Essential Brooding Practices for Healthy Poultry

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Brooding is the cornerstone of raising chickens, ducks, and turkeys, according to Ben Grimes, owner of Dawnbreaker Farms. “Brooding is the most critical part of your bird’s life,” he emphasized. “If you have a bad brood, you’re going to struggle during the entire life of those birds.”

Poultry producers have various options for acquiring chicks, either from local feed mills, farm supply stores, or ordering from hatcheries. Grimes, whose hatchery is in Texas, shared his experience of receiving chicks by shipment. He recounted a troubling incident where improper handling led to the loss of 95 out of 200 chicks.

Grimes has substantial experience, having raised and processed approximately 50,000 birds since he started farming in 2013. This year, he plans to raise about 8,000 birds, mostly chickens, along with some ducks and turkeys. His 20-acre farm also includes pigs and cattle. “I love cattle. My heart is with grass-fed beef, but poultry allows me to raise a lot of birds on a small space,” he said.

Most of Grimes’ poultry is sold wholesale, often to other farmers who sell it to their customers. He also sells directly at a weekly farmers market and through a CSA and home delivery program.

When setting up brooders, Grimes highlights the importance of water and proper heating. “Make sure there are no drafts at the birds’ level,” he advised, suggesting that air flow should be positioned high. He uses an old tobacco barn retrofitted with insulation for brooding, though he notes that shipping containers with forced air ventilation systems are ideal.

Grimes transitioned from electric heat lamps to a propane heater as his operation expanded, ensuring the entire brooding area remains warm. For watering, he employs a nipple line system, which minimizes the need for constant refilling.

Adequate watering space is crucial. “You need 3 to 6 inches per chick in the brooder to ensure they drink enough,” he said. For bedding, he prefers peat moss due to its excellent moisture absorption, but wood shavings or pine shavings are also effective.

High-quality feed tailored to the specific poultry species is essential. “Don’t be cheap. If you’re buying cheap feed, you’re going to have issues with your birds,” Grimes cautioned.

Air flow is another critical factor. “Birds can go a day or two without food or water, but they can’t go five minutes without air,” he explained. A forced ventilation system can help maintain oxygen levels, preventing ammonia buildup.

Observing the birds can provide insights into their well-being. “You want to see the birds happily chirping and running around,” Grimes said. Crowding, frantic chirping, and hard bedding are signs of overcrowding or improper conditions.

Addressing common challenges, Grimes advised blocking off corners to prevent birds from piling up and using bucket traps to manage rats and mice. Disease prevention is also vital. Coccidiosis, indicated by diarrhea, and ascites, which can develop from poor air quality, are significant threats.

“The best thing to do is avoid it by making sure the water, feed, and bedding are clean,” Grimes said, stressing that great air flow is as critical as water and feed for healthy birds.