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How to set up and operate ventilation for broiler chicks

BROILER CHICKS placed on poultry farms need a comfortable environment with plenty of fresh air before they begin to feed, drink and explore their surroundings.

So setting up farms and ventilation systems to offer enough oxygen to allow the birds’ brains to begin firing on all cylinders is critical, according to Aviagen UK technical service manager Glenn Bushell.

The most important thing is to observe birds after they are placed, he says, to get an understanding of how they are responding to their new environment.

Following that, it is about making careful adjustments to the environment to make sure their needs are met.

But the process of ensuring that sheds can provide a pleasant environment begins well before the chicks are delivered.

Stockmen should set up the farms to give the birds the best chance of success when they arrive.

Shed Set Up

Every poultry shed is unique, and even farms where buildings were erected at the same time and to the same specification will function differently, because of their different conditions and the prevailing weather.

Variation in the shed construction and ageing will affect ambient environmental factors and internal control.

It is therefore essential to think of each unit on a farm as an individual system and manage it accordingly, Mr Bushell says.

Older buildings should be regularly checked for leaks, and any gaps in insulation or where cold air can enter should be repaired promptly.

Uneven temperatures in a shed environment can lead to cold spots that harm chick uniformity.

Leaks can also disturb sensors’ accuracy, causing heating systems to work harder than they need to, for example, and give farmers false readings.

Another influence to look out for is things like light fittings or roof supports on shed ceilings that can block incoming air as it is pushed into the apex of sheds.

Look at where dust gathers – it can be an indication that something is blocking good air flow

Smoke testing will help demonstrate airflow efficiency, but it’s also worth looking out for where dust tends to gather as an indicator of how well ventilation is working.

Chick placement

When birds are first placed, they can be chilled by air moving over them too quickly, so it’s essential to make sure ventilation pushes fresh air into the apex of the shed, where it can warm up before dropping onto birds.

Mr Bushell says that keeping air inlets about 3-4cm open (in most cases) and ensuring they are pointing in the correct direction with enough pressure are vital aspects to get right.

Making sure all inlets are open the same amount – and ideally not facing another open inlet – is also essential, he adds. “Allow air to come in evenly through the house, and it will distribute evenly as well.”

Once the birds are in a shed and a basic programme is set up, it’s crucial to review how the programme is working immediately.

“I think that the only way to do that is through observation,” Mr Bushell says. “Sit in each house for a good 10 minutes and observe what the chicks are telling us. From the information we get from them, we can set the controllers for ventilation.”

While watching chicks, it’s important to use every sense to determine how optimal the birds’ environment is – does the air feel fresh to smell, and is it comfortable?

The sound of birds is also a great indicator of how well chicks are doing.

Using your senses to detect how comfortable chicks are

  • Look: At bird distribution, are they evenly spread in a shed and eating, drinking and resting.
  • Listen: Are birds rustling chick paper and chirping – how do they compare to other houses or previous flocks?
  • Feel: Is the air stuffy? Hot? Cold? How is the air movement in the shed?
  • Smell: Does feed smell fresh?

Chicks that are evenly spread out in the brooding area are active, with a noise level that signifies contentment are adjusting well to their new environment.

Finally, observe how birds are spreading through the shed, whether they are evenly distributed and how they are sat – chicks that are not moving much and have their heads slumped are most likely too warm and are a good indicator that ventilation needs adjusting.

As a rough guide, Mr Bushell says in the hours following chick placement, about 80% of the birds should be exploring chick paper and feeding, 10% should be drinking at any one time, with the remainder resting.

Consistency and customisation

When making changes to ventilation settings, it’s essential to do so gradually, so as not to shock chicks. Temperatures should be adjusted slowly to allow birds to adapt.

The weather in the UK can be very changeable – one day in summer can see temperatures above 25C, before the next day dropping dramatically. Another reason that ventilation needs to be carefully monitored and adjusted in anticipation of weather changes.

One final consideration, says Mr Bushell, is that all flocks of birds are different; chicks from younger parent flocks tend to need more careful attention, whereas birds from older flocks can adapt to the farm environment a lot quicker.