Day-old chicks: Manage your initial poultry investment properly
Managing young animals effectively is essential to obtain zootechnical and economic performance. An intensive handling process occurs once a chick is hatched, inducing considerable stress on the young birds. This is why the right management—housing and providing access to the necessary nutrients—is crucial for chicks to cope in their first days. Upon arrival at the farm, a supportive environment has to be created to encourage success in the early stages of life. Though nature does provide the young birds with the required nutrients to survive, via the presence of the yolk sac, feeding proper nutrients early after hatching is essential to stimulate intestinal development. This first meal triggers the growth of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) and determines the digestive capacity and nutrient efficiency for its life.
Prepare the nursery
Due to the heavy handling and movements chicks experience, it is vital to prepare the barn adequately. This is done to provide them with a calm environment that fits their needs and allows incoming birds to finally settle down. The main parameters are air and ground temperature, humidity, air quality, and feed and water access. Equally significant, though often overlooked, are parameters like the type of bedding material, number and height of feeders and drinkers, distance to feed and water lines, lighting density, and overall hygiene in the barn.
Especially in the beginning, stockmanship is an investment in the birds’ health and performance. This includes early and regular observations of the overall behavior; spreading in the barn and activity provides a good impression of the constitution of your new flock. Further checks—crop filling, absorption of the yolk sac, quality of the navels, regular weighing, or the vent temperature—help to draw a complete picture of the quality of your flock.
Right from the start
Unique from other species, birds have the advantage of nutritional storage in their body at birth—the remains of the yolk sac. Unlike other species in professional animal husbandry, the birds (no matter if it is chickens or turkeys) usually have no access to feed directly after hatching. Going through the process of hatching, grading, sorting, storage, and transport means it can take 24–72 hours until day-old chicks are placed at the farms and given access to feed. These circumstances make it obvious why early feeding in the poultry house is extremely important for later development.
Besides the external stressors the young birds have to face after hatching, there is also a harsh change in nutrition. While the yolk consists primarily of fats and proteins in poultry-specific molecules, the bird is now confronted with mostly plant-based fats, proteins, and, of course, a lot of starch.
Two keys for later performance
Several scientific publications are showing the benefit of early feeding with better gut development (Graph 1). These studies demonstrate improved development of the gut surface—especially in the duodenum—indicating higher digestive capacity, a good indicator of efficient nutrient utilization.
Of course, early feeding only benefits the birds if the feed is adequate to the demands of a young bird. The pre-starter feed should build a bridge between the yolk nutrition and the later feed-based nutrition. Therefore, the nutrient levels, as well as the composition and structure, have to meet several specifications to achieve ideal GIT development & maturation, build an adaptive immune system, and reach sufficient growth of other organs, skin, feathers, bones, etc.
Effects on chick gut development with early access to feed vs. 36 hours fasted
To develop a balanced gut quickly, the nutrient sources should combine the “known” nutrients of the yolk with the later plantbased nutrients of starter feed. This allows the chick to adapt, but not overwhelm the GIT during a stressful time. The composition and structure should be a homogeneous crumble, as experience shows this structure leads to a rapid and stable increase in feed intake. The starter feed should also contain low anti-nutritional factors with readily available nutrients to ensure good overall digestibility. All these items are taken into consideration with our Earlyfeed concepts.
Earlyfeed, a smart investment in tough economic times
A high-quality pre-starter feed can be an expensive investment in a poultry flock. This is especially true in the current times when meat prices are under pressure globally, and raw material prices seem to be on the rise.
However, the feed intake per bird is limited, as a pre-starter is fed for a very specific time and amount. Additionally, the benefits of a stable, well-developed bird with a high-performance potential more than cover the initial costs. In challenging times, it is still invaluable to utilize all input (birds, feed, etc.) as efficiently as possible to achieve an optimal return on investment.
If you would like to discuss the perfect concept, right from the start, contact us.
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