What is Brooding?
Brooding in poultry farming is the provision of an optimum environment for birds in the early part of their life by the application of an external heat source. This is usually from day-old until the chicks are able to regulate their body temperature efficiently.
Providing warmth and comfort to the chicks is important because, in the earlier part of their life, they lose heat more quickly due to higher metabolic rate, body size, and their lack of feathers. Also, at this young stage, their immune system, digestive system, and thermoregulatory system are not completely activated, making them more susceptible to diseases and infections.
Therefore, to ensure proper growth, better immune system, and good feather cover, brooding is important in poultry as it determines if the chicks will live long enough to bring optimum profit to the farmer.
Types of Brooding
Brooding can be natural or artificial
- Natural Brooding
- Artificial Brooding
In natural brooding, a broody hen provides all the warmth required by the chicks, right after hatching up to about 3 or 4 weeks of age. This is usually used on household farms where only a few chickens are raised each year.
Artificial brooding, on the other hand, is done by means of a temperature-controlled brooder. This type of brooding allows for temperature regulation and for a large number of chicks to be reared in the absence of broody hens.
Equipment used for artificial brooding is called brooders and is composed of three elements;
- The heating source (electric, gas, kerosene, charcoal, etc.)
- Reflectors (concentrates the heat emanating from the heating source)
- Brooder guard
Electric Brooder is thermostatically-controlled and is capable of spreading heat uniformly above a large area. It prevents chicks from crowding under the heater or brooder directly.
There are also infrared bulb heater and brooding lamps. Gas brooders, on the other hand, utilize natural gas or methane and are connected to a heating element-hanged above the floor of the brooding pen.
A brooder guard is used as a fence to keep chicks near a heat source. It is usually made of hard plastic material and can form a circle or ring or folded to make corners. The number of chicks stocked in a brooder guard could be about 100 or more depending on the size. A brooder guard is often required for floor-reared birds.
- Relative Humidity
The brooding temperature should be less than the body temperature because the birds feel uncomfortable and show drowsiness and panting when the environmental temperature is at or higher than their body temperature. Hence, temperature control is the most critical factor during brooding because the ability of the bird to regulate its temperature in an effective manner will directly affect its ability to grow proficiently.
Check the chick’s behaviour to ensure they are getting adequate heat. If they huddle under hover or near the source of heat, there is inadequate heat, and when they move far from the source of heat, there is excessive heat. But when they evenly spread, it means there is adequate heat and when all the chicks huddle to one side, then it shows there is a drought. This indicates the need for expansion of space as your chicks grow older and increase in body size.
The ideal temperatures vary according to individual flock requirements. About 32.3 – 38°C is ideal for chicks in the first four days. Then it decreases as they grow older. It is important to always monitor the chicks and make appropriate adjustments. It is important to have a room thermometer inside the brooding pen or house to monitor the ambient temperature inside the brooding house.
The ideal relative humidity to maintain during brooding is between 50-65 percent. High relative humidity may cause wet litter which results in high ammonia levels inside the brooding house, causing Coccidiosis. While low relative humidity may cause respiratory problems. The only way to solve or reduce air quality problems once they have occurred is to adjust the ventilation of the brooding pen very early in the morning.
Good environmental control during brooding requires properly executing the minimum ventilation basics. Never heat the house at the cost of ventilation. Use minimum ventilation during brooding. The ventilation of the brooder house is restricted to 1-2 weeks.
Light stimulation encourages feed and water consumption in chicks and thus helps them grow and perform better. Provide adequate lighting for your birds.
Brooding Area and Litter Management
Clean and disinfect brooding area for 1 or 2 weeks before the arrival of flocks. Provide fresh, dry, and comfortable bedding conditions for the chicks. Check the fittings, temperature control, feed, and water trough arrangement before bringing in the chicks into the brooding area. Avoid a damp brooding area. Use a deep litter system. Discourage litter eating by the chicks and remove caked litter as soon as after the birds leave.
Feeding and Drinking
Both feed and water availability are of equal importance, and proper nutrition is essential for better growth and production. Feed your broiler starter mash from day-old until about 3 or 4 weeks before switching to grower mash and your cockerels and layers chick mash. For the first four days of brooding, the chicks are supplied feed in shallow feeders or thick sheets of papers.
Also, the chicks must be provided with fresh, clean, and cool water of optimum quality with temperature similar to room temperature. Pay close attention to initial drinker height, and make adjustments that reflect bird growth on a routine basis. Make sure every chick gets to feed and water quickly and easily.
From the first day of brooding, ensure chicks are feeding well to maintain uniformity to achieve maximum output.
Health and Disease Prevention
Although young birds are fragile and can get sick very easily, many diseases can be prevented by keeping your poultry house very clean.
Diseases such as E.coli Infection, Newcastle Disease, Aspergillosis, Coccidiosis, among others, affect birds at an early age and are caused by nutrient deficiency or by bacteria and viruses. Even overcrowding can also cause diseases in birds.
To prevent diseases and maintain the health of your flock, it is necessary to vaccinate chick against various diseases. Also, ensure you adhere to critical biosecurity measures during and after the brooding period.
Examine chicks one after the other for signs of defects before placing them under the brooder. Remove all dead chicks from the flock to prevent cannibalism and possible infection by pathogenic organisms. Also, the drinker should be taken out and washed thoroughly before being filled with clean cool water. Avoid overcrowding and daily inspect the condition of birds and their faces for any sort of abnormality. Carry out debeaking and deworming of birds, and follow a regular vaccination schedule.
In summary, providing chicks with comfort and warmth is an important aspect of poultry production. Brooding should be done with the right equipment and following important management practices. Also, always keep in touch with your veterinarian for help at the time of need.