November 22, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Poultry Part 5


Meat chickens: Management

By Dr Clive Dalton

The meat (broiler) chicken
  • The broiler chicken industry shows what can be achieved by applied science. Geneticists and nutritionists have cooperated to produce a bird that takes 40 days to mature instead of 80 days.
  • It converts 1.95 - 2.20kg of feed into 1kg of body weight from which 0.7kg of carcass is produced. These values are constantly being improved.
  • At day 1 a modern broiler weighs 45g and by day 42 it weighs 2200g - a 50 times increase in weight.
  • Any lowering of performance will lower profits, so producers are very conscious of possible problems, many of which are expressed in behaviour of the birds.
  • Profit is all about rapid growth, good feed conversion efficiency and low death rates. Below are some important husbandry pointers to profit and optimal welfare for the birds.

Management for good broiler welfare
  • Adequate drinkers are essential and should be checked regularly.
  • Good feeder design is important to allow the small birds to eat, prevent waste and blockages regardless of the type of feed.
  • Broilers will eat more in a shorter time than non-meat birds. They have longer resting times and hence convert feed to live weight more efficiently.
  • Birds should have access to food and water within about 2m of their area and there should be sufficient access to allow low-dominance and shy birds to feed.
  • Physical form of the feed affects intake. Factors like whether the feed is hard or soft, and whether it's meal, crumbs or pellets as well as the size of the pellets.
  • Removing stale feed and regular topping up of feeders is important whether manual or mechanical.
  • Birds need good potable water free from contaminants, and if the water temperature rises, water intake will drop.
  • Checking routines on all mechanical equipment and failsafe mechanisms with operator warnings are basic in any production plant.
  • Good ventilation is essential, as high levels of ammonia and carbon monoxide can be serious. If the smell of ammonia is strong, then the ventilation system needs checking.
  • The atmosphere should be dry and temperatures optimal with little variation.
  • Stocking density. The most important time to get stocking rate right is in the last week or so before slaughter when if there are problems, greatest financial losses will occur.
  • With current bird genotypes and management systems around 36-38 kg of live weight/square meter is recommended as a maximum in the Code of Welfare No. 22. At not time during the growing period must stocking rate exceed 40kg live weight/square meter.
  • Chicks should be trained with a blackout period of about 15 minutes in each 24 hours to prevent panic is lights fail.
  • There is great welfare concern over the catching and transport of broiler chickens. See the Code of Welfare No.22 for information.

Free range broilers
  • The negative image of intensive broilers has opened up a market for more free-range meat chickens.
  • As these birds run outdoors, all the problems associated with free-range egg production will apply.

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