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Help your chicks control their body temperatures

By Dr Watson Messo

William Mutua, a poultry farmer in Tala, Machakos County, takes care of his chicken on June 27 2018. Mutua, uses Smart Brooder, a device that relays information to him through SMS.The system is able to determine the age of the chicks and regulates the conditions in the brooding space to meet the chicks' requirement at specific age. [David Njaaga,Standard]

Chicks, as soon as they are hatched up to the age of 14-17 days, have poor abilities to regulate their body temperatures. They actually rely on the mother hen to provide necessary heat to keep them warm and comfortable. The mother hen has a brooding pad on the surface of the abdomen which radiates the right temperatures required by the chick.

In commercialised farming where the services of the hen are not available, it is the onus of the farmer to provide that needed heat to the young chicks until they can regulate their body temperatures unaided.

This is easily done using jikos, gas burners, electric heaters, infra-red bulbs etc. To make sure it is not extremely hot inside the poultry units, we recommend that in the first seven days of brooding, a farm worker stays with the chicks inside the units to ensure there is no cold stress and more so, any signs of heat stress are detected early enough.

In the first week, ambient temperatures should be maintained at 33-30 degrees centigrade and between day 8-15 of age lower the temperature to 28-26 degrees centigrade. Warmer temperatures stimulate activity and increase appetite of the birds.

However, over temperatures will result into lethargy, birds avoid feeding, drink excessive water which results into wet litter and loss of essential minerals from the body and hence dehydration.

In extremely hot climates like Mombasa and northern Kenya, temperatures can be extremely high to appoint of 37 degrees centigrade, if you add high humidity of 60 per cent, the birds will need extra help to cope up with this environment.

They will move away from each other to cooler surfaces, spread their wings, pant out more and squat on the floor. Note that birds cannot sweat like human beings as they do not have sweat glands. All these are done to keep the body cool. The performance of birds will deteriorate, broilers will convert less, eat less, drop in daily body weight gain and for layers, there will be drop in egg production and egg size. Here are steps farmers can take to solve this problem.

Site for constructing poultry house

Choose a site which is isolated from other buildings, preferably in high altitude, hill top and well ventilated area. The surrounding area should have good grass cover, trees to provide shade but not too close to the houses to compromise ventilation.

Type of building

Your house should have a raised roof about 8-9 feet from the ground, with all open sides, pitched roof with chimney like ventilation. Roofing material should reflect light. To achieve this you can use makuti or grass thatched materials. You can pad inside the roof using valeron.

Poultry equipment

Ensure your water flow rate is consistent. For layer units, the flow rate should target 200-300 ml/hen, if you are using bell non- automatic drinkers they must be replenished quickly. Provide at most 80 birds per standard bell drinker.

For nipple drinking system, ensure that you have 1 nipple per 5 chickens and constantly checked that they are working. Water pipes should run below the ground if possible and not exposed directly to the sun. Constantly provide cool plenty of drinking water (10-12 degrees centigrade) and if possible, the water pipes should be underground.

Fans and cooling pads can be introduced in cases of extreme high temperatures.

Birds welfare

Keep optimal bird density in the units and for broilers, never go beyond 17 birds per metre square and for layers keep the density at 500cm2 per hen.

Feed

Feed your birds during the cool hours of the morning, from 4am to 6am. Digestion of feed generally leads to increased metabolism that generates even more heat and can result into heat stress and heart failure.

Limit stress

Do not disturb birds during hot weather, avoid activities that involve 100 per cent handling of birds for instance individual vaccination, weighing, grading, transfer. If it is necessary, then these can be done during the cool part of the night.

[ Dr Watson Messo is the Head Vet at Kenchic vet@kenchic.com]

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