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General Brooding and Rearing

Poultry - General Brooding and Rearing

The following information discusses general procedures which should be used when brooding newly hatched birds of all species, as well as common rearing or growing practices for all species. For simplicity, the term "chicks" will be used to refer to all young birds, unless otherwise specified.

Definitions

  • Brooding - refers to the period immediately after hatch when special care and attention must be given to chicks to ensure their health and survival.
  • Rearing - refers to the remainder of life after brooding until sexual maturity.

Housing

The brooding room should be heated prior to arrival of the chicks. A newly hatched chick requires supplemental heat to maintain its body temperature; therefore, an external heat source must be provided to chicks in the first few weeks.

Heat lamps with infra-red bulbs are usually positioned in the centre of a brooder ring. Reheat lamps are used to confine chicks in a small area close to feed and water and ultimately allowing them to select an environment at their own thermal comfort level.

Brooder Rings

Brooder rings usually consist of a 30 to 45 cm (12 to 18 in) wide ) strip of corrugated cardboard which has been cut to an appropriate length in order to form a ring 2.4 to 3.6 m in diameter (8 to 12 ft.).

It is important to note that for turkeys, the height of the brooder ring should be slightly higher.

The brooder ring is set up in the pen where the chicks are placed, and is removed once they are five to 10 days old. Size is adjusted for the number of birds to be contained, but the key is to allow room for the chicks to move around so they can select their optimum temperature.

Temperature Control

Temperature control is important to chicks, particularly in the first three weeks of life. Brooder rings should provide adequate space for the chicks to select a comfortable temperature. If the chicks are too cold, they will become chilled and uncomfortable, and will not eat or drink. If the chicks are too hot, they will become dehydrated and susceptible to high mortality.

Starting temperature requirements

Starting temperature requirements for all poultry species are similar. Initial brooding temperature, at the chicks' level, should be 35 degrees Celcius (C), and reduced by approximately 3 C per week until 21 C is reached. Temperatures may be lowered earlier for waterfowl.

If the whole room is heated and there are no heat lamps, the initial brooding temperatures should be slightly lower (30 to 33 C).

After six weeks of age, temperatures between 18 and 21 C are desirable.

Observation

These brooding temperature guidelines should be adjusted according to observations of the chicks. The behaviour and sounds of the chicks will indicate their comfort level. Comfortable birds will be evenly spaced around the pen and will make soft "cheeping" noises. Cold chicks will huddle in the warmest part of the pen and cheep loudly.

Too hot

If the birds are too hot, they will:

  • Generally be positioned against the walls away from the heat source
  • Will be panting or possibly sitting with their wings outstretched and feathers fluffed out. 
The chicks will do a better job than a thermometer of telling you about their comfort level.

The diagrams below show how chicks will move away or towards the heat lamp if they are hot or cold. Preventing drafts is also important, as young chicks are easily chilled.

Ascites (or water-belly) in broiler chickens can be attributed to cool temperatures early in the brooding period. This disease can cause high mortality and inedible carcasses at slaughter.

Diagram from Ross Broiler Management Manual, August 2, 2007. reprinted with permission of Aviagen Incorperated, Aviagen Limited, Newbridge, Midlothian, Scotland, UK, and Huntsvill, Alambama, USA.

Diagram from Ross Broiler Management Manual, August 2, 2007. Reprinted with permission of Aviagen Incorporated, Aviagen Limited, Newbridge, Midlothian, Scotland, UK, and Huntsville, Alabama, USA.

Floor Covering

The pens where the chicks are to be raised should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at least one week prior to chick placement. Any equipment to be used should also be cleaned and disinfected.

Fresh, mold-free bedding (litter) should be spread over the whole floor area, including the brooder ring. The bedding will provide insulation from the floor and will soak up moisture from the bird droppings. It will also help to prevent damage to the birds' legs due to slipping on wet surfaces.

Types of material which can be used for bedding include straw and wood shavings. The depth of the bedding should be seven to 10 cm (three to four inches).

During the rearing period, bedding should be removed and replaced routinely in areas which become wet. This is often necessary next to the water source and helps to prevent ammonia build-up in the air.

Space Requirements

Space requirements for the brooding and rearing of poultry are different for each species. Table 1 gives recommendations for chickens and turkeys. These are guidelines, and judgment must be used based on the size of the chicks. The listed space requirements also require adequate ventilation, with fans and inlets.

