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Rearing layer chicks for optimum egg production

If you do the basics well, raising your own laying chickens can be relatively simple and if you get it right, your flock will reward you generously.

There are three golden rules to chick rearing. Firstly, ensure that the correct feed and clean water is supplied with sufficient feeder and drinker space for the birds. Chicks should never be restricted with feed or water during rearing. Secondly, appropriate housing is essential in helping to maintain a suitable environment for the birds. Lastly, animal health management is crucial.

Selecting the correct feed is the easy part and NRM Chick Starter Crumbles are specially formulated for birds from a day old to 6–8 weeks of age. The crumbles should be offered in small amounts and replaced regularly to maintain freshness. Chicks are messy eaters so you will need to clean away feed daily that has been contaminated.

Once at 6–8 weeks old, if birds have met the target weight for their age they should be switched to the NRM Pullet Grower Pellets until point of lay. Never offer a feed designed for laying birds during the rearing phase – it is too high in calcium and could result in health issues. Once pullets, supplementing birds with some kitchen scraps is acceptable, providing the pullets have free access to the NRM Pullet Grower Pellets.

It is a good idea to weigh your chicks regularly and compare their weight to the target weight for their breed, to make sure they are
growing sufficiently.

If you are rearing other poultry, such as ducks, quail, pheasant and turkeys, NRM Meatbird Crumble is the best starter feed option (rather than the chick starter feed).

Housing for chicks should be dry and free from draughts. Clean thoroughly before chick arrival with a disinfectant approved for poultry use, such as Virkon. This will help to minimise harmful environmental pathogens. Once the chicks arrive, the housing will need to be cleaned regularly and litter changed often to ensure it does not get damp.

Temperature is important for chicks and the day-old chick needs to be kept at 35°C at first then you can reduce the heat to 33–35°C over 7 days. After 4 weeks, they will be able to cope with temperatures around 25–27°C.

Allow a minimum of 5cm of feeder space per bird. One nipple (or cup) drinker is required per 15 birds. Provide enough room so chicks can move further away or close to the heat source – to allow them to regulate their body temperature as needed. Panting and drowsiness indicates they are overheating, while huddling and loud chirping indicates a chill.

Close attention to detail when rearing chicks is vital; check them daily to make sure the birds are looking healthy and energetic. If you notice any behavioural changes or spot chicks that are looking sick, not eating or are lethargic – contact your vet. Getting on top of health issues quickly is the key to minimising disease spread and mortality. Coccidiosis is a common parasitic issue in young chicks but it is easy to prevent, simply by choosing a chick feed with a coccidiostat in it such as NRM Chick Starter Crumbles. Chickens build up immunity to coccidiosis as they get older but they are vulnerable in the early stages.

Article Supplied by Dr Robert Derrick, Head of Nutrition & Animal Health.