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With the super hot weather lately, there are different challenges to raising broiler chickens.  These birds are hybrid and have trouble with extremes of weather.  In the past we have lost many birds to the heat despite our best efforts, but we’ve also learned a few tricks that make a difference:

*WATER is the first and biggest key, as with ourselves and any other livestock.  A consistent supply of cool, fresh water can make all the difference.  The cornish cross hybrid birds are very susceptible to stress, so having your water supply consistent the day before a hot day is important so they don’t get stressed when they’re already worried.

*Gatorade: vitamin/electrolyte added into the water helps the birds keep their systems balanced so they can cope with stress better.  This is available at any feed supply store and is invaluable to help at all the stress points in the birds’ life.

*Ventilation is important.  You’ll notice the birds panting and sprawling on the ground, wings spread and feathers fluffed to try to cool off.  If they have adequate shade and a fresh breeze, their cooling system will be efficient.  We try to move the tractors in the morning so the birds are on fresh, cool pasture with enough space so the breeze can flow well between the pens.  Mark designed our tractors for hot summer weather, with the tarp providing good shade but allowing air to flow through the tractor easily. 

*Deal with underlying health issues in a timely fashion before stressors like heat strike.  A bird with a strong immune system can survive and maybe even grow in challenging conditions.  We’ve dealt with coccidia and respiratory diseases, which are particularly related to stress, and keep a close eye out for any symptoms during and for several days after stressful events.

One of our discoveries this summer is biochar as a feed additive.  We feed biochar mixed with compost free choice in the brooder for weeks two, three, and four.  What we’ve noticed is that we have no incidence of coccidia and a significantly lower death rate when we move the birds to the field or have extreme weather events.  The beneficials the chicks ingest when scratching through the dirt and eating the biochar appear to be more effective at building their immune systems than anything else we’ve tried.  This is an unofficial case study, but we’ve experienced good success so far.

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