Day-old birds cannot regulate their body temperature. This ability takes 10-14 days to develop. They will be particularly sensitive to the ambient temperature during the first 4-5 days. If the temperature surrounding the bird is not optimal, the bird's body temperature will not be optimal. The body temperature of a day-old chicken should be 40-41°C. If the bird gets too cold, it will initially use the energy in the feed it ingests and the energy in the yolk sac to produce heat. The yolk sac is supposed to develop the bird's organs and immune system and the feed energy is supposed to provide gain. If the yolk sac and the feed are used to produce heat, the bird will not develop as intended and the gain will be suboptimal. If the body temperature of the bird is too high, it will try to get rid of the heat. If it does not succeed, it will try to reduce its heat generation. The only way it can do this is to stop ingesting feed. This results in low gain.
Prior to stocking
Not only the air temperature needs to be correct to give the bird the optimal start. Everything the bird is in contact with must have the correct temperature. This is particularly the case for the floor and the litter. The bird is in constant contact with litter and floor. If the bird lies down on cold litter or close to a cold floor, it will lose body heat to the litter/floor. Litter temperature should be at least 32°C at the time of stocking. If a thin layer of litter is used, the floor must be at least 30°C warm. Even if the layer of litter is thick, it is still important that the floor is not too cold. When the floor is cold and the litter warm, condensation is generated, making the litter damp and wet.
The floor must be heated prior to the spreading of the litter. The litter has an insulating effect, making it very difficult to heat the floor. This is why the livestock house must be heated to the desired Day 0 temperature no later than 48 hours prior to stocking. The litter is spread as near to stocking as possible.
Start-up and climate strategy
The correct house temperature at the time of stocking depends mainly on the size and weight of the birds. Contrary to larger birds, small birds have a large surface relative to their weight. Also, smaller birds eat a little less feed and may experience difficulty in finding the feed. These factors are important considerations when adjusting the temperature. The temperature at stocking not only matters in relation to the body temperature and development of the bird, but also for their:
- Seeking feed and water
- Spreading evenly throughout the house
Unless the birds seek feed and water immediately, their productivity and health will be affected throughout the batch period. In order to give the litter the best starting point it is important that the birds spread out evenly in the house. An even spread can be ensured with a uniform, correct temperature and lighting in the house.
It is not possible to dictate guidelines for universally correct temperatures. The correct temperature is a factor of bird size, feed consumption, and other external influences. However, this table may be used for basic settings:
Interpret bird behaviour
Even when following the breeders' climate strategy and maintain a house temperature of 34°C, the birds are still your most important indicator as to whether the temperature is correct. We recommend the use of an ear thermometer (infra-red measuring) to check the temperature of birds at several places in the house. The ear thermometer must show 39.5 - 40,0°C on the cloaca. Always remember that bird behaviour will be a clear indicator as to whether house climate is correct. After stocking, the birds should spread out evenly around the feed and the water sources. They must be active and seek feed and water as soon as possible. Listen to the birds! They should be chirping using a low, short sound. Some hours after stocking, the birds should spread out more in the house. When the birds rest or sleep, they should be in small groups of 5 - 10 birds. The individual bird should preferably lie with neck loosely stretched, wings in and legs tucked under.
The house temperature is too high
If your house temperature is too high, birds will react as follows:
- The birds are lying alone, panting
- The birds will seek cooler areas
- They will their wings and strech one leg to the side
- They will eat less and drink more
The house temperature is too low
Birds subjected to insufficient house temperatures:
- will gather close together in large groups
- will be inactive, as they spend their energy on heat production
- will "gather themselves up", i.e. they hold their heads close to the body so as
not to expose themselves to cooling.
- will chirp very loudly
Due to bird variability, it is acceptable for up to 10% of birds to display signs of excessive temperature, but the birds must not under any circumstances be too cold.
Often only very little change is required to improve bird distribution in the house; a temperature change of as little as 0.5°C can often be sufficient.