Secrets on Proper Brooding and How to Prepare For Arrival of Chicks
Brooding is the rearing of young chicks from the time they are hatched up to 6-8 weeks of age. During this tender age, chicks should be confined and given extra care including provision of warmth, feed, water and adequate ventilation.
Many small scale farmers who keep a few chickens for domestic use practice natural brooding. After natural incubation, the hen is allowed to walk with and tender its chicks. In most cases, the farmers practice free range system of poultry keeping, where the hen is free to walk freely looking for food. But the young chicks cannot survive adverse conditions under free range in which water and food are usually not enough. In cold weather, the chicks are never sufficiently warmed by their mother. At their tender age, the chicks cannot escape the predators such as kites, mongooses and hawks. All these circumstances tremendously increase the mortality rate of chicks.
Natural brooding can, however, be improved by confining the hen with its chicks, and providing them with feed and water. The hen will be covering its chicks and providing them with the warmth. But if the water is provided in unsuitable containers the chicks may drown in it. Waterers for chicks should be safe such that they cannot drown in. Generally, the system is uneconomical.
The only advantage of natural brooding is that it is cheap. Farmers invest very little in this system, and consequently the returns are low.
For the first 6 - 8 weeks after the chicks are hatched, they need to be reared with great care in an enclosure in which heat, water, feed, security and good ventilation are provided. The management of both broiler and layer chicks is basically similar. Because the chicks requirements are very strict especially in regard to temperature, they are normally reared in specially constructed structures known as brooder houses. Brooder houses are fitted with facilities for supplying heat to keep the chicks warm. In specialized brooder units, heat is provided from structures called hoovers. These are small circular or rectangular units under which heat from electric bulbs, paraffin or gas heaters is provided. There are however, several other ways of providing heat which include charcoal burners, lanterns and hot water pipes. All forms of heat should be adjustable to reduce or increase the temperature as necessary. Electric infra-red bulbs, used in hovers can be regulated depending on whether it is hot or cold. Ordinary bulbs, when used, should be colored to reduce the intensity of light as too bright light makes the chicks over-active and this reduces their growth rate. On the other hand, bulbs of low wattage will not only provide less heat but also dim lighting.
Preparations Before Chicks Arrive
1.) Clean the brooder house and its surrounding thoroughly. Disinfect the brooder house and all the equipment.
2.) Ensure that all the equipment are working well.
3.) Put clean litter, which can be a mixture of wood shavings and saw dust on the floor to a depth of 5 - 8 cm.
4.) Have chick mash ready, as a starter feed.
5.) Put on the heater at least 24 hours before the chicks arrive. Using thermometers, take the temperature reading 5 cm above the litter, and adjust the temperature to 35°C.
6.) Fill chicken drinkers or waterers with clean water at least six hours before the chicks arrive so that the water is warmed to the room temperature.
7.) Have a hardboard barrier properly placed around the source of heat so that chicks will not wander away from the heat.
Collecting the Chicks
On the day the chicks are to arrive, arrangements should be made to have someone at the collection centre, that is, railway station, bus-stage, or hatchery depot so that chicks will be delivered immediately to the farm. Before collecting the chicks, all the chick boxes should be opened and the chicks checked for mortality, quality and general condition, that is tiredness. Anything unusual should be noted and complaints raised immediately with the delivery personnel, driver or hatchery branch office. This inspection may form the basis for claims, if any. The delivery forms must be properly signed by both parties and the supplier informed immediately of any anomalies. Then the chicks should be taken to the farm without further delay.
Arrival of Chicks on the Farm
(1)As soon as the chicks arrive, they should be placed immediately in the brooder.
(2)Lukewarm water mixed with glucose should be provided to the chicks to drink before they are fed. Ensure all the chicks drink the water.
(3)Sprinkle the chick mash on paper spread over the litter for the chicks to eat so that they do not eat the litter. Fill the feed troughs with the chick mash so that the chicks learn to eat from both the paper and from the feeders. After 2 - 3 days however, they should be fed from full feeders only, and the paper covering litter removed. Later, the feed depth should be reduced to minimize losses as they learn to eat from the feeders.
(4)There should be enough space for movement, feeding and drinking.
(5)Put a guard around the source of heat, if applicable, to avoid the chicks overcrowding and getting burnt.
(6)It is recommended that the lighting should be dim to make chicks less active and to reduce toe pecking and other types of vices.
(7) Check and ensure that the temperature is right and that the chicks are comfortable. Note that if the chicks are comfortable, they spread evenly in the brooder. If they are feeling cold they crowd near the source of heat and move further away if they are feeling too hot.