Brooding – Feed Management

Chicks need special care as they transition from the incubator to the rearing house. It is imperative that they eat and drink enough right away. Flocks that fail to make a quick transition to feed and water may suffer from higher early mortality rates. Stimulating feed and water consumption during their first several days will give chicks the best start during the brooding period.

Supplemental Feeders

Add supplemental feeders to the rearing house for the first seven days to help chicks get as much nutrition as possible early on.

  • Use starter feed during this period in either a mash or fine-crumb form.
  • Place the trays between the main feed and drinker lines and adjacent to the brooders. Never put trays directly beneath the brooder, where the excessive heat may drive chicks away.
  • There should be approximately one tray per 50 chicks.
  • “Top dress” feeders several times throughout the day to ensure that feed never runs empty and remains fresh at all times. Frequently adding small amounts helps stimulate feed consumption.
  • After the first 2-3 days, gradually move feeder trays closer to the automated feeding system; then slowly remove them altogether over the following week.

Feeder Specifics

The feeding time should be consistent each day to help chicks establish a routine. It is also important to distribute the feed evenly to ensure each chick has proper access to the feed.

  • Distribute feed throughout the house in less than three minutes from the time the feeder belt begins releasing feed to provide the most feeder space per bird.  
  • Adjust the feeder trough height throughout the brooding period so all chicks have easy access to the feed. At first, rest the feeder on the litter so chicks do not have to climb into the feeder to eat. As the chicks grow, raise feeders so that the lip of the trough is level with the birds’ back at all times.
  • Provide adequate feeder space for males and females, taking into consideration the flock’s age. From four weeks to housing, provide a minimum of 4.5 inches (11.50 cm) of feeder space for pullets and a minimum of 6.0 inches (15.0 cm) for males.

Monitoring the Transition

Examining the chicks’ waste, also known as a “Crop Check,” is necessary to see if chicks are consuming adequate feed and water.

  • If chicks are placed the same day they hatch, check the crops the morning after placement to ensure they have found feed and water. If chicks are placed one day after they hatch, crops should be checked 8 hours after placement to evaluate feed and water intake.
  • Ideally, a minimum of 95 percent of the crops should feel soft and pliable, indicating chicks have successfully located both feed and water. Hard crops indicate chicks have not found adequate water. Evaluate and water availability immediately. Swollen and distended crops indicate chicks have located water but insufficient feed. Check the availability and consistency of the feed. 

Male versus Female Management

Good management practices recommend growing males and females separately for at least the first six weeks, although sex-separate rearing through the first 140-154 days has produced the best results.

Growers should help chicks transition from the hatchery to brooding environment, which includes making sure the chicks begin eating and drinking right away. With optimal nutrition, chicks will develop strong skeletal and cardio vascular systems. The brooding period sets the precedent for good performance throughout the life of a flock and enables chicks to reach their full genetic potential.

For information about managing each phase and factor of brooding, read more in our complete Broiler Management Guide.

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