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Ask the Vet - Brooding Stage

Dr Ben South BSC (Hons) BVetMed MRCVS 

Q. Why is chick brooding the most important stage of game bird rearing?
A. The first few days in any animal’s life is challenging, for young game birds, this is no exception. Game bird chicks are precocial, meaning they are relatively mature after hatching. Precocial chicks have an innate behaviour to feed off the ground and find water. The chick is reliant on a good healthy yolk sac for early sustenance and for you to provide a stress-free environment with plenty of easy access to food and clean water.

Q. What are the main factors to be aware of during chick brooding?
A. Food and water consumption are vital in the first 24 hours of a chick hatching so it is extremely important that they have access to unlimited uncontaminated water and crumb which is easily identifiable. The environment is also a key factor so it’s important to make sure it is stress-free by providing the correct temperature, ventilation and lighting which should be discussed with your vet.

Q. How often should I monitor the temperature?
A. Consistent monitoring of brooding temperatures is crucial as young chicks are very poor at controlling their own body temperature. Technology can be a useful aid such as thermal laser guns or temperature loggers.

Q. I know I should heat my sheds but is it possible for the chicks to get too hot?
A. The internal temperature of a chick is between 39°C and 40.1°C. They have a higher surface area to volume ratio which leads to rapid heat loss. However, chicks can easily be overheated too. Annually, we see more chicks that have been overheated than we do those that have been chilled. This is often because it is harder to appreciate when they are too hot. If they are too cold, you will see them starting to pile which can easily be recognised. We often see secondary poor gut health related to batches of chicks that have been overheated in transport or during the first week of life.

Q. What is the best way to supply water to chicks?
A. Day old chicks are naive to the world and their surroundings. It is important to give them every opportunity to find water. In the commercial poultry industry, nipple bars are used from day one with great success. Chicks are attracted to both the bright metal nipple and hanging water droplet and soon peck at it causing water to spill over their beaks. Your vet should be able to suggest the correct nipple bar set up for your site and type of housing, as well as provide help on setting the system up.
 
Additional water drinkers can be used such as open floor drinkers. However, the levels of bacteria per 1ml of water can exceed 1.2 billion bacteria units even if they are cleaned twice a day, so the small ‘runts’ that might be saved by providing an open water source, do not equate to the damage to the gut and body systems of the entire shed that can result from poor contaminated water. So be careful.

Q. Why aren’t my chicks eating?
A. Once hatched; a chick will instinctively peck at its environment to investigate potential feed and water sources. Getting the chicks to consume a good level of crumb in the first 24 hours is vital. If you have ever sat and watched chicks feeding you will have noticed that they often fail to pick up the object they are pecking at. This is often because they cannot separate it out from the surrounding environment, so often miss it. It may be prudent to use commercial chick paper in your sheds. Spreading a finer layer of crumb across a larger area will allow chicks to find feed more effectively and express a more natural feeding behaviour. 
 
Q. How do I get my chicks to eat more?
A. It is important that in the early stages of brooding we give the chicks every chance of isolating single crumbs of feed. As mentioned previously, the best method, and one that has again been used in the poultry industry for years, is the use of chick paper. A fine, biodegradable paper is laid down on top of the bedding and chick crumb is spread out across it.

Q. What proactive methods can I take to keep my birds healthy?
A. Over the years, we have trialled new products and methods of improving bird health. We focus heavily on gut health and encouraging a good start from the very beginning, often before the chicks have even hit the floor. We have found that providing the chicks with a pre and probiotic works best. There are several combinations that work differently and we are able to advise depending upon the system and shed set-up on site.

Q. Are there any products available to help ensure the success of the brooding stage?
A. We have created a Brooding Pack which includes Chick Start Plus, Biacton/ZooLac Plus Combo and Chick Paper which have all been tried and tested and used for several years by clients with the lowest antibiotic usage. These come in three different sizes; 1,000 birds, 5,000 birds and 10,000 birds to tailor to your needs. To find out more visit www.poultrypharm.co.uk

enews brooding