The Ranger magazine takes free range egg producers back to basics
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In the hurly-burly of every day life where there are increased stresses, conflicting priorities and added distractions, it is easy to become ’side tracked’. We sometimes forget what once we knew and did. Often, the performance of the first flocks on a farm outperforms the ones that follow. It is good at these times to remind ourselves of the reasons why this should be. Although the disease and parasitic status is likely to be at its best during the life of the first flock, perhaps we may in time become less vigilant. The initial flush of enthusiasm sometimes wanes.
Maybe we then overlook some of the basic things that lead to a successful outcome, because there is a danger of management sometimes tending to become a bit apathetic. So lets remind ourselves of some of the factors that lead to success.
Having chosen the breed that is capable of producing the performance and size of eggs that you require, liaise with your pullet rearer. In practice this means visiting the rearing farm.
√ Is the house light proof? Look for light leakage into the house from air inlets and fan shafts.
√ What are the lighting and vaccination programmes? Will the light intensity be increased during the last 2 – 3 weeks on the rearing farm? Do you know the on and off times of the lighting on the rearing farm, so that when they come to you, the pullets are used to knowing when ’bedtime’ is coming? Giving them a shorter daylength than they were receiving on the pullet-rearing farm would be really detrimental to their performance.
√ What was the liveweight profile during the rearing period? In particular, were they up to the breeders’ liveweight specification during the 5 – 9 week period? Are the liveweights even with 80% or more falling within the ± 10% of the mean ranges?
√ Are the pullets trained to become used to perching? Are there enough perches in the rearing house?
√ Are you sure that an all in all out policy is carried out on the rearing farm?
√ What were the environmental conditions in the rearing house? Did you sense that ammonia was well controlled and that there was no evidence of pullets with cloudy eyes (ammonia blindness)?
√ Was the litter condition good with no evidence in the pullets of ’burnt’ feet (pododermatitis)?
√ Have the pullets been wormed before you receive them? Worming when about 14 weeks old is advisable.
√ Is the equipment on the rearing farm compatible with your laying farm? For example, if you are using nipple drinkers, have you checked that the rearer has not been using bell drinkers?
√ Have you ensured that the pullets have been fed mash, rather than crumbs, prior to their delivery to you? If they were on crumbs, look carefully at the liveweights to see if it was an attempt to boost the liveweight where it had not been up to the breeders’ specification.
If you think that the above list seems a bit pedantic, it isn’t! Success on your laying farm is to a large extent dependent on the quality of the pullets that you receive. They are expensive, so be sure to go and see them and ask pertinent questions.
Welcoming the pullets
The ’turn round’ time is one where hygienic vigilance are the key words. The routine should include:
√ Initial cleaning and blowing down the dust, followed by spraying all areas with an insecticide so as to discourage insects migrating into the fabric of the house.
√ Removing as much equipment as is practicable to a concrete area, ready for cleaning and disinfection.
√ Baiting any mice or rats.
√ Removing all litter and manure
√ Spraying with a detergent followed by vigilant cleaning and disinfection with an approved disinfectant on the Lion Code list. Don’t forget to empty, flush out and sanitise the water system. Likewise the interior of the bulk feed bins should be cleaned and an insecticide with a residual action should be used. In addition, use a disinfectant that is capable of killing the worm eggs and coccidial oocysts in the house (which can be hard to kill i.e. they are resistant to some disinfectants).
√ This is the moment to instigate an attack on red mite. Before the equipment is re-installed, there are a number of suggestions on how best to use a red mite killer, where the cracks and crevices between and in the equipment are occurring. Seek advice from your supplier / adviser. Likewise, if you have any suspicions that there are mice in the house put down bait again.
√ Don’t forget to chain harrow the external range area, especially that near to the house. Sunlight kills worm eggs. You could try using preparations that are claimed to sanitise the range area too. It is certain that if the previous flock had worms, the next flock will ingest the eggs from the range area and therefore become infested too.
√ Having re-installed the equipment, check that it all works, including the drinking system. Order the first feed delivery.
√ Having done all of this, take a holiday!
√ Weigh the new pullets when they come and check with the rearer’s liveweight records, then follow the breeder’s guidelines on when to start increasing their daylength (normally at 1.475 – 1.5kg if evenness is good). Continue to weigh them weekly until after a good peak to production has been established for several weeks. If their liveweight sags, suspect that their nutrient intake is too low to cope with peak production and an increasing egg weight.
√ Take blood samples. Many vets will store them so that the titres can be used as a ’base level’ check, in the event of problems during the laying period.
This is a stressful period both for the hens and the producer.
√ Get the hens used to you by walking amongst them. Observe their health and behaviour and if they are flighty, discuss what may be the cause with your rearer.
When they start laying on the floor instead of in the nests, pick up those eggs as frequently as possible and try putting the hens in the nest boxes manually. Time spent in the mornings in the house from about 20 to 25 weeks is time well spent.
√ It is easy to forget something vital in the daily routine. A good idea is to think of a mnemonic (e.g. Richard Of York Gains Battles In Vain, for the colours of the rainbow). Assuming that the main things to check are the: Hens, Environment, Water, Feed, Nests, Clocks, Health can you make one up? One is told that the easiest mnemonics to remember have a sexual innuendo, so how about:- His Enviable Weapon…….... Her Energy Wows………. oh dear, we had better stop there!! I leave it to you! The point here is that it is very easy to miss an essential management point. That can be very expensive and in addition, the welfare of the hens may be jeopardised. Try it.
√ Usually a two-hour daylength increase from 10 hours to 12 hours is possible as the first trigger, followed by an additional hour in the next two subsequent weeks, with half an hour increments thereafter up to a 16-hour maximum daylength. Check this with your breeder’s representative though. It would not be wise for one of the available breeds.
√ As far as nutrition is concerned, here too it is wise to check what your breed requires. There are definite genetic differences between strains that have implications on their nutrition. The main point is to ensure that the nutrient intake is high enough for the hens to be able to reach and sustain a good peak. After this,
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