Best practice for heating poultry sheds in winter

With winter temperatures prevailing and the moisture content in the outside environment increased, poultry producers need to monitor and regulate the air entering their buildings even more closely.

Pododermatitis and hock burn in particular have the potential to increase, so it is even more important to pay special attention to ventilation and the outside environment.

Both must be working efficiently together to maintain a fresh, comfortable environment, removing carbon dioxide and ammonia, while at the same time keeping litter dry and friable. 

Placing and brooding

Getting brooding right is especially important in winter. While the method does not change with regard to temperatures and relative humidity inside the house, the cost and time to achieve the same results does increase.

There is a wide variety of different heating systems in situ within the UK, from direct LPG heating to biomass heating with underfloor systems.

See also: Controlling poultry house ventilation

All are designed to provide the heating necessary to brood chicks although each varies in its operation. For example, while they all have the ability to achieve target temperatures and relative humidity, they may require differences in lead times.

The first 24 to 48 hours is crucial in the bird’s life as this affects health and performance throughout the whole production cycle.

Producers should ensure floor temperatures are pre-heated to between 28C and 30C, with an air temperature of up to 33C to aid floor heating. Relative humidity should be between 60% and 70%.

It is important to get the air and floor temperatures correct, as chicks don’t have the ability to regulate their own body temperature until they are 12-14 days old.

Humidity levels

Lower winter temperatures cause the air entering the house to fall very quickly to the floor due to the increased weight of moisture instead of mixing with the warmer air in the house and falling more slowly. 

As this cold, damp air falls, bedding/litter can start to “go off” even in the early stages. It is therefore crucial to adjust ventilation and heating on a daily, or even hourly basis, to combat this effect. 

To give the chicks the best start they should be feeding and drinking as soon as possible. Producers should provide additional feed on paper placed on the floor, together with supplementary drinkers, allowing the least travel for any chick.

It is useful in the first 24 to 48 hours after placing to select a random sample of chicks a few times and gently check that the crop is full, soft and round to show that feed and water are present and the chick is thriving.

Feed and water must be of good quality to allow the chick to start the growing process immediately and aid absorption of the yolk sack.


Dr Stephen Graham is a poultry specialist with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland

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