Chicks are very frail, especially during the first few weeks of their life. Hence, it is imperative to have sound management to keep your flock healthy. Moreover, irrespective of the quality of the chicks supplied/procured and the robustness of management, early chick mortality cannot be avoided entirely. 1-5% of mortality is normal in a poultry farm; however, anything higher than this should be taken seriously.
A high mortality rate is indicative that something is wrong with the flock, and it demands the poultry owner’s immediate intervention and appropriate action to stop further losses as failure to do so may lead to huge losses. Many factors cause early chick mortality, such as genetic, management, disease, and nutritional causes. Here in this post, we are sharing about the cause of early chick mortality and ways to reduce the chick mortality.
What causes early chick mortality?
There are myriads of causes of early chick mortality. However, the most common factors are:
- Genetic causes.
- Management causes.
- Nutritional causes.
- Disease causes.
Let’s discuss all four mortality causes gradually.
1. Genetic Causes
There are around 21 lethal gene mutations in birds. Most of these lethal genes lead to chicks’ death during the incubation period. However, congenital tremors and congenital loco cause the death of chicks within a week of hatching.
2. Management Causes
Another most important cause of early chick mortality is – Poor management. Sound management is indispensable for keeping flocks healthy and alive. Chicks reared in poorly managed poultry won’t be able to manifest their full genetic potentials. Some of the management blunders include:
- High Brooding Temperature: High brooding temperature is dangerous for your flock. Too much heat makes chicks dehydrated due to which they consume more water rather than feed. Due to their reduced feed intake, their growth is drastically affected, leading to their death. Besides, it also causes pasted vent (i.e., feces stalked around the vent area block the vent, ultimately resulting in chicks’ deaths because of their inability to pass out waste from the body).
- Low Brooding Temperature: Low brooding temperature causes chilling, and prolonged exposure to cold can directly impact the immune system of the flock, thereby making birds vulnerable to diseases. Besides, flock tends to huddle together when exposed to too much cold to keep themselves warm. Huddling causes suffocation in the flock, thereby resulting in chick mortality.
- Poisoning: The mortality rate due to poisoning is also high in early chicks. It, however, depends on the type, dose, and duration of exposure. Poisoning mortality could be sudden and dreadful. The reason for poisoning could be any from feed to excessive salt intake, herbicides to insecticides, and disinfectants, etc.
- Litter Contamination: Another most crucial cause of chick mortality is -contaminated bedding materials. Some farmers use sawdust for brooding, which could be really harmful to chicks. Chicks can mistake sawdust for feed, and in the process, they consume it in good quantity, which leads to gastrointestinal impaction and ultimately resulting in death.
- Starvation: Starvation is another cause of chick mortality because young chicks do not have fat storage to fulfill body needs during starvation, resulting in death.
- Injuries: It is important to handle chicks carefully during vaccination, sexing, dubbing, de-beaking, transportation from brooding farm to rearing farm, etc.; otherwise, it can cause injuries and ultimately result in death.
- Inadequate Feeders and Drinkers: Using wrong feeding and drinking equipment can also cause chick mortality. Inadequate feeders and drinkers affect flocks’ performance. It also leads to feed wastage and water spillage that results in the wet litter, which is a suitable condition for disease outbreak. Less feeder and drinker, on the other hand, cause starvation, ultimately leading to death.
- High Relative Humidity: High relative humidity causes the dampness of litter material in the brooding house, facilitating the growth of microorganisms, a suitable condition for disease outbreak.
- Predators: Poorly constructed brooding houses are again a cause of chick mortality. Predators, such as Rat, Dog, Cat, etc., can easily make their ways in the brooding place and attack chicks.
Must Read: Guide to broiler management
3. Nutritional Causes
- Water: Water is one of the essential elements for maintaining the health and performance of the birds. It not only acts as a transport medium for nutrients and metabolic end products but also it helps in maintaining body temperature during hot weather. Besides, water balances the minor deficiency of minerals like Na, Cal, K, etc. Unhygienic water causes high mortality.
- Fat Soluble Vitamin Deficiency: Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins. These Vitamins are required for normal growth, development, and reproduction of chicks. A high deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins can cause death. In comparison, minor deficiency of these vitamins results in cessation of growth, lacrimation, rickets, ruffled feather, exudative diathesis, anemia, etc.
