Canadian Poultry Magazine

Features Bird Management
Caring for the newly hatched

The time between hatch and placement is critical for producing the best-quality chicks.


October 27, 2021
By Eduardo Costa

Topics
If climate conditions are good and chicks are comfortable, they should be calm, breathing quietly through their nostrils with little noise, and evenly spread in the boxes. Photo: Cobb Vantress

Focusing on correctly processing, storing, and transporting chicks is very important to producing the best-quality day-old chicks. Newly hatched chicks cannot fully self-regulate their body temperature and need an environment with the correct ventilation to provide sufficient oxygen that helps them maintain a thermo-neutral body temperature. Any stress, even for short periods, can harm broiler performance.

Body temperature
From the moment the chicks are dry inside the hatcher through the first hours on the broiler farm, internal body temperature should be maintained at 104°F to 105°F (40°C to 40.6°C). Chick body temperature can go up very quickly and once the birds are hot it’s difficult to cool them back down.

When body temperatures get close to 106°F (41°C), the birds start to pant as they try to lose the excess body temperature. They lose five times more moisture by panting than with regular breathing, leading to dehydration. 

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Overheating is the biggest cause of dehydration for chicks. Also, panting increases relative humidity in the environment, making it more difficult for the birds to exchange heat by evaporation. When the chicks are hot, they spread the wings, get very noisy and become lethargic.

When room temperature is too low or there is too much draft through the boxes, the chicks will huddle, trying to control body temperature. Pulling out green chicks (early pullout) or after spray vaccination are the moments where chicks are most susceptible to chilling. Besides being a contamination source, wet chick boxes can also chill the other birds. Make sure the boxes are clean and dry at pullout time.

The temperature inside the boxes should be maintained at 90°F (32°C), but that temperature may be from 11°F to 22°F (6°C to 12°C) higher than room air temperature. This is why it’s so important to keep space for air flow between the stacks of boxes. As a rule of thumb, there should be enough space to walk between the stacks of boxes.

Low relative humidity will also accelerate dehydration. Humidity cannot compensate for moisture loss, and if it’s too high, chick heat loss by evaporation is limited, causing more heat stress. Keeping the relative humidity around 65 per cent is best to maintain chick quality and welfare.

Transport
Chick transporters should provide a minimum ventilation rate of 20 CFM (34 m3 per hour) per 1,000 chicks in the wintertime and double this in the summertime. Some trucks depend on movement to ventilate the interior, but these trucks do not ventilate well in heavy traffic or when stationary. 

Ideally, the trucks should have mechanical air intake with an air preparation chamber (for temperature and humidity) and exhaust fans should be able to maintain the correct amount of oxygen and temperature.

As in the processing and holding rooms, temperature inside the boxes should stay at 90°F (32°C) and relative humidity should stay at 65 per cent. The floor of the truck body needs to be very well insulated to prevent heat accumulation in the truck, especially on the bottom boxes. 

Drivers must be specialized and committed to the care of the day-old chicks through good animal husbandry and welfare practices.

Minimum stocking density should be 3.3 in(21 cm) per chick, with lower chick concentration during extremely hot weather and/or long distance trips (check with local regulations as some areas legislate chick density). 

Barn arrival
Upon arrival at the farm, face the vehicle into the prevailing wind to prevent wind chill on the chicks during unloading. The birds should go straight to the brooding area and have immediate access to feed and water. If doing a quality check and count sample, this needs to be done simultaneously with unloading by trained personnel.

Holding the birds in the boxes inside the brooding area will quickly lead to overheating. During unloading, count the number of chicks dead on arrival (DOA) and observe if this mortality is evenly spread through the truck or is concentrated in spots. Then provide immediate feedback to the driver.

Chick behaviour is one of the best tools to evaluate climate conditions and bird comfort. The chicks should be calm, breathing quietly through their nostrils with little noise, and evenly spread in the boxes. When released in the broiler house, the birds should be active and spread evenly, looking for water and food calmly.

Five key points:

  • Temperature: Keep temperature inside the boxes at 90°F (32°C). Remember that inside the boxes, it can be from 11°F to 22°F (6°C to 12°C) higher than room temperature. Use chick cloacal temperature as a tool. Keep it in the range of 104°F and 105°F (40°C to 40.6°C).
  • Ventilation: Provide enough fresh air. Leave space for air flow but no direct air drafts over the birds. Keep CO2 below 2,500 ppm (0.25 per cent) and RH at 65 per cent.
  • Loading: Do not overload the trucks. Load the truck according to truck type recommendations and roads. Give a minimum of 3.3 in per chick (21 cm per chick). In very hot weather, a lower density is recommended. Check with local regulations as some areas legislate chick density.
  • Unloading: Don’t open the doors facing the wind. Unload straight to the brooding area and release the birds immediately. Count the number of chicks DOA and observe the distribution of this mortality.
  • Behaviour: Pay close attention to chick behaviour during holding, transportation, and after placement. Listen to what the birds are trying to communicate. 

For more information, access the Cobb Hatchery Guide and Broiler Management Guides at cobb-vantress.com.