Poultry management notes

Information, guidance and useful advice from CAFRE advisors can be found by reading our poultry management notes below.

September 2015

Brooding turkeys

As with all poultry and game, brooding is crucial to give birds the best start possible and help maximise performance throughout the production cycle.

For turkey poults this involves:

  • cleaning and disinfecting  the house before placing the poults
  • providing hardboard or wire surrounds in a ring 3.0-3.6 m (10-12 feet) across, with feeder trays and drinkers placed evenly around the ring but not directly below the brooder
  • spreading fresh whitewood shavings approximately 6-8 cm deep evenly below the brooders or heaters
  • providing supplementary drinkers and feed trays as well as one adult drinker and feeder from day one
  • hanging a dropper light at brooder height which provides additional light below the brooder to encourage feeding

Check the brooder and ring are at the required temperature before the poults arrive, with the floor temperature at least 28-30 degrees centrigrade on concrete. After the birds are placed adjust the brooder temperature to ensure an even distribution of poults in the surround.  

Introduce feed and fresh water just before the birds arrive, filling the feeders to the pan lip to let the poults see the feed and allow easy access. Sprinkle feed on the trays little and often and top up before the lights go out. It is also important the feed trays and drinkers are cleaned and scraped twice per day before refilling. After one week introduce more adult feeders and drinkers and gradually remove small feeders and drinkers over several days but NEVER all at once.

As with broilers in the first 24 to 48 hours after placing, select a random sample of chicks a few times and gently check  the crop is full, soft and round (shows feed and water are present) and the chick is thriving.
For the first 36 hours use an intermittent light programme of four hours on and two hours off (or three hours on and three off) to rest the poults and stimulate feeding when the lights come on.  Alternatively rest the poults for one to two hours with the lights off in the first 12 hours and again that night.  Increase the night period to eight to 10 hours by the time the poults are seven to 10 days old. It is also a good idea to monitor the house at the start when the lights are off to ensure the poults have settled and found the brooder.

Biosecurity on turkey sites

Steps to maintain flock health include:

  • thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting housing and equipment before the birds arrive
  • regular cleaning and sanitising of water tanks, lines and drinkers
  • providing a foot dip at the entrance containing an approved disinfectant at the correct dilution rate
  • keeping separate footwear and regularly laundered overalls for each house
  • restricting access to the flock and avoiding contact with other poultry.
  • preventing wild bird access
  • a good rodent control policy including continual checking bait stations and topping up as required
  • keeping doors locked at all times
  • managing the range for birds with access to outdoors, to avoid wet areas that may attract wildfowl

Water quality

Water is crucial to the survival and wellbeing of all livestock. Turkeys consume approximately twice as much water per day as they do feed, so a constant clean fresh supply is very important.  Poor sanitisation in the water system can lead to reduced performance and health problems. Thoroughly cleaning and sanitising the water system between flocks helps remove bio-film. Bio-film is a clear slimy film (slime) that builds up and clings to the internal surface of the tank and pipe work harbouring harmful pathogens that can be passed  on to the new flock. Also the warm atmosphere in the house encourages bacteria and viruses to multiply rapidly.  This can be minimised by daily or regular water sanitation using an approved water sanitiser (that breaks down bio-film) recommended by your processor, field’s person or vet.

June 2015

Free-range management

Free-range eggs are very popular in the United Kingdom and Ireland, with many consumers simply choosing them due to the hens having access to an outside range. Birds access the range during the day (09:00 to dusk) through pop holes along the side of each laying house. Although it is a legal requirement that free-range birds have access to the outside it also pleases many to see hens scraping, dust bathing and moving throughout the range. For many new producers range management is a steep learning curve with numerous areas to consider and constantly monitor and maintain.

As the flocks are outside wild birds are always a threat to flock health. In spring and summer fill in or drain any puddles, as wild birds will wash and drink in them as well as birds from the laying flock. This increases the risk of parasites and faecal organisms entering the flock.

Paddock rotation is also important as it reduces the risk of poaching as well as bacterial and worm build-up. Allowing an area of the range to rest also helps the roots of grasses to recover. However, if the paddock does not recover plough and reseed before putting back into use.

Introduce newly placed flocks to an area of the range that had little use at the end of the previous flock. This reduces the likelihood of disease or worm transmission.

Course stone placed outside the pop holes (3-4.5 m) provides free drainage directly outside the unit. The stones are also heated by the sun again helping reduce bacterial build-up.

Shelters and trees placed further out on the range encourage the birds to move out from the house reducing the overuse of land closer to the house.
Fencing around the perimeter of the range is extremely important. It is the only defence against predators such as foxes and also helps keep the majority of birds in the range. Investment in adequate fencing is a must and many farmers are now concreting the base (although expensive) to prevent the birds getting out.

The range is an area that can take many hours to look after, but keeping on top of range management saves time and more importantly keeps your flock healthy and protects your income.

Steps to improve biosecurity on laying sites

Good biosecurity is vital for protecting the health status of your laying flock. Putting biosecurity measures in place and adhering to them at all times helps maintain performance (egg quality and numbers), reduces mortality and limits the threat and spread of disease. Evaluate the potential risks to your laying flock throughout the cycle and identify measures that can be put in place.

Biosecurity on a free-range farm is difficult as the birds are outside. However, there are measures you can put in place to limit the potential spread of disease from people and vehicles. The following are a few suggestions:

  • limit visitors to only those that are necessary
  • minimise foot traffic between houses. Keeping house specific boots and overalls in each control room is good practice
  • replenish foot dips twice weekly. Outdoor foot dips that do not have a lid may require more frequent changing
  • ensure all vehicles are clean prior to entry to site and that all wheels and arches in particular are disinfected
  • keep the front of the site free from long grass and weeds as these are ideal coverage for rodents which carry many diseases. Maintain a robust rodent control programme
  • keep all areas clean, tidy and free from debris/rubbish

Taking these simple steps will help maintain flock health and protect your business. 

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