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When brooding chicks, it is vital to have the correct environmental conditions to ensure the best start for the little beings.
Temperature, air circulation and humidity are crucial. Failure to provide optimum conditions for chicks from birth to eight weeks is the major contributor to stunted birds, deaths mostly unexplained, failure to thrive, poor feed conversion, increased risk of disease and lastly cost.
It never ceases to amaze me how people will happily spend a fortune on buying day old chicks without first doing the homework and having the right conditions for them when they arrive. Considering the information available freely on the internet this is quite remarkable.
The chick at this stage is still in incubator mode. He is relying on the yolk sac and on the conditions inside the incubator for his first breath. If you have done things correctly here, he will be fat and healthy. If not, you have a long road ahead!
Temperature is the most vital at this stage. Overheating or chilling can damage the young chick . It may not actually kill him but you will not be able to reach the full potential of your bird. Temperatures of 40C or higher can cause a significant drop in cardiac output and blood pressure. Temperatures below 18C will slow metabolism and if this temperature continues or drops even further, you will not be able to undo the damage done, and you will have mortality of many chicks. Chicks that are continually too hot or too cold will not grow and will not thrive.
Let me say at this point that although the “experts” give you this scale of temperature it is not cast in stone, and the chicks themselves will tell you if they are cold or uncomfortable. Your brooder lamp should be placed at one end of the brooder or if in a ring centrally so as to allow the chicks to move away from the heat source. They will decide how warm they want to be and let me tell you sometimes 35C is what they want! If all the chicks are moving around the brooder and chirping they are warm and comfortable. if they are strident and huddling under the lamp they are cold, and if there is a big space under the lamp with chicks all on the outer areas they are too warm.
Scientists will tell you that after 6 hours exposure to 43C plus the chicks will drink more water and grow at a slower rate. Adults ( still according to Georgia university) can survive exposure to 40.6C for up to seven hours but will not survive 43C for that long. Young chicks can withstand higher temperatures than adults.
The body temperature of a day old is about 1.7C below that of an adult, but this stabilises at five days where body temperature is 41.1C, same as the adults.
I think as this has been worked out for broilers one needs to take into consideration that all breeds are not the same. Large breed birds like Australorps are always a little lower in body temperature than broilers. Leghorns are a little above average in body temperature. This is why it is vital to watch the birds and make a decision based on observation. It is more important to watch the chicks themselves, than to watch the thermometer.
You also need to remember it depends a lot on the infrastructure you have around the brooder, whether you have a thousand birds or twenty, draughts and ventilation. It also depends on the bedding you have on the floor of the brooder, the feed and the drinkers. Have sufficient feeders for all chicks, have sufficient drinkers for all chicks and make sure they all know where the food is. The optimum is one drinker to ten birds and one feeder to fifteen to twenty birds. You can get away with more birds per feeder and more birds per drinker in the first week while they are small, but be aware that this changes from day to day and you must adapt accordingly.
Optimum temperature for DAY ONE should be about 32C but as I say this is open to variable factors. This decreases to 21.1C at six weeks, again open to variable factors.
Day old chicks cannot regulate their own body temperatures. On average a day old has a body temperature of 39.7C, and this increases to about 41.4C at ten days.
If you have successfully navigated day one with your little ones intact well done.
You must leave the chicks in the brooder section for at least 3 weeks. After that, if you are lucky to have outside access you can herd them all outside into a run for a few hours to scratch. They will be tired after the first day and you will see they will lie down and sleep on returning to the brooder. This will change and they will soon ask to go out. Once you see that the brooder is becoming crowded, remove the chicks into a larger house.
Conventional houses in the broiler industry have gravity flow ventilation. They also have curtains on both sides of the house. Curtains can be opened or closed for ventilation depending on weather. Some houses may have fans to control ventilation. Whatever system you have, be it a broiler house or a converted room or stable, there must be two optimum conditions present:
1. Good ventilation to remove the build up of C02. This must never be at the level of your chicks but above their heads so as not to cause them to chill. This is important for layers as well, because if they are fully in the draughts you will get no eggs.
2. Temperature control. Temperature needs to be constant, without peaks or dips. This of course is difficult if you are using a natural brooding or raising system but bear in mind some fluctuation providing it is gradual will be fine.What needs to be avoided at all costs is a house where the temperature at midday is 30C and at night -4C.
How does one achieve this in a normal backyard operation?
FANS: These work well, distribute air all around the house especially if strategically placed. The fan will control temperature too as it makes sure the air is circulated and will never remain static. This helps to moderate peaks and dips in temperature.
ORIENTATION: Make sure your house is orientated to suit your climate. Birds should get morning sun but not be sweltering at midday. If you are in a cold climate, orientate so you get more sun.
Openings in the houses should be such as to provide circulation ABOVE the heads of the birds, preferably below the eaves of the building. Flow should go right through the house so your openings must face each other across the house. How big you make them depends on your climate. In my area where humidity and heat are constant we have huge openings under the eaves to halfway down the wall, meshed in, and facing each other. Houses are 20metres by 10 metres. The meshed openings are higher on one side to allow for roof slope and window height on the other side. I also have fans, two per house. Houses have gated openings to allow birds outside, two per house.
On the left, you see a brooder box which is one of the simplest ones. A cardboard box about 60cm high, I found this one at the windscreen manufacturers. It needs to be a long box so that you can put food and water where the tile is, your heat lamp on the other end. This way the water and feed does not get warm, and the chicks have the option to move away from the heat source if they are too warm. Very important.
On the right is a rearing house where birds will move once they reach the age when they can go in and out and scratch by themselves. I move them into this house at 6 to 8 weeks, and they remain here until adult.
You will see there are fans above for good ventilation. The house opens onto a large outside area, fenced and shade cloth above for hawks. Birds come inside for food and water. When it is very hot the water is placed inside, otherwise it will be outside as there is less likelihood of moisture in the shavings. Floor is concrete, with wood shavings as bedding. Feeders are suspended. You will note the openings are wired in above the heads of the birds to prevent draughts.
The air circulation is through and through the house, a high ventilation window is out of picture on the right hand side of the house.
The heat lamp can be lowered or raised as needs be.