Across the globe the challenge continues – ?’How can I have the top producing flock?’ ?Yet why is it that many producers appear to have a formula to almost guarantee great ?performance.
By Scott Black, Cobb-Vantress broiler specialist for North America
Although any one producer will not always be the best for any particular week, top growers always seem to do what it takes to achieve the lowest cost bird. Every flock is unique and the environmental conditions always make each flock different, so one needs to look at the management practices that will help ensure the best possible conditions for a flock to perform.
First, the beginning of the flock is the most critical period. There are many reasons why a great start will help the producer climb to the top. Remember that during the first week chicks gain four times their day-one weight — the most rapid development that the birds will experience, and the time when they are converting feed to meat most efficiently. To allow the birds to perform, the wannabe top grower must provide the optimum growing environment. Second, each flock needs to start with the highest quality bedding. Whether it is a new bedding material such as rice hulls or pine shavings, the proper depth and dryness is critical to a good start. If litter is reused, it is essential to remove the wet litter and then properly dry and prepare it. Ammonia and humidity control is the next obstacle preventing growers from achieving best performance (Table 1). Third, temperature control is the next hurdle. Many studies show that managing the temperature inside the house is vital to growing a top flock. It takes a keen eye for a producer to appreciate the birds’ thermo-neutral zone for comfort and recognise when the house is too cool or too warm.
From day one the birds’ comfort level depends on one key component — the feathers. To understand the connection between temperature control and feathers, the life cycle needs to be divided into two parts. The first phase is the period when the birds are not fully feathered and their skin is exposed to moving or still air. The second phase is when the birds are completely feathered and insulated from the air. Although ambient air temperatures may be on target, the birds may be panting and trying to remove excess energy generated through eating and so not converting feed most efficiently.
A trial by the USDA-ARS Poultry Research Unit at Mississippi State concluded that at the ideal temperature (77°F/28°C) the bird performed better with appropriate cooling provided by air movement, confirming that birds need to release heat from calories consumed through feed (Figure 1). The biggest challenge is keeping the birds cool enough to prevent them panting, but not so cool that they will not convert efficiently.
Monitoring the flock
Another major key to success is keeping good records. One might ask ‘How can keeping good records ensure a top performing flock?’ The answer lies in the data collected on your previous flocks. Producers that continually keep records including water consumption rates, daily or weekly weights, and settings on their controllers, especially when the weather patterns change, have a distinct advantage.
In North America the summer of 2012 was one of the driest in history, then the summer of 2013 was one of the wettest and the winter of 2012 was one of the warmest. As they have evolved, environmental controllers have increased profitability for producers; however, outside factors can still play havoc with settings from the previous season. Monitoring and tracking water consumption and bird weight will help assess how a flock is performing. If the producer notes particular changes from one year to another, he can quickly make adjustments or seek technical assistance.
Setting a good routine for monitoring the flock during the day will be the key to success. Start with an early morning visit before daylight. Then one will be able to identify if the ventilation is set up correctly and make sure birds have access to feed and water for their first meal.
This may be a quick visit just to stick a head into the house to make sure water, feed and air are all correct. It does not have to be when the grower checks on mortality. Often, the major mistake made by producers is waiting to check for these things, perhaps as late as 8am. By then the house has heated up and air has cleared up… or perhaps birds have been out of feed for several hours.
It is indeed critical to monitor the conditions several times a day, preferably every three or four hours. Once the birds have developed a routine eating habit, it is ideal to check feed and water frequently.
Then if there is an interruption in feed or water, the producer will find the problem without the birds missing a feeding time. By an early age, each bird establishes a four-hour eating routine and it is vital that the birds do not miss a feed.
Key points to achieve a great performing flock:
Create a good environment and make sure birds have constant easy access to feed and water.
Pay close attention to the birds’ needs for either warmer or cooler temperatures, and make sure they have access to the whole house as soon as possible.
Monitor each flock for water, temperature and environmental factors as well as any further parameters that may be pertinent. Remember that we all win when we make a change in the birds’ environment and they don’t notice it.
Comments from top producers:
One producer in North Alabama says the key to her success is checking the birds at 4 am.
Another producer from Pennsylvania said that he watches his birds closely and if they are slightly panting, he decreases the temperature accordingly.
In Eastern Canada a producer told me that if his baby chicks are a little too loud, he decreases the target temperature by one degree every three hours until the chicks have quietened down.
In Central America, I frequently see producers who show me their daily weights and ask me to evaluate flock performances.