ShapeShapeauthorShapechevroncrossShapeShapeShapeGrouphamburgerhomeGroupmagnifyShapeShapeShaperssShape

Making Every Egg Count

by 5m Editor
3 October 2005, at 12:00am

By Dave Watts, UK Regional Accounts Manager, Aviagen - Genetic improvement over the last few decades has seen major improvements in breeder egg production and chick output, but are you getting as much of this from the bird as you could? Two areas where output can often be gained are in better control of eggs laid on the floor and in effective management of late egg size. This article looks at management advice for these areas to maximise hatching egg output from the flock.

Making Every Egg Count - By Dave Watts, UK Regional Accounts Manager, Aviagen - Genetic improvement over the last few decades has seen major improvements in breeder egg production and chick output, but are you getting as much of this from the bird as you could? Two areas where output can often be gained are in better control of eggs laid on the floor and in effective management of late egg size. This article looks at management advice for these areas to maximise hatching egg output from the flock. Aviagen

Controlling Floor Eggs

With improved rearing management giving better control of uniformity and body weights in rear, combined with improvements in genetics, Ross 308 breeder flocks now come into production very quickly and regularly peak at 85 - 88% by 28/29 weeks of age. These high peaks can put a great deal of pressure on the available nest box space and unless steps are taken to minimise the opportunity for birds to lay their eggs on the floor, they will start to and continue to do so through the life of the flock.

It is good practice to install perches during the rearing period to train and stimulate females in their nesting behaviour. Sufficient numbers of perches to provide 3cm/bird, or sufficient for 20% of the birds to roost, should be placed in the females’ rearing pens at around 4 to 6 weeks of age.

When the birds are transferred to the laying house, they should be placed onto the slatted, rather than onto the litter area and very soon after transfer the egg collection belts should be run at least once a day. This will allow the birds to get used to the noise. If the belts are not run before the start of production, the noise will frighten the birds from the nests and onto the litter area where they will then lay their eggs.

Auto nests require a sloping, slatted area extending to approximately 40 to 50 inches (100-125cm) from the front of the nest and which should be 16 to 18 inches (40-45cm) above litter height. Avoid putting any feeders on the slats as these will act as a barrier to birds getting to the nests as they come into lay.

Begin to open the boxes for one or two hours a day from 19 to 20 weeks of age as by this age the birds are looking for somewhere to lay. If left any later – until first egg, for example - many birds will already have been put off using the nests and the damage will have been done.

Light intensity must be a minimum of 60lux during the laying period; when increasing light intensity at the start of lay, increase that above the nest system first, as this will encourage activity around the nests. In rear and move systems, avoid excessive litter depth at first, as deep floor litter can offer a very attractive alternative to the nest.

Finally, when not in use, always seal off the front of the egg collector belt in the egg collection area, as this can act like a wind tunnel, causing drafts. Quite often birds will not use the first few boxes as they will feel cold. This is usually why floor eggs are found around the front end of the shed. A piece of wood, polystyrene or sponge is adequate to block the end, not thin, hanging plastic strips as these are ineffective.

It is important to manage the introduction of the males to the females well and to manage mating ratios during the early period of lay. Mating behaviour should be closely monitored to ensure that over mating or overly aggressive male behaviour is not forcing females to hide in corners or under feeders on the floor area to lay their eggs.

Set feeding times to avoid the peak of egg laying activity. Feeding times should be either within 30 minutes of lights on or 5 to 6 hours after lights on to prevent the majority of hens coming off the nest to feed. It is also good practice at the onset of production, to walk around the house 10 to 15 times per day, encouraging females out of corners and up into the nests. A bit of extra work when the flock is coming into lay will pay dividends later.

Management of Late Egg Size

Once the flock comes into lay and the birds have been trained and encouraged to lay their eggs in the nests, then a second opportunity to maximise hatching egg yield comes from effective management of the interaction of egg production, bodyweight and egg weight.

As the flock ages, the hens gain bodyweight while the rate of lay gets less; this is accompanied by an increase in egg size. Excessive egg size during late production will make egg handling more difficult and egg shell and albumen quality tend to be worse, at the extreme leading to poorer chick quality.

Close control of female bodyweight will help maintain good persistency of lay. Generally, a higher producing flock will produce eggs of a lower weight than one where persistency is poor. Good bodyweight control is therefore a vital part of managing egg size.

Trials have shown that if birds are allowed to become overweight, in this case 12% above target, then late egg size will be approximately 1.5g heavier than that of flocks held to the Ross target weight throughout.

Nutritional changes are sometimes made in an effort to manage egg size directly, but the benefits are usually limited. Any changes to the ration should be made with care so as to ensure there is no negative effect on egg production. Lower levels of linoleic acid, protein or specific amino acids such as methionine, after 40 to 45 weeks of age can help.

Under performing flocks are often offered increased feed levels to try to stimulate better performance. If an improvement is not achieved then the extra feed must be withdrawn immediately. In a poorly- performing flock, if peak feed levels are left too high, the pullets are likely to gain excessive bodyweight, egg production will drop further and late egg weight will increase. The situation will be made worse if feed is then withdrawn very aggressively after 35 weeks, as the heavier pullets will by then have a higher requirement for energy to support body maintenance, and in this situation, rates of lay can drop very fast.

The modern broiler breeder is continually changing, due to continuous genetic improvement and our management of the bird must therefore also change. The key to maximising hatching egg output is in responding to the needs of the bird and ensuring that they are trained in roosting and nesting behaviour from an early age. They should have free and easy access to adequate nest space and should be provided with the right nutrition at the right time to balance the needs of maintaining growth and producing eggs.

As always, the answer lies in attention to detail, especially in the early stages, if the benefits are to be maximised.

Source: Aviagen and Courtesy of Poultry World, April 2005