A brooder promotes early development of feeding and drinking behaviour. This will optimise gut, organ and skeletal development to support target body-weight gain throughout the growing period.
It is the foundation for productive and successful poultry businesses. During the first 10 days of life, the chicks’
environment changes from the hatchery to poultry house and there are significant changes in how the chick receives nutrition.
There is no exact number of chicks that can be put in a brooder, however in one circular brooder, place a
maximum of 300 chicks and enlarge the area every three days as the chicks gain weight to avoid overcrowding.
However, under full house brooding, even 3,000 or more chicks can be brooded in one area.
The brooding area can be set up using cardboard boxes, plywood or it can take a whole room.
Recommended environmental conditions at placement
- Air temperature: 30°C/86°F (measured at chick height in the area where feed and water are positioned).
- Litter temperature: 28-30°C (82.4-86.0°F)
- Relative humidity (RH): 60-70%. Temperature and RH should be monitored regularly to ensure a uniform environment throughout the whole brooding area. The temperature is measured using thermometers which are available in agri-input stores.
- Prior to chick arrival, litter should be spread evenly to a depth of five to 10cm (two to four inches). You can use a flat piece of wood to level the litter. Uneven bedding material can restrict access to feed and water since the chicks may not be able to walk over the uneven surface. It may also lead to a loss in flock uniformity.
- Where adequate floor temperatures are achieved, a minimum litter depth of 5cm (two inches) can be used.
- Litter depths of less than 5cm are not advised as they will not provide adequate insulation from cold floors, will not have poorer moisture absorption and will result in increased contact with chicken droppings, which may catalyse the spread for diseases.
- Adequate fresh, clean water must be available at all times to all birds with access points at an appropriate height — 50 birds per chick drinker and 12 birds per nipple if a farmer is using automatic drinkers. Water lines should be filled prior to chick arrival and any airlocks removed. If using nipple lines, all drinkers should be checked to ensure water is present.
- Do not give chilled water to chicks, because it affects their temperatures. Water must be at room temperature
- Initially, textured feed should be provided as a dust-free crumble or mini-pellet on feeder trays (one per 100 chicks) and/or on paper (occupying at least 80% of the brooding area).
At placement, chicks should be put directly onto paper so that feed is immediately found. If paper does not disintegrate naturally, it should be removed from the house from day three onwards.
Monitoring chick behaviour
Temperature and humidity should be monitored regularly, but by far the best indicator of correct brooding conditions is frequent and careful observation of chick behaviour.
In general, if chicks are spread evenly throughout the brooding area, this indicates the environment is comfortable for them.
If chicks are grouped together, under heaters or within the brooding area, this indicates they are too cold and temperature and/or relative humidity should be increased.
If chicks are crowded near the house walls or away from heating sources and/or they are panting, this indicates they are too hot.
Temperature and/or relative humidity should be reduced. Panting chicks can be noticed if they are breathing with open beaks.