THE MERCK VETERINARY MANUAL
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Management of Growing Chickens

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Heated brooders for chicks are surrounded by a chick guard to keep the birds near the heat source. At placement, the brooder 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 the temperature is 70°F (21.1°C). The chick guard is typically removed at 1 wk of age, and birds then have the run of the pen. Ample space should be provided for feeders and waterers, which should be well distributed in the pen.

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.

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 debeaked at 4–7 days of age. In controlled environment housing, day lengths are controlled more precisely; with dim lights, debeaking 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 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 March 2012 by Alex J. Bermudez, DVM, MS, DACPV, Deceased; Mahmoud El-Begearmi, PhD; Kirk C. Klasing, BS, MS, PhD; Steven Leeson, PhD

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