Healthy poultry: why ensuring the best possible start is crucial

Carlos Bilello

28 novembro 2021

As the saying goes, begin as you wish to continue. Giving chicks the best possible start in life results in birds that are less dependent on antibiotics and better able to cope with the challenges they face in later life.

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Harnessing your chicks’ natural power

Newly hatched chicks begin life with essential nutrient reserves contained in the so-called residual yolk. The bird also retains the basic immunity transferred to the egg from the hen. These reserves are of vital importance, whether the chick is born in the wild or a hatchery. A clutch of eggs will never hatch at the same time, so chicks need nutrient reserves to sustain them as they wait to leave the nest. Likewise, chicks born in commercial hatcheries hatch over a period of 24 to 36 hours. Once chicks are pulled from the incubator, processes such as sexing, sorting, vaccinating and transportation add even more time between hatching and the first feed intake. All in all, this gap can last up to 72 hours, creating a real risk of chicks dehydrating and losing body weight.

Optimising your chicks’ first few days

Giving chicks access to feed and water as soon as possible after hatching helps to stimulate the growth, as well as yolk utilisation and the development of the bird’s intestinal tract and immune system. A further action that breeders can take is to reduce the gap between hatching and the first feed and water intake by reducing handling and transportation time, or even by providing feed inside the hatchery. Alternatively, you can hatch eggs at the poultry house itself, in easy reach of the feeders and drinking lines. In this scenario, it is important to carefully manage the brooding barn management and provide the right environmental conditions, from temperature and humidity to air quality and lighting.

There are also specific nutritional interventions you can make to optimise your chicks’ development at this crucial life stage. Various studies indicate that early access to nutrients results in body-weight gains that are maintained until the end of the growth cycle. This approach also supports immune system development, improving the lifetime health of the bird and reducing its dependency on antibiotics. Given the immaturity of a newly hatched chick’s digestive system, it is important the animal receives the right high-quality feed for its development. This includes easily digestible ingredients, as well as high levels of nutrients, appropriate particle sizes, and high palatability.

The long-term benefits of (optimal) early feeding

A chick’s seven-day body weight has a significant impact on the long-term performance of both broilers and layers. Birds that begin life under optimal conditions are better equipped to withstand future challenges, remaining healthier, growing better, and achieving higher levels of production. Providing support to chicks during their first few days of life involves a significant time and cost spend, but this investment always pays off over time.

A hands-on, targeted approach

Our hands-on Natural Power programme brings together all these insights and more to help you improve animal health, optimising performance on your farm while supporting the prudent use of antibiotics.

Learn more about the Natural Power programme

Carlos Bilello

International specialist Poultry