February 11, 2021
By Jonathan Moyle , and Austin Alonzo, WATT Poultry USA

7 Fundamentals for Antibiotic-free Poultry Growing

This article is reprinted with permission from www.WATTPoultry.com

Growers working in an antibiotic-free environment must focus on the fundamental principles of broiler husbandry to maximize success.

As part of the virtual Midwest Poultry Federation Convention, held on August 12 and 13, 2020, Dr. Jon Moyle, an extension poultry specialist at the University of Maryland, identified seven basic principles for success:

  • Pre-placement                     
  • Temperature management     
  • Feed management                
  • Light management
  • Air quality and ventilation
  • Water management
  • Biosecurity
  1. Pre-placement
    Chick; Image Dancu Aleksandar, iStock.com
    Image: Dancu Aleksandar, iStock.com
    Pre-placement includes all the necessary actions to be performed before the birds arrive. Primarily, that means cleaning dust and debris - which carries pathogens - off the walls and other surfaces of the house that can be cleaned.

    Along with cleaning the surfaces, he recommended windrowing litter between flocks. Before windrowing, however, he suggested blowing off the dust or rinsing down the dust inside a house before  windrowing. This gets those materials into the litter when the windrowing process can reduce the viral and bacterial load in the house.

    Litter should be managed between flocks. Moyle said litter should be kept at a depth of at least three inches and preferably four to six inches. Growers should strive for a consistent litter depth to avoid wet spots and other litter issues. 

    When adding new litter, consider that it settles when birds are placed upon it and that enough must be present in the house for the substrate to perform its job. If litter amendments are applied to the litter, growers must follow the product's exact directions for the best performance.

    Next, the house's environment must be ready for birds to be successful before chicks arrive.   Growers need to check the room temperature, the floor temperature, and moisture. Next, they need to check their equipment when maintenance can be performed without disturbing the animals. Everything should be in working order.  Controllers and alarms should be checked to make sure they are set.

    Thermostats and probes should be positioned at bird height in the center of the brooding area and should be working properly. Minimum and maximum thermometers should be placed adjacent to the thermostat. Water lines should be cleaned and flushed before birds arrive. Drinkers should be set at the correct height and pressure for the birds. Feeders and supplemental feeders should be filled with feed.

    Finally, the ventilation system should be checked. That includes checking fans and vents for functionality and sealing any areas where air could leak in or out of the house. Moyle recommended ventilating the house during preheating to remove waste gasses and excess moisture from the house.
  2. Temperature Management  
    Establishing and maintaining the correct temperature throughout the house is critical when chicks arrive, but sometimes the settings on the controller don't match the temperature the birds feel. Cold birds don't perform well.

    Moyle said the best way to check is to measure the temperature at the bird's height. By placing a few thermometers at the bird's height, or using an infrared thermometer, growers can check the temperature level before birds arrive. Once birds arrive, he said to manage the temperature based on the birds' behavior.  Growers want to see birds spread out and moving around the house.

    Proper maintenance of the heaters helps ensure heat is evenly distributed throughout the house and matching the settings on the controller. Regularly cleaning heaters improves efficiency and performance.
  3. Feed Management  Broilers need access to plenty of feed, especially when the chicks are first placed in the house. When feed arrives, growers need to check it to ensure it's the correct consistency. Growers should walk their feed lines and check supplemental feeders to ensure there is feed everywhere. If birds do not eat, they do not grow. Feed is the key to higher weights. Chicks, especially, need it. When there is more available, they can find it faster. 

    He said to use supplemental feeders to increase the feed area for chicks. Feed must be presented where the birds are. Growers should look where the birds are going where there isn't a feeder and place a supplemental feeder there. Supplemental feeders must always be filled. Farmers should refresh them several times a day until chicks can reach the main feeding system.
    Chick; image flatfeet shutterfly.com
    Growers must maintain a consistent litter depth of 4 to 6
    inches to avoid wet spots and other litter issues (image: Flatfeet Shutterfly.com)
  4. Light Management 
    Growers strive to provide uniform light inside the broiler house. Inconsistent light creates inconsistent performance.

    Moyle said using brighter lights during the first week of the flock will help birds find feed and water more quickly. He recommended providing 40 to 50 lux. Growers should use a light meter to measure the intensity of the light at their feed lines and adjust their lighting until the measurement comes in at that range at that location. Lights, like other equipment, should be cleaned and dusted to work best.
  5. Air Quality and Ventilation
    Moyle said ventilation is important to keeping the house dry and ammonia levels down. Rather than fans moving air, growers should think of their ventilation as a water pump.  Farmers pump thousands of gallons of water into their house every day, but the birds only retain a small fraction of it. Ventilation functions to remove the excess moisture from the house.

    Ventilation should be set up around the moisture level in the house. Wetter litter needs more ventilation. Special attention should be paid to new litter, which can be moister than it appears. If moisture is not removed, it accumulates and leads to worse performance in subsequent flocks.

    He recommended using a wind meter to measure the speed of airflow through the house and a revolution per minute (RPM) meter to measure RPM performance of fans. These tools help detect areas of inconsistency in the house and machinery that is not functioning at an optimal level. Electricity to run fans is one of the greatest expenses on the farm, so keeping the machines in good order mechanically reduces expenses and helps bird performance.

    Airflow cannot be seen, so Moyle recommended employing surveyor's flagging tape to visualize airflow inside the house. In the winter, air needs to flow into the middle of the house to warmup before it hits the birds and chills them. In between flocks, growers should not leave their houses’ doors and windows open. This does not help to ventilate the house and creates a number of biosecurity issues inside the house.
  6. Water Management Like feed, birds need constant access to water. The drinkers must be set at the correct height for the birds to reach it. Litter can settle after birds arrive, so growers need to check the setting of their lines often during the first days of a flock. Water lines need to be cleaned regularly and sanitized daily for the best performance. Moreover, the equipment involved in the water system and drinking system should be cleaned and checked for functionality regularly.
  7. Biosecurity
    Finally, growers should do everything they can to improve the biosecurity of their operation. This limits the potential for damaging diseases to arrive on the farm and does not necessarily have to be complicated. Creating a line of separation in between the outside and the growing area can create great improvements in biosecurity.

    Insects, rodents, and other vermin are one of the largest potential disease vectors on the farm. Growers need to limit the things that attract vermin and eliminate their entrances into the chicken house. He said maintaining a clean, mowed exterior and avoiding puddles of water forming near the house can discourage animals from trying to live in or near the house.

    Another huge biosecurity issue lies with mortality disposal. Birds that are not disposed of properly attract flies, vultures, and other decomposers that bring disease onto the farm. Moreover, dead birds themselves can spread disease. Mortality should be composted using a method that allows the birds to break down with resources available on the farm. Placing birds in the composter correctly and layering compost properly avoids many issues. Birds need to be covered in 8 to 10 inches of litter. Bins should be sealed so stormwater does not get into the composter.

Spend time in the house

In summation, Moyle said farmers need to trust their judgment and their eyes instead of relying on sensor readings
along. Regularly walking the house helps farmers monitor feed levels, equipment performance, and bird behavior.

This article appears in the January 2021 issue of the Commercial Poultry News.

Commercial Poultry Newsletter, January 2021

The Commercial Poultry Newsletter comes out quarterly to address topics in the poultry industry that you may learn from, news that needs your attention, and also we try to celebrate our growers and industry here in Delmarva. To view, previous editions click here...

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