Canadian Poultry Magazine

Guts of growth: Five tips for better brooding

By Dr. Kayla Price   

Features Bird Management Production Animal Welfare annex Canada Chick quality Guts of growth Livestock Production Nutrition Ontario Poultry Production

PHOTO: Alltech Canada

Getting the flock off to the right start can help positively impact health and performance throughout the flock’s life. Issues such as the environment and management of the bird, barn, feed and water are just a few factors that need to be addressed and monitored during brooding.

The brooding period is a critical time of development for many systems within a bird, and it occurs from the time of placement – or even before, as the farm prepares for the new flock – to around two weeks of life for the young chick or poult. It is during this time the bird needs to transition from relying on the yolk to using feed and water for growth.

When the birds are first placed in the barn, it is critical that they gain immediate access to feed and water. Supplemental feed and water are generally used to allow for easy transition to the permanent feeding and water system.


During the brooding period for chicks and poults there are five main, rapidly changing areas that are crucial in setting the bird up for successful production.

Tip #1: Regulation of body temperature
Chicks and poults are unable to regulate their internal body temperature during the first four to six days post-hatch. The optimal body temperature for poults is 39.4 to 40°C and 40 to 41°C for chicks. Maintaining this temperature is critical to keep development of the bird on track.

These temperatures could differ depending on age of the parent stock. Management guidelines for the breed will include the appropriate temperatures for the flock.

While environmental temperature control is important for the entire flock, it is particularly critical during brooding. It is important to not overheat or overcool birds, as doing so can impact long-term performance.

The producer must also consider the temperature of the floor and litter so that the entire environment – not just the air – is at the correct temperature. For example, if the floor and the litter are cold but the air is the optimal temperature, the chick or poult may still be too cold, as they will spend most of their time close to the ground.

Tip #2: Skeletal and muscle system
During their first week of life, poults and chicks should gain approximately four times their original body weight. This increase in weight corresponds to the rapid growth of the bird and is in response to the first feeding phases or starter feed given to the bird.

What goes into the feed can have a major impact on the birds’ overall performance. Nutrients –including protein, vitamins and minerals – are required to help with this growth. As the intestinal system is developing during this period, nutrients like protein can be presented in a complex form and need to be broken down for the young bird to be able to digest. Using enzymes can help break down these complex feedstuffs, and including highly digestible proteins and minerals – such as proteinated trace minerals –that are more bioavailable to the bird can also help optimize growth both during this time and throughout the life of the flock.  

Tip #3: Immune system
Antibodies from the hen are passed to the offspring through the yolk. These maternal antibodies help protect the chick or poult during their first two-to-three weeks of age. However, these maternal antibodies do not complete the immune system of the young bird, as immune organs and tissues start developing in the embryo and continue to in the hatched bird.

While active immunity develops in the young bird from maternal antibodies in the egg, the growth of the embryo immune system continues when birds are placed in the barn, through vaccinations and exposure to pathogens. If there is any stress on the bird, the immune system can be suppressed, negatively impacting health and performance. For example, delayed access to feed and water may affect how the chick or poult can resorb the yolk and may also negatively impact the passage of these antibodies from the hen, in addition to other immunosuppression.

Supporting the immune system during this period with various feed additives can be beneficial by encouraging the building of natural defenses. There are many feed additives to consider, such as prebiotics, mannan oligosaccharides, probiotics, short chain fatty acids, essential oils and highly bioavailable minerals. There is no singular best choice; generally, the best program contains a combination of ingredients.

Tip #4: Gastrointestinal system
The gastrointestinal tract has many purposes, including barrier and immune function for disease protection, as well as the breakdown, digestion and absorption of feed and water, which can be translated into production parameters. The small intestine is where most of the feed is digested and absorbed. To efficiently absorb feed, there must be a large surface area in the intestinal tract — and increased villi height helps increase the surface area for absorption.

The small intestine also must allow for the strong attachment of cells to each other with tight junctions – like bricks and mortar on a wall – to create a physical barrier in addition to the local immune system. The small intestine has rapid development, from 17-days of incubation to around 10-days post-placement.

During this critical time, the bird’s ability to efficiently digest and absorb nutrients, in addition to mounting strong disease defenses, is developed. Just like in the immune system, various feed additives can be used to encourage growth, but the best programs often contain a combination of ingredients.

Tip #5: Microbiome
Different areas of the bird have different microbiomes, such as the skin and intestinal tract. And within the intestinal tract, the small intestine has different microbiomes from the large intestine and from the ceca.

The intestinal tract microbiome is part of the barrier function of the intestine. This healthy microbiome barrier can help prevent pathogen invasion, as it provides competition for both sites of attachment on the intestinal lining and for resources.

The stability of the microbiome involves a balancing act between the beneficial and opportunistic microbes, the latter of which are disease-causing under stress. Within a few hours of hatching, the intestine is colonized by different bacterial groups in each of the different sections of the gut.

As the bird ages, the intestinal microflora population changes from immature to mature, reaching a stable balance within two-to-three weeks in the small intestine and up to six-weeks in the ceca. The ceca is an area of large bacterial numbers compared to the small intestine.

Supporting the early establishment of a beneficial microflora community throughout the intestinal tract will allow villi to flourish, absorption to be maximized and the presence of pathogenic bacteria to be minimized. The diet of the bird –including nutrients and the combination of feed and water additives, such as prebiotics, mannan oligosaccharides, probiotics, enzymes, organic acids and short chain fatty acids, as well as the water the bird drinks –can have an impact on the intestinal microflora.

Each of these technologies has a different mode of action and may benefit the bird and the farm in different ways. The poultry barn – especially the litter – has its own microflora, which is highly influenced by the gut microflora, and vice versa. It may take several flock cycles to positively change the populations and profile of the poultry barn microflora.

Many factors must be taken into consideration to help get the birds off to the right start during brooding, including best management practices, with particular attention to biosecurity, nutrition and health status.

Strong communication and collaboration between the producer and the management team for the farm is an important element in creating success for the flock.

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