Table 1. Floor Space Recommendations

Chickens (meat and laying strains)        
 Age (weeks) 0 - 3 3 - 8 >8   
 m2/bird  0.05 0.07 - 0.09 0.14 - 0.19  
 ft2/bird  0.5 0.75 - 1.0 1.5 - 2.0  
 Turkeys        
 Age (weeks) 0 - 1 1 - 8 8 - 12 >12
 m2/bird 0.05 0.1 - 0.19 0.2 - 0.28 0.37
 ft2/bird 0.5 1.1 - 2.0 2.2 - 3.0 4.0

Ventilation

Chicks require an abundance of fresh air with low contaminants such as dust and ammonia. During the first few days of brooding, little ventilation is required; however, proper ventilation is very important as the chicks are growing.

In commercial barns, fans and inlets are manipulated to provide uniform air distribution. Fans draw air out of the barn and inlets let fresh air in, thereby removing dust and ammonia. Humidity can be reduced and excess heat eliminated if necessary. As noted previously, drafts should be avoided with chicks.

Lighting

Constant bright light of 20 to 50 lux (the measurement term lux being the International System of Units or SI for illuminance and luminous emittance), should be provided from hatch to seven days of age.

The constant lighting allows chicks to adjust to their new environment and find their feed and water sources. After seven days, the light intensity may be lowered to five lux. At five lux, it is difficult to read a newspaper inside the barn, but if desired, light intensity can be measured using a photographic light meter. The lower light intensity will help prevent cannibalism.

However, if heat lamps are used, there are windows in the barn, or the chicks are in an outside run, it is difficult to control the light intensity. In these situations, it is suggested that intensity be reduced when feasible or if problems with cannibalism arise at a later date.

Recommended period of darkness

After seven days, a period of darkness is recommended for all types of poultry to reduce the incidence of metabolic (especially heart) diseases and leg problems. The use of natural daylight is sufficient, or providing 12 to 16 hours of artificial light per day will result in adequate exposure to darkness.

After six weeks of age

After six weeks of age, chickens raised for egg-laying purposes should be provided a maximum of eight to 10 hours of light per day until they are about 18 to 20 weeks of age. The day length is then increased to stimulate egg production. It is very important that day length not be reduced once the hens are laying eggs, or production will drop.

Water

During the first week of brooding, deaths due to dehydration can be reduced by providing additional water sources in the brooder ring. Several shallow trays, such as ice cube trays, can be placed throughout the ring. It is also helpful to dip the chicks' beaks into the water when initially placing them into the brooder ring.

Fresh water should be available at all times, and the water containers should be cleaned routinely. As with the feeders, the height of the water source should be regularly adjusted to be even with the back of the chicks.

Feed

During the first week of brooding, in addition to the feeding troughs, small amounts of feed should be provided in shallow trays (such as box lids or egg flats) which the chicks can easily access. This helps the chicks find the feed more successfully in the first few days. It is also beneficial to place the feed and water close together during this time to ensure the chicks eat and drink.

Feeder space

Adequate feeder space is necessary to prevent crowding at feeders and to promote uniform growth. After initial brooding, feed should be placed away from the waterers to prevent wet feed and dirty water. Table 2 provides guidelines for feeder space for different poultry species, but discretion must be used based on bird size. Feeder height should be adjusted regularly so that the lip of the feeder is even with the backs of the chicks.

Table 2. Feeder Space Recommendations

Chickens (meat and laying strains)
     
 Age (weeks)
0 - 3
3 - 8
>8
 cm/bird 2.5
5.0 - 7.5
7.5 - 15.0
 in/bird 1.0 2.0 - 3.0
3.0 - 6.0
 Turkeys and Waterfowl
     
 Age (weeks)
0 - 8
>8
 
 cm/bird 3.5 - 5.0 6.5 - 7.5
 
 in/bird 1.4 - 2.0 2.6 - 3.0
 

Feed can be provided continuously or mildly restricted. Metabolic diseases and leg problems can be reduced in broiler chickens and turkeys by withholding feed for part of the day. Feed should not be restricted during the first week of brooding.

Chicks are generally fed a starter diet that can be purchased from a local feed supplier. The size and texture of the feed provided is important when raising chicks, as newly hatched chicks cannot eat the large feed pellets provided for older poultry.

It is also important to know that nutrient requirements are different for each poultry classification. Please see Poultry - General Nutrition for  more information on nutrient requirements.

Next - Poultry - General Nutrition

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