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​Heat stress is a condition in poultry farms that happens when high temperatures affect the optimum productivity of the birds. This especially happens when the high temperature is combined with relative humidity and low air speed. A few predisposing factors to this condition include genetics, feather cover, heat changes, relatively high drinking water temperature and inadequate water supply. Generally, older birds, heavy poultry breeds, and broilers are more susceptible to heat stress.

Heat stress is particularly common in Nigeria because of our hot climate and can affect birds in both rainy and dry season. Although naturally, the rainy season would have more impact than the dry season. Also, it happens frequently because a lot of poultry farmers are quite fond of overstocking their farms thereby reducing space per chicken.  For example, if the stocking density is too high for the size and design of house and ventilation equipment, the temperature may rise dangerously since there will be more metabolic heat being added to the house air than was planned for. Radiant transfer from bird to bird is then greater and stagnant hot air is trapped between the birds.

Severe heat stress can cause drops in production efficiency and even mass death of chicken in the flock or poultry farm. You may notice reduced growth rates, reduced egg production, and decreasing hatching rates. Heat stress can also cause a change in egg quality such as smaller eggs, thinner shells and overall poor internal egg quality. Overall, this adversely affects the profit from the poultry enterprise.

How do you know your poultry birds are suffering from heat stress?

If you notice any of the following symptoms in your chickens, they could be exhibiting classical signs of heat stress:

  • Labored breathing and panting
  • Pale combs/wattles
  • Lifting wings away from body
  • Signs of weakness or lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures/convulsions

How do you manage heat stress on your poultry farm?

Find below easy and practical management ways to manage cases of heat stress on your farm. This list is not exhaustive but they are sure to reduce the impact of heat stress on your birds.

  1. Check for any other cause of death with related symptoms e.g., Chronic Respiratory Disease (CRD)
  2. Check the stocking density of the birds and reduce if necessary. Prevent overcrowding the birds whether in resident on the farm or in transit.
  3. Avoid unnecessary activity and take care not to disturb them during the hottest times of the day.
  4. Measure temperature of the drinking water. If it is more than 25 degrees, flush the lines regularly. Also, check your water tanks to see if are protected against the sun; if not, place or block the water tanks away from the sun to prevent the sun from warming and increasing water temperatures.
  5. Feed only early in the morning and late afternoon, when environmental temperatures are cooler and remove feed when it is getting hot.
  6. Reduce the percentage of protein in the feed and provide more fatty acids.
  7. Administer heat stress medication such as vitamin C.
  8. Provide the birds with extra ventilation. It would be beneficial to invest in fans for this.
  9. Check feed for mycotoxins.
  10. Provide food in pellets instead of mash, because they can digest the former easier.
  11. Acidify the drinking water to prevent against salmonella.
  12. Remember to call and consult with your veterinarian.

 

Thanks to Dr. Lanre Olaifa, a Veterinarian and Avian Pathologist, for his contribution to this article.

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