Feeders and drinkers distribution key to flock uniformity

By Emilie Abraham

FLOCK uniformity is of paramount importance in poultry farming. Fundamentally, flock management should be geared towards preserving flock uniformity and achieving favorable body weight among flock members. It should however be noted that there are various factors that restrict flock uniformity; one of such is the distribution of feeders and drinkers within the flock. It is worth noting that, feeding and water provision play a major role in poultry growth and productivity.

When feeders and drinkers are not well distributed, birds can compete for these resources and as a result, some birds may not reach the desired weight at the right time. The incorrect distribution of drinkers and feeders  can  lead  to  cannibalism,  where  dominant  birds  peck  on  submissive  birds making them thinner and smaller as their daily nutritional needs are not met due to poor access to feed and water. This eventually compromises their growth and production. In contrast, dominant birds grow at significantly rapid rates as their daily nutrition needs are met.

It is therefore imperative for farmers to ensure the correct  distribution of feeders and drinkers in the poultry house to enable all poultry birds to access feed and water when needed. This will ensure the achievement of desired weights in the shortest possible period and better profit margins.

Uneven bird weight among flock members creates a situation where customers purchase larger birds, leaving the small ones for weeks and ultimately affecting profit margins. In general, the longer you keep meat birds e.g. broilers, the lower your profit margins. To this end, farmers without slaughtering facilities are advised to source markets beforehand to ensure the sale of birds as soon as they attain the desired weight.

i)   Type of feeders and drinkers

Different poultry feeders with varying designs and shapes exist for farmers to choose from according to their preference. Ultimately, irrespective of the appearance of drinkers and feeders, they should be suitable to provide feed for the birds with minimal waste (as feed are very expensive). One of such that is commonly used is the suspended variety. Farmers opting to use suspended poultry feeders and drinkers should tie them to the roof of the poultry house (coop) and level them with the back of the bird. This is to prevent poultry birds from scratching the feed out, soiling, defecating in the water or knocking  the  equipment  over  (poultry  birds  can  be  quite  mischievous  at  times!). Drinkers and feeders are available in various shops across the country such as Agra and Kaap Agri, the National Poultry Enterprise (Windhoek) and various Pharmacies(e.g. Oshakati pharmacies in the northern regions) amongst others. However, reducing expenditure is always an alluring factor that makes people go cheap and design their own feeders and drinkers, which may prove to be less efficient.  If farmers are to improvise and design their own feeders and drinkers, this must be done such that feeds and water are not exposed to disease transmitting agents. Birds should also be able to access feed and water freely and easily without injuring themselves. Moreover, such equipment should be designed in such a way that it prevents young birds from drowning and is easy to clean. Furthermore, farmers should choose material that is not prone to rust (e.g. metal and aluminum), more specifically for drinkers. This may not be a big concern for feeders, however, in the case of drinkers; farmers are advised to observe if the water will get rusty after cleaning the drinkers, as birds may not drink if the water is rusty.  In addition, depending on the type of the feeders selected, trough or circular, farmers are advised to ensure that there is 10 cm feeding spacing per bird for trough and 4 cm spacing per bird for circular feeders.

ii)  Spacing and/or distance

Crowding many birds into a small confinement can be detrimental to your flock, as it will encourage the spread of diseases and unevenness among the flock members.    The more the birds in a small confinement the higher the competition. Farmers are therefore advised to construct housing considering the correct stocking density (for broilers 10/m2 and layers 6 /m2). Birds should not be limited to access feed and water as per animal welfare  requirements.  To  this  end,  for  optimal  utilization  of  feed,  the  feeders  and drinkers should be arranged such that birds cannot walk for longer than one (1) meter to search for feed and water. For instance, broilers do not need to walk long distances, as this can make them lose weight and delay their expected weight thus reducing profits. While too close drinkers and feeders can lead to heart attack syndrome as the birds are not encouraged to walk and exercise.

iii)  Placement

The  correct  placement  of  feeder  and  drinkers  greatly  enhances  feed  efficiency. However, if the drinkers and feeders are placed too close to each other, this can encourage spoilage as water can spill or splash into the feeders.  Another factor to be considered  is  the  drinkers  /  feeders  ratio  to  avoid  competition  among  the  flock members. It is recommended to place 3-4 feeders per 100 birds and 3 drinkers per 100 birds depending on the stage. However, it is imperative for farmers to observe the flock members at feeding time and assess whether they all have space to feed and drink. If not, additional feeders and drinkers can be introduced into the coop.  Feeders and drinkers should be levelled with the back of the chicken and beyond the vent such that the poultry birds scoop the feed and drink without soiling the water/feed. The drinkers and feeders should be cleaned well and disinfected daily. Do not add fresh water to old water, rather provide fresh and clean drinking water at all times. There are a vast range of cleaning detergents /disinfectants that can be used such as dishwashing liquid; Milton and Virukill etc. Maintaining hygiene and cleanliness safeguards poultry birds from contracting water borne diseases. .

This article is compiled by Emilie Abraham, Technical Officer within Agribank’s Agri Advisory Services Division.