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Broiler health and housing

The housing environment
Broiler health and housingThe vast majority of broilers in the UK are kept in environmentally controlled houses with deep litter on the floors. The house temperature, lighting and ventilation are carefully controlled from day-old to slaughter. Specially formulated feeds are supplied ad libitum to allow maximum growth. The aim of any broiler grower is to supply a Grade A bird at the specified slaughter weight in the shortest possible time.

Any artificial lighting must allow even illumination throughout the house. The aim of a good broiler lighting programme is firstly to allow new chicks to find water and food as quickly as possible. Thereafter, they should be given the maximum opportunity to eat and drink but excessive activity and vices need to be minimised. Thus almost continuous bright light is supplied for the first few days, but the intensity is gradually decreased until the birds have just enough light to see to eat and drink. A short period of darkness is allowed each day in case of power cuts. If the birds are unaccustomed to darkness they may panic and pile up in the corners of the building causing smothering and suffocation.

The aim of a good ventilation system is to bring fresh air into the house and remove excess moisture, noxious gasses, such as ammonia (NH3) and carbon dioxide (co2), dust, water (humidity) and airborne organisms. Unfortunately, heat is also removed in this process and so, in practice a compromise between maintaining the house temperature and keeping the atmosphere fresh occurs. Control of ventilation is very important during the brooding period where it is important to maintain temperatures at the correct level. The use of recirculating fans or an internal circulating ventilation system will greatly assist air movement.

For the first 3 days in a broiler house there is no ventilation but by day 4 some air circulation is required. A good ventilation system will adequately mix the fresh and stale air but air movement itself will be draught-free at bird level.

Maintaining good litter conditions is essential, since it is the surface that the birds are in contact with for their whole life span. Damp, dirty litter causes breast blisters, burnt hocks and subsequent downgrading of the carcass. The litter conditions are a good indication of how well a broiler house is managed since the wrong temperature, inadequate ventilation, poor drinker management etc., will be reflected in poor litter quality.

Good litter acts as an insulation against a cold, damp floor. It should be water absorbent and form the basic environment for bacterial action to convert moist, smelly droppings into a drier, less objectionable product. A good litter material will also be comfortable for the birds, minimise dust problems and keep the birds clean.

The most commonly used litter is wood shavings, although shredded paper, chopped straw and pulverised bark or even peat may also be used. If wood shavings are used they must be from softwood, since hardwood splinters and may puncture the skin. In addition, the shavings should be free from moulds or preservatives which can cause respiratory disease or bruising.

Water requirements
Water must be available to the birds at all times. An adequate water supply, both by volume and sufficiency of drinkers is critical to prevent reduced growth rates. A day old chick contains about 80% water and growing broilers will need about 3 litres of water per kg of weight gained. About 75% of this requirement comes from the drinking water with the balance coming from the food.

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Harper Adams University College in the production of this article.

Statistics for Poultry

Slaughterings fowls
798 819 819 841 842 864 849 842 831 839 904
Slaughterings turkeys
27 26 23 22 21 19 18 16 16 15 16
Slaughterings ducks and geese
19 22 20 20 18 19 19 17 15 14 14
Poultry value of production
(£ millions)
1 301 1 355 1 262 1 328 1 306 1 300 1 233 1 249 1 579 1 590 1 799
Poultry production as % new supply
89% 91% 91% 91% 88% 88% 87% 90% 92% 90% 88%