MSD Manual

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Professional Version

Management of Growing Chickens


Bruce Stewart-Brown

, DVM, DACPV, Perdue Farms

Reviewed/Revised Apr 2023 | Modified Jun 2023

Broiler houses generally designate specific areas for brooding. These areas could be located in many spots throughout the whole house, with rings of cardboard (often referred to as "chick guards") used to keep chicks around a heat source; more commonly, an area of the house is curtained off and preheated before chick placement. In both cases, the floor temperature of the brooder should be 29.4°C–32.2°C (85°F–90°F). As the birds become older, the brooder temperature is lowered 2.8°C (5°F) each week until it is 21.1°C (70°F).

When the chicks are ~1 week old, the chick guards are removed or the curtains are opened, giving the chicks access to the additional space in the house. In particularly large chicken houses, a second area may be curtained off for several days (up to 10–14 days old) before the chicks are given access to the complete house. Ample space should be provided for feeders and waterers, which should be well distributed in the house.

At least 3 inches (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 consist of particles large enough to discourage consumption.

Chicks are started with 24 hours of light for several days; thereafter, light is decreased. Both length of day and intensity of light are important. Lighting programs vary widely, depending on whether housing is windowless or open-sided, and they should comply with the recommendations of major breeders in similar situations.

For pullets being reared to be used as commercial egg-laying or meat-type-breeding hens, feeding systems are often combined with day-length control during rearing to influence the rate at which birds mature. Under certain conditions, pullets may have their beaks trimmed at the hatchery or, in rare cases, within the first 7 days after hatching. In controlled-environment housing, day lengths are regulated more precisely; with dim lighting, beak trimming may be delayed until later in the growing period.

Many commercial egg-laying-type pullets are reared in cages. The cage manufacturer usually provides 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.

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