by Edward Diehl, Nutrition and Trial Manager Getting broiler chicks eating early pays dividends in the long term. Today, feed accounts for up to 70% of total production costs. That's why efficiency of use is one of the most crucial factors as broiler growers look to maintain margins. A slight improvement in performance here can result in an increase to your bottom line. Feed efficiency is generally defined in two ways: feed conversion efficiency (FCE) and feed conversion ratio (FCR). The most common method for broilers is FCR, calculated by the amount of feed needed per kilogram of bodyweight gain, and should be as low as possible. Throughout the life of the broiler, the best FCR is seen in the first five to seven days, due to low or almost no heat production in chicks during this period. This results in a lower calorific expense and an overall lower maintenance cost. FCR can be even lower than 1:1 at this point. Another contributing factor to the lower FCR is the fat and protein from the yolk sac. However if early feed consumption is limited, chicks will use the protein from the yolk sac for energy instead of growth. Feeding During Brooding To get the best results during this short period, it is critical to ensure adequate access to feed. The most important part of preparation for brooding, therefore, is to provide sufficient feeding space for the birds by having supplemental chick trays and/or chick paper. If chick trays are used, there should be one tray per 50 chicks, evenly distributed throughout the brooding area. Refresh the trays two to three times a day with new feed, as doing this once a day doesn’t stimulate feed intake enough. The golden rule is never allow trays to run out of feed. At the fourth day, the trays can be moved closer to the feed system, before removing them around day seven. It takes hard work and dedication to achieve the optimum early feed intake using this method. When using chick paper, at least 50% of the brooding area should be covered with a paper type strong enough to last until at least day 5. The paper needs to be placed near the drinking system. If only one application is used, 75g of feed per chick must be offered on the paper, which will ben early consumed in three to four days. Growers are sometimes afraid of feed waste and are reluctant to place 75g of feed on that paper. But they need to appreciate that, at the start, each 1g of feed consumed increased the bodyweight by 1g. Studies have shown that the waste of feed using paper is approximately 15-20%, while feed intake in the first four days from feeders is between 25-30g. Based on these numbers, a theoretical estimate of cost-benefit can be made comparing 35g and 70g of feed per chick on paper. To ensure that all preparations have the maximum benefit, a simple crop-fill evaluation should be done the morning after placement. A sample of at least 100 chicks from three positions in the house is needed. The absolute minimum of chicks with full crops should be 85% at this time. This simple evaluation will let you know if you have adequate supplementary feed available. Seven-Day Bodyweight Providing sufficient feeding space in the first days helps to increase the seven-day bodyweight and support the efficient use of the yolk sac for growth. The importance of feed intake during the first seven days cannot be over-emphasized. It is the only opportunity to gain such growth and provide the basis for good overall performance. Attaining higher sever-day bodyweights generally results in higher bodyweights at the end of the flock, better uniformity and lower mortality through less culling. It has also been shown that higher seven-day bodyweights have a great influence on the overall FCR of a broiler. There is a linear effect, showing that an increase in seven-day bodyweight reduces the FCR. While this effect is not as profound with an increase from 140g to 160g, there is a 10-point improvement in FCR with an increase from 160g to 180g in seven-day bodyweight. The reduction of 10 points in FCR will result in roughly 170g less feed being needed per broiler – easily making up any feed wattage by placing more feed in the first few days. Uniformity Matters Many factors help decrease FCR associated with increasing seven-day bodyweight, but the most important one is better uniformity. Increased feed availability reduces the number of non-starters and helps smaller chicks compensate. In a flock with an average seven-day weight of 182g, roughly 12% of chicks will still be below 160g. The flock could improve the feed intake of weaker chicks by increased supplementary feeding space and feed availability, raising the overall performance. Uniformity of a flock starts from the first hour after placement and the influence of uniform feed intake cannot be corrected later. To take full advantage of the modern broilers’ genetic potential, chicks should never have to search for their next meal. Ensuring good feed availability will ensure consumption at an early age, resulting in successful seven-day bodyweights, thus laying the foundation for the best feed efficiency.