 32°C (90°F), and that the air and internal structures are adequately heated at placement. Failure to achieve this all important target will reduce activity and result in a drop in feed consumption
Without immediate consumption, the grower will lose the opportunity to quadruple day-old chick weight in the first week. Newly hatched chicks do not have the ability to control their own body temperature until they become fully thermo competent at 14 days old. Their core temperature should be 40-41ºC (104-106ºF), increasing to 41-42ºC (106-108ºF) by five days of age. Chick internal temperatures above 41ºC (106ºF) will lead to panting and below 39.5ºC (103ºF) will lead to reduced activity and low feed consumption.
Always use bird behaviour and effective temperature as the ultimate guide to determine the correct temperature for the birds. The yolk sac also contains 1-2 grams of moisture, two parts fat and one part protein. If early feed consumption is limited, the chick will use both fat and protein in the yolk for energy resulting in inadequate protein levels for optimum growth. Recommended ambient temperatures are given in Table 3
High light intensity
Light intensity is an important factor during brooding and cannot be ignored. Chick activity during the brooding period is the driver that ensures adequate feed and water consumption. Only with the consumption of enough feed and water will the genetic potential of the broiler chick be realised. Without adequate temperature and the correct air quality, chick activity will be limited.
During brooding the light should be at the brightest to encourage chick activity, helping them locate feed and water. Light systems should be installed with the ability to achieve a minimum of 25 lux (2.5 foot candles) or more at chick level. Newly constructed housing should be able to achieve at least 40 lux (four foot candles). The light systems in the modern broiler house should be dimmable. Post brooding, the light intensity should be reduced to between five & ten lux (0.5 to 1 foot candle). When practicing partial house brooding, maintain maximum light intensity until chicks have access to the full house.
The goal is to provide as high a light intensity as possible and even distribution throughout the brood area to stimulate maximum consumption for achieving seven-day body weight targets. Inexpensive light meters are readily available and are an essential tool for the modern broiler grower.
Brood chamber management
- Stimulate feeding: Walk chicks for the first four hours.
- Run automatic flood feeders two to three times per day - this includes nights!
- Refresh feeder lids two to three times per day.
- Refreshing feed once a day in the morning and then doing nothing for the next 24 hours is not enough to stimulate intake. It takes hard work and dedication to achieve the least cost goals.
- Golden rule: Never allow the feed trays to run empty during this period. Every gram consumed in the first week is converted into body weight.
- Keep feed fresh and in front of the flock.
- After first three days begin to move trays closer to automated feed system.
- Activity and management in the first 14 days preserves or kills uniformities.