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Brooding Best Practice

Ben South BVetMed MRCVS


The first few days in any animal’s life is challenging. For young game birds, this is no exception and the chick’s first week of life is reliant on a good healthy yolk, a non-stressful environment and plenty of easy access to food and clean water. They are completely reliant on you to survive.

Chick brooding is the most important stage in rearing game birds and often developments of methods and systems have not accelerated as fast as the challenges that shape our sector. However, we have been working hard over the past season and identified key areas that will help you tackle these challenges.


The internal temperature of a chick is between 39 and 40.1°C. They have a higher surface area to volume ratio which leads to rapid heat loss. They rely entirely on their external environment for warmth and therefore rely on you to ensure it is adequate, but not too warm. Chicks can easily be over heated as well as chilled. 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 generally they start 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.

Consistent monitoring of the temperature is crucial and technology can be a useful aid such as thermal laser guns or Avery Dennison temperature loggers. These temperature loggers can be obtained from PrognostiX at

As well as temperature, remember to carefully control ventilation and carbon dioxide levels. A detailed plan for ventilation and light control should be discussed with your vet, and is an area covered for those that choose to have an annual health plan visit.


Undoubtedly, one of the most important factors in successful brooding is providing accessible, uncontaminated water for your chicks. A chick will consume roughly 1ml of water per hour in its first 24 hours. If a chick is unable to find water it will die from rapid dehydration within hours.

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 the bright metal nipple 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, as discussed in our water sanitisation article, 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.

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. Give your designated vet a call to discuss the options.


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 is important that in the early stages of brooding we give the chicks every chance of isolating single crumbs of feed.

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.

We hope this article has provided you with some useful information heading into this year’s rearing season. It is an exciting time and we thoroughly look forward to supporting you through 2018. Feel free to contact us to discuss your site specific issues and the various ways in which we are helping sites overcome them. We’ve also 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. 

At a discounted price, our Brooding Packs have been created in three different sizes; 1,000 birds, 5,000 birds and 10,000 birds to tailor to your needs.

To find out more or to order, visit or contact dispensary on 01392 872930.