The key to successful broiler chick brooding

The house must be prepared before chick arrival, for example, enough time must be allowed for heat to penetrate litter and reach the floor below. 


Successfully brooding chicks means not only vigilance during their first weeks on the farm, but ensuring that the poultry house is in the best possible state for their arrival.

Thorough preparation is essential to ensure proper chick brooding, according to Michael Czarick, associate professor at the University of Georgia’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

During the webinar, "Modern day broiler brooding management essentials", sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim and hosted by WATT Global Media, he continued that ensuring that the conditions in the poultry house are as thoroughly aligned with chicks’ needs as possible helps to give them the best start in life, influencing their future performance, and preparations need to start well before they actually arrive.

The first 14 days on the farm is a period of rapid growth and change and stress must be kept to a minimum, Dr. Muhamad Kashif Qazi, responsible for Boehringer Ingelheim’s veterinary strategic services and the company’s Poultry Academy, noted. He added that regular checks and adjustments must be made to keep stress to a minimum.

Check the poultry house

As a first step, tightness of the house needs to be evaluated. This can be done with a simple pressure test, Czarick explained. This should be carried out at least a week before chick arrival so that any issues can be addressed.

Testing house pressure is as simple as closing the house, turning on a fan and measuring the resulting pressure - the higher the pressure, the tighter the house.

The University of Georgia has developed spreadsheets that can give an objective evaluation of house pressure. They allow data including house length, width and total fan capacity used in the leakage test to be entered, along with the static pressure measurement. Through this data the leakage area can be calculated, allowing an evaluation of how the tightness level will affect the minimum ventilation system. The spreadsheets also show the relative leakage area, allowing houses of different sizes to be compared. 

       Data on minimum ventilation can be entered, including fan capacity, number of air inlets, the maximum air inlet height/opening, and length. This reveals the total inlet area and from this the openings needed to feed the fans can be calculated.In a loose house, fans will pull in air through the cracks. This will mean that the house will not be properly ventilated and that hot air close to the ceiling will not be used. In a tight house, more inlets will need to be employed and they will need to be opened further.

       Discovering where leakage occurs is not difficult. Closing the house and turning on one or two fans to generate a small amount of pressure while someone walks around the outside of the house with an insect fogger will reveal where smoke is entering the house. Problem areas can be marked and remedied. This should be done a week or two prior to chick arrival, allowing time for action to be taken.

Achieving the right temperature

Where litter is reused, a treatment should be applied 72 to 74 hours before the chicks arrive. The house should be preheated 36 to 48 hours before chick arrival. It is important to allow enough time for heat to penetrate the litter and to reach the floor below.

Preheating the house will not only give chicks the best temperature, it will also help to dry the litter. In a house with circulation fans, they should be used, as they will help to move hot air down to where it is needed. Bringing down hot air will also reduce relative humidity, meaning that use of the minimum ventilation fans can be reduced.

Circulation fans also help to create uniform conditions and will help to dry the litter, which will help in reducing ammonia and in extending the life of litter treatments.

Evaluate airflow

Airflow needs to be evaluated before the chicks arrive. Ideally, this should be done on a cool morning, rather than during warm weather. Cold air is heavier, and on entering the house it can fall to the floor forming a cold blanket. 12 hours before the chicks arrive the floor temperature should be measured. The ideal temperature is 90 to 105 F, while relative humidity should be 40 to 60%.

Ammonia levels should be no higher than 20 parts per million (ppm), while carbon monoxide should be below 50 ppm, but ideally zero. Carbon dioxide can also be monitored. Once the chicks are in the house, humidity should be measured each morning. If below 40%, ventilation can probably be cut back, but if over 60% it will need to be increased.

Ongoing care

Qazi noted that it is essential that a farm has a good biosecurity program, with records kept for all traffic and visitors, adding that chick density also needs to be carefully considered, with factors such as house design, harvest weight, thinning, ventilation and welfare standards taken into account.

The ideal environment for chicks will give them the best start. While minor changes may be well tolerated, significant deviations will cause them stress.

Should challenges increase, chemical and physical changes will occur, with consequences including immunosuppression, poor weight gain and higher feed conversion rates, for example. Chicks must have plenty of feed and water available. Feed should be placed on feeding paper, while water must be clean, with lines checked and fully functioning prior to arrival.

       Light must be evenly distributed, with a minimum of 25 lux in low intensity areas.


       Once chicks arrive it is important to check that they are high quality, to do so a few boxes of chicks should be sampled. Regular checks and adjustments must be made during the first two weeks that the chicks are on the farm. At three days old, for example, it is important to see if chicks are properly consuming feed and water, and checks should be made in four or five locations in the house.

       Light intensity needs to be adjusted from the second day onward, while from days four to six further checks should be made to ventilation and temperature.

Chicks must be constantly checked during the first 14 days to minimize any stresses.