Brooding Requirements for Poultry Chicks
Housing of poultry for animal research is unique compared to other laboratory animals. Once the fertile egg is laid by the hen, the embryo can develop and hatch with no assistance from the hen. The egg must be maintained at a controlled temperature and humidity for approximately 28 days. Once the chicks are hatched, they must be maintained at higher than normal temperatures until they have developed sufficient size and feather coverage to acclimate to more normal animal housing temperatures. The need to provide auxiliary heat for the animals is called brooding.
Beginning at one day of age, the chick should be housed at a temperature between 87 – 92° F (30 – 33° C), at a relative humidity between 40 – 60%. Care should be taken to prevent the chicks from being exposed to drafts which could result in wind chill. When the chick is one week of age the temperature can be reduced by 4° F (2° C). Continue reducing the temperature until housing temperature of 70° F (21° C) is reached.
Observation of the birds during the brooding period can assist you in providing the most desirable temperatures. Birds that are cold will huddle together in a very tight group. Should this condition exist the temperature needs to be increased. Chicks that are too hot will pant and appear drowsy. Chicks that are comfortable will be evenly dispersed within the cage and be active except during periods of rest.
Lighting for 1 day old birds should begin at 20 – 22 hours per day for the first two days at 10 lux (1ftc) intensity. Reduce day length weekly to reach approximately 12 hours of light at 8 weeks of age.
Fresh water should be present when chicks are placed in the cage. Lixits or cups of water should be manipulated to stimulate drinking. Water consumption will increase from .01 liters/chick/day at one week of age to .03 liters/chick/day at 4 weeks of age.
Feed for one day old birds should be withheld for the first two hours to allow chicks to find the water prior to consumption of dry feeds. After the first two hours of housing, feed can be made freely available. The feed should be a high protein starter ration with at least 20% protein. Consumption will increase from approximately 13 grams of feed/chick/day at one week of age to approximately 29 grams/chick/day at four weeks of age.
*This information is general information for leghorn chicks. It is recommended that you contact the breeder of the chicks being housed to determine the recommended requirements for the breed you will be using.