- Water-Soluble Vitamin Deficiency: Vitamin C and B-Complex are water-soluble vitamins. Water-soluble vitamins are an essential part of poultry diets. They are required for the metabolism, reproduction, growth, and development of chicks. Severe deficiency of these vitamins can cause death; however, minor deficiency leads to poor feathering, low growth, weight loss, dermatitis, nervous signs, and anemia, etc. in chicks.
Young chicks are susceptible to infections and diseases due to a lack of immunity during the first six weeks. It is crucial to maintain biosecurity measures; failure to do so increases the chances of a disease outbreak. Here are some of the common chicken diseases that could cause chick mortality.
- Colibacillosis: Colibacillosis is highly infectious in nature and is one of the most common poultry diseases worldwide. It affects the respiratory system of the birds, thereby leading to septicemia and death.
- Omphalitis: Omphalitis is a bacterial infection that affects chicks during and after hatching characterized by inflamed skin in the navel area, soft, flabby, and distended abdomen, vent pasting, etc.
- Pullorum: Pullorum is again a bacterial infection characterized by ruffled feathers, labor breathing, white diarrhea, chirping, and death.
- Chicken Anaemia Virus Infection: Chicken anemia virus infection or CAV is an acute viral infection found worldwide. It can infect chickens of all ages; however, it is mostly detected in young chickens. CAV affects the immune system of the chicken, thereby leaving it more susceptible to other infections. However, mortality is often a result of secondary infection.
- Salmonellosis: A salmonellosis is a group of acute rapidly spreading diseases characterized by a rise in body temperature, omphalitis, hepatitis, and septicemia, enlargement of the spleen, arthritis, and death. It affects all ages.
14 Ways to reduce early chick mortality
If you’re recording a high mortality rate in your poultry farm, it is alarming, and you need to take appropriate actions. Failure to do so can cost you all your investments. Here are the steps that you can take to reduce chick mortality in your poultry farm:
1. Buy chicks only from trusted suppliers
First things first, buy quality chicks from trusted suppliers. More often than not, the problem begins when you buy poor quality and unhealthy chicks. Most of the health problems affecting birds are due to low genetic background. Hence, it is vital to buy chicks from a reputable and trusted supplier who raises healthy parent stocks. It is also important to know the source of eggs of the hatchery that supplies chicks to you along with the history of the birds that lay those eggs.
2. Inspect the health status
No matter how reliable your supplier is, it is always advised to inspect each bird’s health status before you transport them to your farm.
3. Provide the flock with adequate brooding temperature
High and low brooding temperatures lead to high chick mortality. Hence, it is essential to provide your flock with a proper brooding temperature. Failure to do so can wreak havoc on your poultry farm.
4. Protect your flock from cold weather
Of course, even in your wildest dream, you would not want to see your chicks dying because of cold weather. So, it is important to supply them with heat during very cold weather. You can consider designing the pens in such a way that your birds are not exposed to extremely cold conditions.
4. Keep drinkers and feeders clean
Being a poultry owner is not an easy task. You need to take care of your flock and their needs to keep them healthy. Keeping your birds’ feeders and drinkers or drinking trough clean is very important. So, make sure you clean them every morning and discard any leftover water and feed. Also, do not fill drinkers with chlorinated water.
While discarding leftover water and feed, make sure you do it very far away from the pen. It will help you prevent soldier ants from invading your farm and killing your chickens.
5. Minimize the risk of suffocating the chicks to death.
Birds can quickly suffocate and die when forced to move in the tight corner or inadequate temperature. In a very cold atmosphere, they huddle to keep themselves warm, due to which the birds can suffocate or suffer a fatal injury. To avoid this, make sure that the brooding house’s temperature and humidity are at the right levels and uniform throughout the pen.
The best way to protect your birds from suffocating to death is to centralize the pen’s heat source. With the heat source in the middle, you can protect the birds from huddling.
Avoid entirely sudden loud noises around the birds. Birds get panic with a sudden loud noise due to which they pack together and suffocate.
