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Improving efficiencies and preparing for the brooding season

Dr Kenny Nutting BVetMed MRCVS

With brooding due to commence in imminent weeks, and the current climate amidst the COVID-19 pandemic we find ourselves in an unusual place, where some clients are continuing to prepare for the season, and others are taking time to review the situation and making some tough decisions.

As you may have read in my Coronavirus veterinary FAQs article for Guns on Pegs in April, I feel that the true effects of the pandemic will take some time to become clear, however was is true and what I am passionate about is keeping a positive outlook on the situation; looking beyond the present and considering how we can ensure the industry, and our farms and estates survive.

In that spirit I have been talking to many clients, and it is clear that for those who are unsure of how to progress at this time, and for those who have decided to cancel their season due to the financial risk, thoughts have turned to how efficiencies can be made for future seasons. Below I outline my views on areas where efficiencies can be made.

1. Moving fields: Although typically we move fields on an annual basis to avoid disease such as Cocci, Hexamita, bacteria and worms, sometimes gaps in biosecurity, or a failure to properly disinfect your equipment can mean the diseases move with you. Therefore, we advise that sheds are left permanently in-situ and to plough the run areas. This means that the time saved from staying put can be focused on thorough cleaning and preparation, and allows for infrastructure such as permanent gas lines and bulk tanks to be installed.

2. Feeding routine: Feeding can be a time consuming and backbreaking task, which often means farmers and keepers have little time to sit and observe their birds’ natural behaviours. Many rearers we work with closely now top up their feeders every other day or every 3 days instead. They have done this by increasing the number or size of feeders per shed or run. We encourage this as it means more time is freed for them to be able to watch their birds and pick up the subtle changes in behaviour or demeanour that cannot be seen when moving around in the sheds/runs.

3. Mucking out wet drinker bedding….why do we do it? My first response to this question is ‘why have we got wet bedding in the first place’? There can be many causes of wet bedding, for example, it could be that you are using floor drinkers, which in my opinion, are not fit for purpose due to the levels of bacteria that I consistently find in them. Or you could be using nipple drinkers that have their water pressure set too high, are excessively dripping, or your drip cups on the bar systems are overflowing. Whatever the cause, reviewing your drinker management is a necessary daily task, and once set correctly wet bedding should not occur in your shed.

4. Brooding set-ups: There’s no set rule on how to brood game birds and it varies from one rearer to another, and so this is where our field services team can really help our clients. There are many things that can be done that both improve the chick survivability and help reduce stress for the birds and footfall into the shed, which in-turn aids biosecurity. There are also time/ labour efficiencies that can be made through streamlining the process. These changes should be discussed with a vet who knows your site well and can advise what would suit your current system to avoid any unnecessary investments.

For those who are continuing with the season and whose thoughts are turning to brooding below I have answered some of our most commonly asked questions in the lead up to the brooding period.

What are the main factors to be aware of during chick brooding? Food and water consumption are vital in the first 24 hours of a chick hatching so it is extremely important that they have access to unlimited uncontaminated water and crumb which is easily identifiable. The environment is also a key factor so it’s important to make sure it is stress-free by providing the correct temperature, ventilation and lighting. Do you know what your light Lux are in your sheds?

How do I get my chicks to eat more? It is important that in the early stages of brooding we give the chicks every chance of isolating single crumbs of feed. The best method, and one that has been used in the poultry industry for years, is the use of chick paper. A fine, biodegradable paper is laid down on top of the bedding and chick crumb is spread out across it.

What proactive methods can I take to keep my birds healthy? Over the years, we have trialled new products and methods of improving bird health. As a practice we focus heavily on gut health and encouraging a good start from the very beginning, often before the chicks have even hit the floor. We have found that providing the chicks with a pre and probiotic works best. There are several combinations that work differently and we are able to advise depending upon the system and shed set-up on site.

Are there any products available to help ensure the success of the brooding stage? We have helped to create a Brooding Pack which includes a number of products to get the chicks off to a good start. The pack has a product that helps encourage drinking and contains the vital ingredients for growth and another that helps to kick start the gut microbiome as well as Chick Paper. These have all been tried and tested and used for several years by clients with the lowest antibiotic usage. These come in three different sizes; 1,000 birds, 5,000 birds and 10,000 birds to tailor to your needs. To find out more visit

However you spend this time, whether it be to adapt and plan for the future, or if you are preparing for the season ahead, we are here to support you and will continue to do so over the coming weeks and months, and so on behalf of all at St David’s we wish you safe and well during these difficult times.