As the baby chick grows and develops inside an egg, the yolk is the sole source of nutrients to support its development. Just prior to hatch, the residual yolk is moved into the chick’s body where it functions as a temporary nutrient source for the baby chick for up to 4 days after hatch. Even with this residual yolk functioning as a nutrient source, it is critical to give chicks access to feed and water as soon as possible after hatching as this will serve to stimulate the growth and development of the digestive system.
Once chicks are placed in the barn, and they have access to feed and water, they undergo a very sudden change in the source of their nutrient supply. Chicks must transition from using the energy and nutrients supplied solely by the yolk to those supplied predominantly by plant-based carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals formulated in to commercial feed. As soon as the chick consumes the first crumble of feed a very rapid change in regards to the growth and development of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) begins. This accelerated development is significantly affected by the presence or absence of food. It has been reported that the size of the small intestine increases by an amazing 600 per cent within the first seven days of life post-hatch. The changes in the GIT include the development of crypts which serve to increase the surface area of the intestine. In addition, there is a large increase in the number and size of villi lining the intestine. There is also a very rapid development of enzymes as soon as chicks have access to feed. Feed intake will trigger the production and secretion of enzymes which are required to facilitate the break down and enhance the digestibility of the ingredients in the feed. If birds are not given access to feed and water after hatch, the development and secretion of these enzymes will not occur.
There are a few key strategies that producers can use to help birds transition to feed and water as soon as possible. First, feed should be placed on paper prior to placement so that it is easily found by the chicks when they arrive in the barn. A good guideline is to have approximately 70 to 100 grams per chick placed on paper and the pans should be flooded. When birds arrive, it is very important that they are placed on the paper and close to the feed and water lines. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for chicks to find the feed and water. A good measure to determine whether or not chicks have got off to a good start is to look at crop fill. To do this, randomly pick approximately 50 chicks and softly feel their crop. If they have had a meal, their crop will be full and plump. It should be easy to feel feed inside the crop when it is full. 24 hours after placement, crop fill should be 95-100 per cent indicating that the chicks have successfully had a meal. Any delay in accessing feed will have a negative impact on body weight gains throughout the life cycle of the bird.
It is also important to ensure chicks have access to water. One can trigger the nipples by hand prior to chick arrival so that a water droplet is visible to them. The sparkle of the water droplet will attract the chicks to the water lines thereby improving the likelihood that they will find water quickly. It is also important to make sure that the drinker lines are at the correct height for the birds. This should be reviewed daily and adjusted as required.
Since the gut structures grow and change very rapidly once chicks have access to feed and water, the early development and growth will set the bird up for optimal gut conditions throughout its life. Having early access to feed and water as well as maintaining good gut health is key to optimizing growth, enhancing immunity and preventing pathogens from being able to thrive. When the chick hatches, the population of microflora in the GIT is essentially zero. The development of gut microflora will begin relatively quickly at hatch as the chicks explore their new environment and pick up bacteria from people, the environment and feed. Within 24 hours post hatch, the baby chick will have a thriving population of bacteria in its crop and parts of the small intestine. At 14 days, the population of microflora should be well established. It is important to maintain a good population of microbes in the gut in order to exclude harmful pathogens. Simply put, the “good guys” will keep the “bad guys” like Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Clostridium at bay. While the early access to feed will help the birds to establish a good population of microbes in the GIT, the type of feed ingredients we offer the chicks can also influence overall gut health and development. Nutritionists can use ingredients such as: enzymes, probiotics and essential oils to help maintain a healthy gut. The addition of enzymes will supplement the birds own enzymes and give them a boost to help break down the ingredients in the feed. Probiotics are a category of ingredients that introduce microbes to the bird though the feed which then boosts the population of “good guys” in the GIT. Populating the gut with good microbes will make it difficult for the bad ones to thrive because there is too much competition for the resources needed to grow and reproduce. Essential oils have been found to have some bactericidal properties while mannan oligosaccharides (MOS) have been found to have binding affinity for pathogens and essentially trick the pathogens into binding to them instead of the gut wall. Using these types of additives in feed is just another strategy that can be used to maintain good gut health.
Early access to feed and water is necessary to promote good gut development and get chicks off to a good start. If
the flock gets on to feed and water quickly and there are no other factors (i.e. nutritional, environmental or
disease challenges), you can expect the 7 day body weight to be four or five times greater than the chicks starting weight at placement. Paying attention during early brooding and taking a few extra steps to ensure that chicks have access to good quality feed and ingredients will help the bird to grow efficiently throughout the grow out period and will payback in overall improved bird performance. n
Thank you to West Lincoln Farms Ltd. for allowing New Life Mills to photograph their birds for this article.