Minimum Ventilation in Winter Brooding

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As the weather cools heading into winter, gas prices often rise. It is important to balance heating your barn and maintaining adequate air flow and air quality using minimum ventilation.Ventilation is crucial to providing the ideal environmental conditions for broilers to thrive. In winter months in particular, if you try to cut cost on fuel and grow birds too cool, birds will be forced to consume extra feed in order to maintain body temperature. This has a negative effect on feed conversion rates and is detrimental to flock performance. The first few days of a chick’s life are crucial as it is then that the chick has it’s greatest potential for rapid rate of growth. It sets the tone for flock performance. During the first few days of a chick’s life, more feed energy goes toward growth than at any other point in the chicken’s life. If the bird is consuming the feed to maintain body temperature, then it is unable to use that energy toward its potential. It may seem like a waste of money heating a barn just exhaust the heat though the fans, and it may be tempting to save the money, but it more economical to maintain the optimum barn environment, to maximize feed conversion and flock performance at catch time with healthy and thriving birds.

It may also be tempting to heat the barn in the brood period, but not adequately ventilate the house, to save money. We know that chicks need a warm environment, particularly in their first week, but not adequately ventilating the barn could be detrimental. Birds need adequate airflow for oxygen and to remove harmful gases and odors in the barn. By-products of growing birds include heat, water, carbon dioxide and manure, all of which are added to the environment inside the poultry barn. As the manure decomposes, feathers, dust and other particles become airborne. Pathogens, bacteria and viruses may also be present, and these microorganisms when present in the air and litter, in warm conditions, are a key cause in poor air quality and the spread of disease in flocks. Mortality near the end of the growout period from preventable diseases (such as airsacculitis) is a huge loss to the grower after feeding the bird throughout the whole growout period just for the bird to not make it to catching.

According to University of Kentucky Ag Extension, “it is recommended that ammonia concentration be maintained at < 25 ppm throughout the growout for optimum broiler performance. When a person is constantly exposed to ammonia their sense of smell is adversely affected and their ability to detect ammonia decreases. With time, most growers are not able to detect ammonia by smell until the ammonia concentration in the broiler house has reached 50-60 ppm or higher. By this time, however, chick performance can be severely affected.”[1] Therefore it is important to monitor ammonia levels and ventilate appropriately. Ventilation is also needed to control heat and humidity as if the conditions are too humid, it can promote growth of bacteria and disease. Excessive dust particles in a barn can also cause respiratory problems in broilers too. Integrators often provide growers with minimum ventilation guidelines which, when followed, should help maintain O2, CO2, CO, humidity, and dust at acceptable levels.

Key factors to consider when ventilating during the brood period are the levels of ammonia, the litter conditions, and exposure to cool temperatures. It is imperative to ensure that the house is tight, and the heating and ventilating systems are in top condition heading into the winter or into a new flock. Before heading into winter, ensure your heating system is serviced, clean and well maintained. Ensure your gas source is sufficient. Some growers may benefit from pre-paying for winter fuel to combat price hikes and possible shortages. Heaters must be maintained to ensure there are no gas leaks. Leaking fuel not only wastes money, but also is a serious fire hazard. Click here (https://www.val-co.com/how-to-prepare-heaters-for-winter/) to see our winter checklist for maintaining your brooders and tube heaters and getting them winter ready. Key points to look out for with heater maintenance is making sure there is an adequate gas supply – if pressure is too low then you will notice a weak yellow flame that produces little heat rather than a strong blue flame that generates a lot of heat. The required working pressure depends on what type of gas you are using. All burner and pilot orifices should be checked and cleaned thoroughly.

Below are some useful resources for growing your understanding of the importance of minimum ventilation, and tools for helping keep your minimum ventilation system optimal.

Click here to read VAL-CO’s white paper on practice and purpose of minimum ventilation https://www.val-co.com/white-paper-the-practice-purpose-of-minimum-ventilation/

Click here for a seasonal minimum ventilation audit https://www.val-co.com/seasonal-audit-minimum-ventilation/

Please also see our website val-co.com for a range of equipment to help improve your minimum ventilation system and brooding equipment, including exhaust fans, inlets, brooders, tube heaters, and mixing fans.

[1] https://afs.ca.uky.edu/files/chapter7.pdf