Off all breeds of chicken, layers require more care and attention because of the relationship that exists between their production and the profitability of the enterprise. When a laying bird is stressed or unproductive, the enterprise bears the loss. Most farmers accord their losses to the genetic make-up their laying birds; however, lack of proper management can also deteriorate the productivity of the birds.
Laying birds are primarily reared for egg production; the management of the birds indicates the quantity and quality of the eggs produced. Naturally, layers, at the point of lay, would commence laying but how you handle them during this period determines how long they would lay and how big, strong and presentable their eggs would be.
There are different breeds of laying birds, the white and brown leghorns, Isa brown layers amongst others. Layers, unlike the meat producers, respond faster to poor management practices. Hence, it is imperative a poultry farmer knows how to take care of the laying chickens. The care and proper management are the only success factors in the poultry business, a poorly managed poultry farm records loss, and low productivity always.
Management Practices In Layers Pen
Management of laying birds is a very dicey task that needs hackneyed attention; it starts right from the brooding stage till when the birds cease production.
Pullets are brooded for about 3-5 weeks and fed with chick mash; after 5 weeks, they should be fed with grower till about 18 weeks before introducing the layer diet. Do not feed the laying birds with layer mash at the first sight of egg because of your anxiousness or curiosity. This is what reduces the production potentials of most laying birds.
Normally, egg production commences at about 17 weeks; the birds should be evacuated to the laying pen at about 16 weeks to get them acclimatized to the environment before the commencement of egg production. At 20 weeks, debeak your birds to prevent egg pecking.
There are two housing systems for layers, they are:
- Deep litter system
- Battery cage system
Keeping Laying Birds In Deep Litter System
In the deep litter system, the layers are kept on a concrete floor with litter covering. A nest should be provided at a corner in the pen for the birds to lay their eggs. These nests are supposed to be placed in the deep litter pen at about 2 weeks prior to the onset of lay to help the birds get used to the nest. The nest should be spacious, dark, cool and well ventilated.
There are some reservations on the use of this system, it has managerial advantages and disadvantages.
Birds kept under deep litter system are prone to cannibalism, feather and egg pecking. The eggs are usually stained, though are often cleaned. In addition, high contamination of feed and rapid spread of diseases among the flock are peculiar to this system when poorly managed.
However, raising layers on deep litter facilitates the management of large flock of birds under one roof, laying chickens have the ability to exhibit their innate behaviours, it enhances easy identification of sick and unproductive birds. Deep litter system is recommended for organic egg production. When constructing a deep litter poultry cage, the direction of wind and sunshine are usually considered.
The longest side of the pen should face the direction of the wind. In addition, the use of litter material is very important; wood shavings, groundnut husk, kenaf stem, etc. should be used. Avoid the use of sawdust in the deep litter system because of its tiny particles; it can cause respiratory disease and can as well blind the birds.
Learn more: 7 Keys To Raising Chickens In Deep Litter System Successfully
Keeping Laying Birds In Battery Cage System
The battery cage system is the common method used in commercial egg production; It is an intensive system whereby large laying birds are raised in a relatively small area of land.
In this system, laying birds are confined in cages. Each cage accommodates 2-4 birds depending on the size of the cage. This system saves labour and space as the battery cages are set up in tiers.
The battery cage system controls cannibalism and egg pecking as eggs stray away immediately after dropping; also, it controls infection of parasitic diseases and rapid spread of disease. However, it is expensive and birds get bored, thus, inducing cage fatigue and stress. This system requires effective management as the layers nutrient requirements have to be met, especially calcium, to ensure optimum production.
Learn more: 3 Simple Poultry House Designs For Smallholder Farmers (Pictures)
Layers Feeding Schedule
First thing is, the layers nutritional requirements, these have to be met. Feed layers in the right quality and quantity to ensure adequate production. Feeds are fed through the feeding trough; use the linear feeding trough in battery cage system or hanging feeding trough in deep litter system.
The linear feeder should not be filled more than one-third of the trough to avoid feed wastage; a hanging feeder of about 50cm diameter can accommodate about 20-25kg of feed for 100 layers. Layers diet is fed at about 20 weeks, they are usually high in calcium (3%); the feeds should be of larger particles. Feeding should be done during the cool hours of the day.
Water should be provided at all times, it is essential for egg production. Starving the birds with water is very detrimental as it can decrease the productivity of laying birds greatly. Addition of vitamins, probiotics, and electrolyte in drinking water helps to mitigate the menace of heat stress. Coconut water is a natural electrolyte.
Learn more: 5 Poultry House Construction Guidelines In Different Environment
Light Management For Laying Birds
Aside from feeding, another parameter that should be managed optimally is the length of daylight per day.
Lightening stimulates egg production; daylight length should be increased gradually as the pullets come into egg production. Artificial light in form of the florescent bulb should be used to lengthen the daylight.
Daylight of 16 hours per day should be activated at the beginning of egg production to ensure optimum production. After 6 months of production, the daylight should be increased to 17 hours per day.
Pest And Disease Control In Layers Pen
The issue of pest and diseases need serious attention; adequate preventive measures have to be put in place to mitigate these threats. The primary pests of layers are lice and worm; they make the birds uncomfortable, thus, reducing productivity.
Layers should be dewormed once every 3 months. Antibiotics and vitamins should be given through drinking water at least every 3 days to boost the birds’ immunity. The feeders and drinkers should be cleaned every week to prevent the emergence of pathogens. Biosecurity in poultry is another effective way to prevent the incidence of pest and diseases.
Lastly, heat stress is another great threat to poultry production; to ensure successful farming experience, serious measures have to be adopted to curb the effects of heat stress.
Learn more: How To Manage Heat Stress In Poultry Birds
Generally, follow these instructions to manage your laying birds for better egg production.
- Provide clean and cool water at all times; if possible ice should be crushed in the water.
- Plant shade trees around the poultry house to enhance good ventilation.
- Change litters every week.
- Provide artificial light during the early hours of the day so that birds eat and drink more during the cooler hours of the day.
- Provide lots of soluble grits to enhance calcium intake, thus, reducing cracked or soft-shelled eggs.
On a final note, this vaccination schedule and other routine medications must be strictly adhered to. In egg production, focus more on the health of the layers and not to increase the number of eggs they produce; when the birds are healthy, they lay more and better.
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