Rearing Chicks and Pullets

Rearing Chicks and Pullets

Derived from the Latin for a young animal or bird pullus, a female chicken of less than one year old, or before it has started laying, is commonly known as a pullet. Rearing healthy pullets is essential for successful free-range egg production.

The basic requirements for free range systems are:

  • Floor reared with access to perches and slats from an early age (e.g. from 10 days at the latest)
  • Reaching target weight at key stages of rearing
  • A vaccination and parasite health plan and programme implemented as advised by a vet
  • Reared to an agreed lighting programme.

Additionally, if pullets are purchased, the health status at delivery should always be checked before delivery as well as at delivery.

Birds should be reared under conditions that are similar to those they will encounter later in life. For example, both the drinker and feeding systems used during rearing should be as similar as is possible to those in adult life as this reduces stress as birds are moved from rearing to production conditions, which in turn reduces the risk of conditions such as feather pecking (Defra, 2001).

Controlling Campylobacter Contamination in Broilers

Campylobacter contamination of broiler birds can be a major cause of human gastroenteritis if meat is not cooked effectively. The identification of risk factors for colonization by Campylobacter during the rearing period is important in determining approaches to preventing contamination. In conventional broiler production, the main factors associated with an increased risk of colonization are the absence of hygiene barriers, the presence of other animals species, having a number of poultry-houses together and a warm season (Kapperud et al., 1993; Bouwknegt et al., 2004).

Under free-range conditions, it would be expected that colonisation would occur during the second and fourth weeks of life, when the birds are still indoors and in France, where there is significant outdoor production, more than 70% of free range flocks were found to be contaminated at the end of the indoor rearing period and before they have been outside (Huneau-Salaün et al., 2007). These results were obtained during periods of exceptional hot weather conditions, where the risk from birds, rodents and insects may have been increased as these are significant risk factors (Annan-Prah and Janc, 1988; Refrégier-Petton et al., 2001). Professional disinfection of rearing houses was an important factor in reducing transmission between batches. The number of inspections carried out per day can also be critical, particularly if poultry are not the main activity and insufficient time is allocated to this task. In the French study, inspecting the house two or less times per day was observed as a risk factor (Huneau-Salaün et al., 2007). Total freedom rearing, i.e. on an unlimited run, is associated with a higher risk of positive flocks from environmental contaimination. A system should be designed to limit the movement of soil and manures between indoor and outdoor areas.

Recommendation for the control of Campylobacter in free-range rearing systems:

  • Disinfection of the poultry-house between two broiler flocks should be done by a trained hygiene specialist.
  • An entry and exit gate to and from the poultry-house should be reserved for chicks only.
  • Open-air runs should be enclosed with fences.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Back to Top


  • Livestock should be land-based and integrated with farm cropping enterprises
  • Animals should be provided with conditions that enable them to exhibit natural behaviors
  • Dependency on veterinary medicines should be reduced without jeopardizing the well-being of animals


outdoor access

Animals having outdoor access, shade, shelter, lighting and sufficient space for them to undertake free movement and to exhibit natural behaviors.


Using breeds and strains well-suited and adapted to the prevailing conditions.

Health Plan

Implementing herd and flock planning based on sound ecological practices and epidemiological knowledge.


Undertaking good practice with regard to biosecurity.

closed herds

Maintaining animals in closed herds and flocks and at stocking rates that enables free-movement, reduces risks of disease spread and minimizes environmental damage.

forage and grazing

Forage and grazing being the main source of nutrients for ruminants, and continuously available to non-ruminants.

production practices

Avoiding the use of mutilations as standard production practices.


Improved understanding and responsible usage of veterinary medicines.