Getting your birds off to a good start isn’t rocket science, but it is so very important. Good or bad decisions and management practices in the first three weeks follow these birds through maturity. Make sure your brooder is as air tight as it can be within reason, but also has flaps to offer ventilation when it’s warmer outside. If you are starting them in late March or early April when the overnight lows can dip down near freezing and the spring winds are blowing, a drafty brooder will cause you lots of problems. Conversely, a batch started in August that doesn’t have good ventilation will suffer just as much. We’ve added flaps that can be propped open for cross ventilation to help aide in this.
You want the air to move through the brooder, but not “on” the birds. I’ll also run a fan blowing out of the brooder in the warmer months to draw air through it. You’ll also want to make certain it is a nice and toasty 95 degrees on the floor no matter the time of year, with space enough for the birds to get away from the heat when need be. It is a delicate balance, and if it’s too hot or too cold, they will pile up and suffocate one another.
After they are a week old, weather permitting, you can reduce the heat slowly. If it’s in the warmer months of the summer, you’ll want to most likely turn the heat off in the middle of the day and flip them back on at dusk. I’ll admit that our brooder configuration has room for improvement, and every step we take to improve the first three weeks of a chicks life will yield exponentially good results all the way through to processing. The same can be said if the brooder environment is stressful, with exponentially poor results.
You’ll also want to make sure and give the birds plenty of grit to get their gizzards going. We’ve taken to using creek sand for two reasons. One, it’s free and store bought chick grit gets pricey fast. Two five gallon buckets take me only a few minutes to fill and bring back, which saves me buying small bags of chick grit at $6 per bag. If you use the store bought grit, you’ll find yourself cutting back on how much you use in order to save a dollar, when the opposite is what you should be doing. A healthy gizzard produces a healthy bird that yields a better finished weight in a shorter time frame. And isn’t that the name of the game? Secondly, the sand is full of minerals and bio-nutrients not found in pulverized rock that I believe are really helpful to the chicks. It also has various sizes of stone, similar to that found in nature. The chicks can pick and choose what grit size they want. Remember, we are trying to mimic nature in a production system. Everything we can do to that end will benefit our enterprise.