Predators away from your farm. Birds get scared when they see predators, which leads to a panic-induced gathering that results in suffocation.
6. Prevent your farm from infections and diseases
Some diseases can be gruesome; they can wipe out your entire flock in a go. While some may not be so fatal but may affect the feed conversion ratio of the birds. So, it is crucial to keep checking your flock regularly. In case you detect symptoms for any disease in a bird, immediately separate it from the flock and contact the vet to avoid further damage to your poultry.
7. Don’t feed your birds with moldy feeds
Moldy feeds can be dangerous and poisonous to your flock. Feeding your birds with moldy feed can lead to severe problems, such as poultry disease. The best way to avoid moldy feeds on your farm is to keep the feeds away from water. Also, do not store the feed in storage rooms with very high humidity.
Besides, don’t buy in bulk. Buy only that much that your birds will finish before the end of its shelf life. And check the expiry dates on the feed before making the purchase.
8. Serve your birds water before feeds
Serve your birds’ water before feeds; it will prevent your flock from stampeding while struggling for food. Birds tend to drink water slower than they peck on their feed. Serving water first will divert some of the birds’ attention to water, which will reduce the intensity of the struggle for feed.
9. Keep your farm protected from predators
It is imperative to keep predators away from your farm. However, you cannot ensure complete protection as some of the predators sneak in from the underneath or the roof. The best way to keep more giant predators like dogs and cats from the range area is by using an electric fence. For flying predators like hawks, crisscross a thin cord over the area to prevent them from flying in and out.
Besides, close all the holes around the farm and keep monitoring your farm for predators’ signs. You can even install strong iron mesh nets around the pens and apply predator repellents regularly.
10. Regularly clean dirty poultry pens
It is essential to clean your filthy poultry pens regularly. Ammonia starts to build up in the pen when the litter is wet or when it is left unattended for a long time. This ammonia gas can be hazardous to your birds. When it exceeds 25 ppm, it leads to severe problems, like stress, inadequate feed intake, irritation of the eyes and nasal membrane, slow growth rate, and respiratory diseases like coryza, bronchitis, etc.
Thus, it is essential to remove wet or caked litter from pens to prevent your birds from mortality due to choking or other respiratory problems.
11. Supply sufficient feed to your birds
The improper or insufficient feed can lead to poor growth and development of your birds. When underfed, birds have low body weights and poor immune responses, due to which they fall sick easily. Likewise, overfeeding can also lead to more significant problems. That is why it is vital to give them enough feed.
12. Strictly follow medication and vaccination schedules
Following medication and vaccination is a good farm practice that can help each poultry farm owner greatly. By following medication and vaccination, you can keep endemic disease outbreaks at bay. Make sure you get your birds are vaccinated against contagious diseases like Colibacillosis, Newcastle Diseases (ND), Fowl Typhoid, Chicken Anaemia Virus Infection, Gumboro Disease, Fowl Pox, etc.
Talk to your vet and get the right vaccination and medication schedule for the poultry species you’re raising. You can also keep a stock of the medicines at the farm to reduce chick mortality.
13. Have a vet regularly check your flock
Have a vet regularly checking your flock of chicken to ensure there are no symptoms of contagious diseases. Remove recovered from the flock as recovered birds are a reservoir of infection. This way, you can keep your other birds safe and healthy.
14. Maintain strict biosecurity
It is important to maintain proper hygiene and sanitation at your poultry farm. The best way to do so is to disinfect poultry farming equipment regularly. A disease carrier could be any from your worker to a visitor, feed to water, new birds, or stray birds. Therefore, it is essential to maintain proper hygiene and sanitation in and around your poultry farm.
The Bottom Line
Follow these ways to reduce early chick mortality in your poultry farm. These are practical and doable ways that are easy to follow. Mortality rate between 1-5% during the first week is normal; however, anything more than that can be fatal. So it is imperative to take immediate steps to minimize your losses. To make profits and enhance your chicks’ performance, you should always aim to keep the fatality rate as low as possible.
The moment you witness the rising mortality rate in your farm, immediately try to assess the cause and address it. You can even contact your vet or poultry advisor for the best advice. Doing so will not only help you keep your flock healthy and in the best shape, but also help you grow your poultry business.