THE MERCK VETERINARY MANUAL
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Management of Growing Chickens

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Broiler houses generally have specific areas designated for brooding. These areas could be throughout the whole house but with rings of cardboard (often referred to as chick guards) used to keep chicks around a heat source; more commonly, an area of the house is curtained off and preheated before chick placement. Either way, the brooder area floor temperature should be between 85°–90°F (29.4°–32.2°C). As the birds become older, the brooder temperature is lowered 5°F (2.8°C) each week until it is 70°F (21.1°C). At ~1 wk of age, the chick guards are removed or the curtains are opened, and the chicks have access to the additional space in the house. In particularly large chicken houses, there may be a second area curtained off for several days (up to 10–14 days of age) before the chicks are given access to the complete house. Ample space should be provided for feeders and waterers, which should be well distributed in the house.

At least 3 in. (7.5 cm) of suitable litter, clean for each brood and spread to an even depth, should be provided at the start. Litter must be free of mold; it should absorb moisture without caking, be nontoxic, and of large enough particle size to discourage consumption. Chicks are started with 24 hr of light for several days; thereafter, light is reduced. Both length of day and intensity of light are important. Lighting programs vary widely, depending on whether housing is windowless or open-sided, and should comply with recommendations of major breeders in similar situations.

When rearing pullets to be used as commercial egg laying or meat type breeding hens, feeding systems are often combined with day-length control during rearing to influence the rate at which birds mature. Under certain conditions, pullets may be beak trimmed at the hatchery or, in rare cases, within the first 7 days after hatch. In controlled environment housing, day lengths are controlled more precisely; with dim lights, beak trimming may be delayed until later in the growing period.

Pullets should be treated for external and internal parasites as required. Vaccination should be used to control problem diseases of the geographic area (see Vaccination Programs in Poultry).

Many commercial egg laying type pullets are reared in cages. The cage manufacturer usually supplies specific instructions regarding heating, bird density, and feeding space. Most commercial rations are fortified with sufficient nutrients to meet the requirements of cage-reared birds.

Last full review/revision May 2015 by Bruce Stewart-Brown, DVM, DACPV

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