Heat stress management in poultry

Extreme weather events like heat waves have become more frequent in Canada. Knowing what to do can improve bird welfare and prevent heat stress. 

Heat stress can have devastating effects on poultry health and productivity. In layers and breeders, it can decrease egg production. In broilers and turkeys, it can result in poor growth rates and if not managed properly, it can increase mortality. As temperatures rise, it becomes increasingly important for poultry farmers to take proactive measures to mitigate heat stress in their flocks. Below are some essential tips to help reduce heat stress in poultry. Additional resources are linked at the end of this article.

  1. Identify the Signs:

On hot days, regularly observe bird behavior for signs of heat stress, including panting, gasping, wing spreading or drooping, and reduced activity.

Conduct frequent health checks to promptly identify and address any signs of heat-related illness or distress.

  1. Provide Adequate Ventilation:

Ensure proper ventilation in poultry houses to exchange hot, stale air with cooler, fresh air from outside. Ideally, air movement should be at bird level.

Install fans and air vents strategically to create a continuous airflow throughout the house. Replace old fans as needed so that the barn has the proper airflow.

Remove any obstructions that may impede air circulation within the poultry facility. Remove debris and dust from air inlet shutters and screens periodically.

Tunnel ventilation increases wind speed, which reduces bird temperature and alleviates heat stress.

  1. Access to Water:

Ensure that clean, cool water is always readily available to the birds. Dump drinkers and flush water lines as often as possible to keep the water cool.

Monitor water quality regularly to prevent contamination and ensure optimal hydration for the birds. Due to increased water consumption in hot weather, filters might become clogged faster. 

Supplement water with electrolytes and/or vitamins to support hydration and overall health during hot weather. Vitamin C helps with heat stress because of the antioxidants. Vitamin E helps avoid fatty liver caused by heat stress. 

  1. Implement Cooling Techniques:

These recommendations need to be implemented very carefully.  If done incorrectly, the added water could lead to other problems such as foot pad dermatitis, dirty feathers, increased or changed microbiota.

Utilize cooling methods such as cooling cells, fogging, or sprinkler systems to reduce ambient temperatures within the poultry house. However, they should not be used when RH is above 85% as high humidity reduces bird ability to lose heat through respiration. 

Provide cooling zones for the birds, such as wet concrete floor areas.

Evaporative cooling techniques increase barn humidity and allow faster dust deposition in fan shutters. Clean and maintain the ventilation system as needed. 

  1. Stocking Density:

Reduce stock density during the hotter months of the year. High stocking densities can exacerbate heat stress by limiting airflow and increasing bird body heat generation. 

Implement appropriate space allowances to ensure birds have sufficient room to move and access food and water.

  1. Shade and Shelter:

Install shade cloths to reduce the intensity of sunlight and lower ambient temperatures in the barn. You can also utilize trees to create shade, but make sure they do not compromise airflow.

For birds with outdoor access, provide a shelter with ample shade where birds can seek refuge from direct sunlight. 

  1. Adapt Bird Nutrition:

Birds eat less during hot weather. A pelleted, nutrient-dense diet with supplemental amino acids, vitamins, and minerals can help maintain growth when feed intake is low.

Adding sodium bicarbonate to the feed can help maintain eggshell quality since panting can reduce the bicarbonate available for eggshell formation. 

  1. Management Practices:

Monitor weather forecasts daily and pay attention to temperature and humidity. Plan accordingly for forecasted periods of heat waves.

Offer feeds during the cooler parts of the day to encourage consumption and minimize heat production during digestion. If needed, provide midnight feeding for 1-2 hours.

Avoid handling the birds as much as possible to minimize stress. Schedule routine management activities such as moving, vaccination, loading, and insemination during the cooler hours of the day. 

  1. Emergency Preparedness:

Have contingency plans for extreme heat events, including emergency cooling methods, evacuation procedures, and access to veterinary care if needed.

Regularly maintain and perform weekly tests on backup generators.

If you have an alarm system for power outages, constantly ensure the alarm is working and consider your response time if it goes off. 

Have a plan if you are away from the farm, as the barn temperature can increase very quickly depending on circumstances:

  • Some barns have a spring-loaded mechanism so that if power fails in the summer, everything opens, and in the winter, everything closes.  
  • Exercise caution with this approach –understand the potential outcomes. 

By implementing these strategies, poultry farmers can help alleviate heat stress and promote the well-being and productivity of their flocks, ensuring sustainable poultry production even during periods of high temperatures. Proactive management and attention to detail are key to minimizing the impact of heat stress on poultry welfare and performance.

Resources and References

Heat Stress in Poultry. Guillermo Gaona and Marisabel Caballero. The Poultry Site. March 2023. https://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/heat-stress-in-poultry

How to manage broiler heat stress. Mary Jo Davis. WATTPoultry. 2023. https://www.wattagnet.com/broilers-turkeys/article/15537615/how-to-manage-broiler-heat-stress

Managing Heat Stress in Turkeys. Gary Hall, Webinar for Hybrid Turkeys. June 2017. https://www.hybridturkeys.com/en/resources/video-resources/webinars/minimizing-effects-heat-stress/

Preventing heat stress in broilers. Brendan Graff. Canadian Poultry Magazine, May 2023. https://mydigitalpublication.com/publication/?m=1191&i=789797&p=24&ver=html5

Preventing heat stress in poultry. Sally Noll. University of Minnesota Extension. 2022. https://extension.umn.edu/poultry-care-and-management/preventing-heat-stress-poultry

5 Steps to preventing heat stress in layers. John Brown, The Poultry Site. June 2021. https://www.thepoultrysite.com/articles/5-steps-to-preventing-heat-stress-in-layers

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