Poultry housing conditions

What is good to know about raising poultry?

Another common and untrue opinion about poultry is the conditions in which poultry are reared. It is not true that chickens are kept in cages or in complete darkness and confinement. Caging is banned by European and Polish law, which sets strict standards for the keeping of poultry. The so-called stocking density (i.e. the density of birds) and the light intensity and length of the so-called light day are also regulated. Animal welfare requirements are designed to ensure the health and comfort of the animals, as well as to prevent injury and suffering.

Let’s start with the basics: every poultry farmer has to register his or her farm with the district veterinarian and from then on is under the supervision of the Veterinary Inspection Service. The veterinary services periodically inspect, among other things, the proper protection of the farm and feed from wild animals and pests. Importantly, they also check the so-called animal welfare, i.e. the appropriate state of mental and physical health, which is achieved, among other things, by proper rearing conditions.

It is worth noting that each farm is under the care of a privately practising veterinarian, and the farmer himself must be suitably qualified to handle the birds. The applicable law states that broiler chickens shall be inspected at least twice a day, with special attention paid to signs indicating a reduced level of their welfare or health.

Farming conditions – opinions versus reality

In the opinion of many consumers, poultry kept on large-scale farms suffers, which contributes to the quality and palatability of the meat obtained.Is this really the case?
  1. Indeed, so-called fast-growing breeds are reared on large-scale farms. However, if these birds were to suffer in any way – whether mentally or physically – they would significantly slow down their growth. So even from an economic point of view, the farmer is keen to apply welfare principles on the farm, which directly translates into the growth rate of the birds.

  2. On large-scale farms, the birds do not have to fight for access to feed and water. They are thus spared the stress of such a struggle and possible starvation.
  1. The feed given to the birds is fully controlled, natural, balanced and, crucially, safe. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for a free-roaming chicken or turkey, which may compose its menu on a rubbish heap, by the roadside or elsewhere, which is not necessarily safe or healthy.
  2. Chickens and turkeys live primarily in covered enclosures. If they use enclosures with other birds, they are adequately protected by netting from access by wild animals and predators. This means that the birds are spared the enormous stress of being prey.
  3. The farms are under constant veterinary care and in the event of any signs of disease, the birds – after diagnosis – are helped.
  4. On large-scale farms, monitoring is carried out for certain infectious diseases, such as poultry flu. On the other hand, each batch of chicken or turkey boilers must be tested for zoonotic bacilli before being sent to the slaughterhouse This ensures that meat from large-scale farms is completely safe for consumers.

Disinfection and disinsectisation – key to farm safety

Bioassurance, of which disinfection and disinsectisation are an important component, prevents the spread of viruses, bacteria, mycoplasmas, fungi, protozoa and other micro-organisms in poultry flocks. The activities described by this term ensure the biosecurity of the poultry rearing, define the conditions under which poultry should be kept and which safety measures should be applied. They define the ranges for temperature, humidity, air exchange or access to light. They also set out values for the correct stocking density of poultry houses, feed security or the equipment of rooms in which poultry are kept.

Due to the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza in recent years and the existence of other micro-organisms dangerous to birds on farms, careful and systematic disinfection, disinsectisation and rat extermination is necessary to minimise the risk of infection in the flock. These procedures should be applied on all farms, regardless of production profile, as they are an obligatory part of proper bio-assurance.

The disinfectants used should have adequate killing power, be biodegradable and, above all, safe to use and resistant to negative substances on the surfaces to be disinfected. Equally important is the selection of a formulation with suitable characteristics – one that is adapted to the current environmental conditions.

When disinfecting, attention should be paid to the type and condition of the object. Ineffectiveness of the treatment may be due to poor mechanical cleaning of the surface, difficulty of the solution reaching all corners or inactivation caused by other substances. Poultry handlers should wear separate protective clothing when handling any poultry flock.

Disinfection, disinfestation and deratisation should be carried out systematically – before each flock is put into a poultry house. Bedding should also be disinfected. During storage, it should be protected against contact with wild birds and rodents that may carry germs. Disinfection mats and disinfection sluices should also be part of the disinfection. For these, the right size, placement, number and regularly changed and non-freezing disinfectant are important. They should be placed both at the entrances to the facilities – for employees and for cars entering the farm.

When preparing the poultry houses, areas conducive to microbial growth must be located. Water and feed lines and elements of the ventilation system should be protected, and work should be carried out using cleaning and biocidal preparations designed for this purpose.

It should be emphasised that the daily observance of the bio-security rules introduced on the farm minimises the negative impact of pathogens on the health of the animals kept and the quality of production.

The role of protein in poultry nutrition – quantity, sources, impact on production

Protein is a fundamental nutrient in proper poultry nutrition. The efficiency of breeding depends very much on the quality of the feed given to the birds. Protein contains essential amino acids, which are necessary for the proper development of broilers and high laying hens. Thanks to their presence in the hens’ diet, the immune system is strengthened. The more types of amino acids the protein contains, the better the birds’ nervous system also functions. Deficiencies of lysine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine or histidine inhibit poultry growth and cause disease. It is also important to dose and prepare the correct amounts of feed additives for poultry.

Neither too little nor too much

The protein supply in the poultry diet is closely linked to the animals’ need for the amino acids necessary for proper functioning. While some of the amino acids can be metabolised by the animals, the others must be supplied with the feed as exogenous substances, not formed in the body, and their deficiency can lead to slower growth, internal diseases, reproductive problems, reduced laying rate and egg size.  Too much protein, on the other hand, will cause metabolic disorders in animals.

Which protein to choose

One of the more commonly used sources of protein is plant protein. To a large extent, soybean meal is the raw material used in feed production. This legume contains as much as 35-40% protein on a dry matter basis with a high proportion of fat (18-25%). Soya beans are also a source of vitamins (B1, B2, B6, PP, E, K, A), minerals (potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and iron) and coenzyme Q. In the case of young broiler chickens, they can account for up to 15% of the feed mix. After 4 weeks of age, birds can be fed a diet of 20% with soya in the concentrate mix.

Rapeseed cake, which contains similar proportions of protein and fat and is produced in bulk as a by-product of oil extraction from rapeseed, is also a good source. Among other pulses, it is worth noting peas, which despite their relatively low protein content (around 20%) have a very favourable amino acid composition. These include large amounts of lysine, cysteine and threonine. Sweet lupins, on the other hand, are the richest in protein among the legumes. Their seeds contain just over 40% protein. As a feed additive, however, they should not make up more than 10% of the mix. Cereal grains and maize are also currently leading components in poultry diets.

It is worth noting that as of 7 September 2021, it is also possible to feed processed animal protein from pigs and insects to poultry in cross-feeding.

“Modern chicken rearing makes it possible to obtain relatively high body weight birds in a short period of time. This is due to the use of optimum environmental conditions in rearing and the selection of chicken breeds distinguished by their intensive growth rate, and not due to hormones administered to the birds in any form.”

– Czesław Brzozowski, M.Sc., KRD-IG poultry production expert.