The keys to good brooding and preventing paw lesions are one and the same.
Step 1: Properly pre-heat the litter to prepare for baby chicks to ensure that the entire litter surface both from one sidewall to the next and several inches deep into the litter is at the proper temperature (94-95˚F) before chicks arrive.
Step 2: Acidify the litter surface to neutralize ammonia deep in the litter that can corrode the delicate skin of the foot and cause a loss in bird performance.
Step 3: Ventilate poultry houses for relative humidity (RH) in order to prevent moisture build-up and litter stickiness around the drinker/feeder lines and the sidewalls. This is especially critical in the first two weeks after bird placement.
Proper house pre-heating should begin at least 48 hours prior to chick and poult placement to ensure proper litter temperature. Litter temperature should be checked a distance away from the brooder at the litter surface and 2-3 inches below the litter surface. It is important for this core temperature to be at the target temperature as well or chicks will cool off quickly once placed. Chicks that are placed on a cold floor spend more time trying to keep warm than eating or drinking.
Numerous researchers have reported that birds placed on floors even as little as five degrees cooler than optimal temperature gain significantly less weight than when placed on warm floors. Proper floor temperature directly correlates to good 7-day bird weights. If birds do not achieve appropriate 7-day weights, they will not be able to make the performance up in the remainder of the flock. In addition, proper pre-heating 48 hours before bird placement will aid greatly in achieving the proper relative humidity to prevent the litter from getting sticky and damaging paws.
In addition to proper pre-heating and decreasing moisture at the litter surface, use of an acidifier such as PLT ® litter acidifier prior to bird placement to neutralize the ammonia that is in solution is also important to preventing paw damage. Neutralization of the ammonia prior to bird placement will also assist in helping birds achieve good 7-day weights and prevent respiratory damage.
In houses that are ventilated through a curtain crack or fixed inlet boards ventilating for RH is difficult as air entering the houses does not have sufficient velocity to flow across the ceiling but rather drops straight to the floor dumping moisture along with it. In houses with automated inlets, higher than desired relative humidity can be due to litter that is several degrees too cool for proper brooding or from overly restricted minimum ventilation. In one recent study, raising birds at a 45% RH compared to a 75% RH reduced paw lesions substantially. Birds in the 75% RH group had three times the ammonia burns on the feet and the severity of the lesions was greater than those birds raised in the 45% RH group. Using relative humidity as a guide to direct minimum ventilation during brooding prevents cake and ammonia formation and saves the grower money in fuel costs.