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Management of Laying Chickens

By Bruce Stewart-Brown, DVM, DACPV, Perdue Farms Bruce Stewart-Brown, DVM, DACPV, Perdue Farms

Most laying pullets are housed in cages and should be moved to these facilities at least 1 wk before egg production begins. Breeders moved from a growing house to an adult house should also be given at least 1 wk to adjust to their new environment before the stress of egg production begins. Beaks should be retrimmed as necessary, and cull birds removed at the time of rehousing.

Feeders and waterers should be of the proper type, size, and height for the stock and management system. Feeders that are too shallow, too narrow, or lacking a lip or flange on the upper edge may permit excess feed waste. Uneven distribution of waterers or lack of water space results in reduced intake and thus reduced performance.

Artificial Lights:

Day length should be increased gradually as the pullets come into egg production and should reach a 14- to 16-hr light period/day at peak production for both market-egg and hatching-egg layers. An intensity of at least 1 foot-candle of light (10 lux) at the feed trough should be provided; this is about equal to one 60-watt light bulb to each 100 sq ft (~9 sq m), hanging 7 ft (2.1 m) above the birds. Production may decrease if day length or light intensity is reduced during the laying period. With cage systems of all types, illumination is more even if smaller wattage bulbs placed closer together are used, rather than large bulbs suspended over the center of each aisle. With tiered cages, the bulbs are suspended 6–7 in. (15–18 cm) above the level of the top cage.

Record Keeping:

Successful intensive poultry keeping requires good records of all flock activities, including hatch date, regular body weights (to ensure that the pullets will have reached optimal body weight when they are brought into egg production), lighting program, house temperatures, disease history, medication and vaccination dates, quantity and type of feed given (important in calculating efficiency of feed utilization), and mortality.

Floor Space, Feeding, and Water Requirements:

Egg-production birds usually spend their entire lives in cages. Although some broiler breeders are similarly housed, most are reared on litter floors or in pens in which as much as two-thirds of the floor is slatted. For egg-strain pullets reared in cages, there is little chance of altering the feeding and watering space available, but periodic checks are necessary to ensure that feed and water are being continuously supplied. With the success of nipple- and cup-waterers and the various types of automatic feeding systems, it becomes more difficult to give specific recommendations for feeding and watering space. Decisions must be made about optimal floor space and feeding and watering requirements based on advice from equipment manufacturers, primary breeders, careful observation, and past experience as to productivity. See table: Minimum Space Requirements for White Leghorn Egg-Strain Birds a and see Table: Space Requirements for Meat-Strain Birds for space requirements for egg-strain and meat-strain birds. Environmental housing and various types of ventilation may alter these specifications.

Minimum Space Requirements for White Leghorn Egg-Strain Birds a

----------Age (wk)----------

Cages

0–6

7–17

18 onward

Cages

Floor area per bird (sq in.)

25

45

60

Straight trough feeder space per bird, not less than (in.)

2

2.5

3

Waterers

Birds per nipple

15

10

8

Birds per cup

25

15

12

Trough space per bird (in.)

1

1

2

Litter and Slats

Floor area—litter only or combined with slats (sq ft/bird)

0.5

1

1–1.5

Straight trough feeder space per bird (in.)

1

2

3.5

Pans (15 in. [38 cm] diameter) per 100 birds

Full fed

3

4

5

Restricted

5

Waterers

Birds per fount

100

50

25

Trough space per bird (in.)

1

1

2

a Requirements for White Leghorns and brown-egg layers are different.

Space Requirements for Meat-Strain Birds

Age

Floor Spacea

Feeder Spaceb

Cups or Fountsb (per 1,000 birds)

From day 1

Heated area 5 sq ft brooder/100 chicks

10 trays/1,000 (feed little and often)

8

From wk 1

1 sq ft/bird

2 in./bird

20

From wk 8

2 sq ft/bird

4 in./bird

30

Mated adults

All litter: 3 sq ft/bird ½ to ⅔ slats: 2¼ sq ft/bird

4 in./bird

30 (60 in hot weather)

a Welfare programs in broiler production are relatively proscriptive on space requirements and should be appropriately referenced; the below listings are general guidelines.

b For feeder and drinking trough space, both sides of the trough should be counted. Drinking trough space (all ages) is 1 in. (2.5 cm) per bird but doubled for adults in hot weather.

Layers per Cage:

Within the guidelines indicated in Minimum Space Requirements for White Leghorn Egg-Strain Birds a and Space Requirements for Meat-Strain Birds, most colony cages house 5–10 layers. The ideal flock size depends on several factors, including labor and cost, and is best determined by the individual poultry manager or producer.

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