Practicing good broiler stockmanship is the key to minimising antibiotic use – Part 2 of 2

A well-managed brooding period only provides the foundation for future flock performance. Often, the difficult period comes later when the birds are faced with other challenges (for example, vaccination, and feed ration changes), which need to be well-managed to maintain flock health, welfare and performance
calendar icon 26 March 2018
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Read Part 1 here

Flock progression

As the flock progresses, the bird’s requirements for feeding and drinking space, light intensity and stocking density should be provided to the recommended specifications. Average bird weight must continue to be recorded on a weekly basis and the information collected used to determine flock performance relative to standard, as well as to identify possible performance and welfare issues. Between 7 and 21 days of age birds can be weighed in bulk, but from 21 days onwards individual bird weights should be taken. This is so that flock co-efficient of variation (CV%) can be determined, which is necessary to ensure that the processing plant requirements are met.

The stockman should be aware of the growing broilers’ needs at all times. Any changes to the environment (temperature adjustment, ventilation, RH) or equipment (height of feeders and drinkers) should be done immediately following the initial bird observation. The key to rearing good-quality broilers is attention to detail.

When performing procedures that involve bird disturbance such as, for example, weighing or vaccination, care should be taken to make sure the birds remain comfortable at all times. Where bird handling is involved, the birds should be handled in the appropriate way at all times and by trained personnel only.

Feeding and drinking equipment

The stockman should monitor feeding and drinking equipment on a daily basis, with feeder and drinker height being adjusted regularly in line with bird growth. This ensures the birds have access to feed and water while preventing spillage. From 14 days onward, the feeding system should be allowed to run empty once every couple of days to allow the fine particles to be consumed. This will help maintain the physical quality of the feed in the feeder and ensure optimal feed and nutrient intake.

Nipple flow rates should be checked and recorded weekly from different locations across the house to ensure consistency of water supply to all birds (Figure 7). Excessive water spillage must be addressed quickly, as this will lead quickly to wet litter issues, and subsequently skin lesions to the foot pads and hocks. This can be detrimental to flock health and welfare and may require treatment with antibiotics.

Figure 7. Measuring nipple flow rates

Water consumption

Water consumption is a valuable indicator of a flock’s health and should be recorded in each house on a daily basis throughout the life of the flock. There is a strong relationship between water consumption and feed consumption, so unexpected changes in water consumption may also indicate changes in feed consumption. At 21C (70F), the birds are consuming sufficient water when the ratio of water volume (l) to feed weight (kg) remains close to:

  • 1.8:1 for bell drinkers
  • 1.7:1 for nipple drinkers with cups
  • 1.6:1 for nipple drinkers without cups

Sudden fluctuations in water consumption can be an indicator of emerging health issues (coccidiosis), nutritional changes (nutrient levels or physical feed quality), or a vaccine response.

Litter management

Litter must be maintained so that it remains dry and friable throughout the life of the flock. Wet litter frequently results in the development of footpad dermatitis (FPD) lesions and poor growth performance. Environmental conditions such as wet and humid weather, condensation or very cold temperatures can cause wet litter. Drinker lines and evaporative cooling pads, if not managed and maintained carefully, can also contribute greatly to wet litter problems.

Feed transitions

ABF broilers will experience a number of changes in feed ration throughout their lives. These transitions must be well-managed to prevent any reduction in intake or growth. The transition from starter feed to grower feed at around 12 to 14 days will involve a change of texture from crumble/mini-pellets to pellets and also a change in nutrient density. The stockman should monitor bird behaviour closely before, during and after a feed transition to ensure the feed is palatable to the birds and there are no changes in feeding and drinking behaviour. Some good rules to follow include:

  • The feed presented to the birds should have as high a percentage of pellet/crumb as possible, and a low level of fine particles.
  • Birds should be observed closely for changes in feeding behaviour, body-weight gain and flock uniformity in the period following a feed delivery, even when the ration is the same. Feed samples should be retained from all deliveries.


Vaccination is necessary for ensuring the health and well-being of any broiler flock. Vaccines must be administered and handled by a trained vaccine team and the vaccination programme must be based on local veterinary advice and be tailored to the local disease challenges. It is important to vaccinate against pathogens that present a high background challenge on the farm, but vaccination should only be done if necessary. If vaccinations are given when they are not necessary, it will impact the immune system, which could result in reduced performance and in some circumstances even make the birds more susceptible to other diseases. If vaccination is administered correctly, it will have limited challenges for the bird. Post vaccination, the birds should be closely observed for any changes in behaviour that may indicate a vaccine reaction.


By applying the principles of good stockmanship, such as providing the correct conditions and observing, understanding and reacting to the bird behaviour in the house environment, the stockman will ensure that birds are comfortable and healthy at all times. This awareness, in conjunction with flock performance, data collection and analysis of the key parameters, will ensure broiler performance is optimal for the success of a flock while minimising the use of antibiotics. Key points to remember include:

  • Clean, disinfect and provide adequate downtime between cycles to prevent pathogens from being carried over.
  • Provide the birds with the correct environmental conditions throughout their lives.
  • Provide the chicks with the optimum brooding conditions. Observe and understand bird behaviour.
  • Always evaluate brooding practices through crop fill assessment and bodyweight records.
  • Adjust feed and drinking equipment daily according to the birds’ needs. Record water consumption on a daily basis.
  • Pay attention to changes in bird behaviour after feed changes and/or vaccinations.

Part 1

Ryan Johnson

Editor at The Poultry Site

Ryan worked in conservation from 2008 to 2017, during which time he operated a rainbow trout hatchery and helped to maintain public and protected green spaces in Canada for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. As editor of The Poultry Site, he now writes about challenges and opportunities in agriculture across the globe.

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