Checklist to help your hens lay at right age
Why are my flocks not laying at the appropriate age? Over my 20 years in poultry production and management, I have been asked this question repeatedly on phone, in seminars, in conferences and during my visits to flock units across the region.
Farmers want answers and they want to see actions that will unlock this problem instantly. In some occasions, I have prescribed some remedies that have worked, and clients have corrected some aspects of animal husbandry practices and have seen instant improvement. In some other instances, farmers had to endure prolonged delays before the eggs start rolling down the oviduct into nest boxes.
Today I want to discuss in more details what farmers need to do to ensure their commercial layer flocks come into production at the right time and looking forward to achieving 300 table eggs per hen/year. Please keep it simple, no need to look for complex solutions to simple problems. Let’s go step by step on things to do to ensure your birds are ready to begin egg production at 4-5 months and persistently lay more eggs.
A good start requires a clean start, ensure the flock units are properly cleaned and sanitised before bringing new flocks. Buy your chicks from a reputable company with proven track record. Ensure your brooding conditions are adequate for the first seven days, ensure chicks are kept at right temperature of 33-35 0c in the first five days when they cannot regulate their own body temperatures. Cold stress disturbs gut health and lowers resistance making birds susceptible to diseases. E.coli infection is particularly notorious and may lead to protracted condition that will impact negatively at point of lay.
Choose the right feed for your birds during starter and growing period. How would you know the best feed in the market? Consult widely, talk to successful farmers, cheap feed is not necessarily the best. The best feed must be able to meet the requirements of a bird. It must be easily accessible, available adlibitum, tasty and of the right size and structure. Sample five birds per 100 from the four corners and centre of the flock unit and weigh the birds once per week. Do it consistently at the same position, same time and same day of the week. Plot these weights against your expected standard. If you are not achieving your weights correctly you need to consult your poultry centre professionals for corrective action before it is too late. Birds weighing less than 1,400g will struggle to commence egg production. Overweight birds will produce eggs but with poor persistence. If your chick and duck mash is not giving you the desired weights, boost with broiler starter for 3-4 weeks and watch the weights improve.
Always provide adequate feeders and waterers, adopt smart, innovative and natural solutions always. Ensure you have the correct flock density of one bird per square feet, 50 birds per feeder and 80 birds per bell drinker. These actions will ensure that all your birds are growing at a close uniformity with minimal variations. A more uniform flock is easy to manage. You can only feed flocks according to their metabolic requirements, if a young flock, at start of production, is not uniform, the requirements of the individual birds vary because they are at a different stages of development and a different stage of production.
The golden rule here is; “If you cannot drink the water in the flock unit, then it is not suitable for your birds.’’ Seventy per cent of total mass of the bird is made of water, if you limit water intake by providing dirty and highly alkaline water, you automatically reduce feed intake. Birds take twice as much of the water as feed.
During growing period, provide adequate light intensity and duration in the units at minimum 20 lux and 13 hours respectively. At 16 weeks of age, increase your day length by 2 hours per week for two weeks only (thereafter come down to 13 hours or natural day length) to stimulate sexual maturity of your birds, please note this light stimulation works best if you grew your birds to standard body weights. We need to start embracing precision farming and leaving less to chance.
Pest & disease control:
Vaccinate your birds as per the programme provided to you by your chick supplier. Vaccinate against newcastle, gumboro, fowl typhoid and fowl pox. Remember these are prescription only medicines and must be properly handled and administered based on the prevailing disease conditions of your area. Also, check for the presence of lice and mites and apply appropriate chemicals with the helpof your Vet doctor.
Your poultry vet,