12 Tips for Top Egg Production

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Autumn is here

As the leaves and temperatures fall and we head into the winter months most of our chooks will be going though the annual moult. Egg numbers will have dropped off dramatically or might have ceased. With the shortening of daylight hours the chook’s natural cycle recognizes that winter is approaching so she needs to stop laying to build up her reserves for spring. This is a perfectly natural thing to do. Most hens will spend nine months of the year laying and three months shedding and replacing their feathers. Both activities require large amounts of protein.
Laying an egg is a big job! Essentially an egg is protein wrapped in calcium. For nine months of the year the hen has done an awesome job producing us lovely, fresh eggs. Now she needs to concentrate on giving her body a rest and replenishing her reserves for the next laying season. During this time she will be shedding and replacing her feathers and building up the calcium reserves she has depleted in her bones over the past laying season. Making new feathers requires lots of protein and she will need quality feed to achieve it.

So remember to keep feeding your chooks a quality nutritionally balanced feed during the moult. We feed our chooks all year round on a nutritionally balanced complete feed which contains high levels of ruminant protein. Chooks are not vegetarians so make sure the feed you are feeding out has meat / bone meal, blood meal and tallow in it. Look on the labels of the feed you buy and check what the crude protein levels are and what type of protein it is. You might be surprised to find that some of the feeds out there have lower levels of crude protein in them and are vegetable based hence the lower prices. Soybean meal used in these vegetarian based proteins have low levels of the essential amino acids like lysine and methoinine which, if not substituted synthetically, will cause problems such as poor feathering, faulty eggs and low egg production. Cheap feed with the lower levels of crude protein, especially vegetable based proteins, will not give your hens what they need to be top producers.

12 tips for good health and premium egg production

1. Feed the best quality you can buy
Use a quality premium commercial feed which is nutritionally balanced to provide your hens with the correct levels of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamins and minerals each day. For best egg production we recommend the minimum crude protein to be 16% to 18%. Read the label!

2. Feed out the correct feed to the correct age
Make sure that you feed out the right type of feed to your chooks. Commercial poultry feeds are specifically designed for different ages and types of stock. Laying hens will do best on layers pellets not chick crumbles! Layer feed has higher levels of calcium than chick starter feed (it can also contain a coccidiostat) so if ground up and feed to young chicks (younger than 16 weeks) the excess calcium cannot be readily excreted causing chronic kidney damage. Feeding chooks the incorrect feed will impact on their laying ability.

3. Feed out ad lib.
Give your birds access to feed all day as they eat little and often throughout the day. Your birds will not gorge themselves. They are pretty sensible and eat what they need then move away from the feeder. The need to eat is controlled by their requirement for protein and energy. The more concentrated in protein and energy the feed is the less the birds tend to eat.

4. Feed efficiently
Invest in an automatic step-on feeder which will keep the feed secure, dry and most of all free from being contaminated by sparrows, rats and mice. (We have some great models in stock.) This allows all hens at different levels in the pecking order to get enough feed to meet their laying requirements during the day. Sparrows and other wild birds can have a big impact on the health of your chooks. They not only eat and spoil the chicken feed but they bring with them disease, lice and mites.

5. Feed out the correct ratios
If using a commercial feed this should make up 90% of their diet and be a complete feed. Maize and wheat should only be fed out as a treat or a scratch feed. No more than 5g to 10g per bird per day. Please note, if additional grains (such as corn or wheat) are fed with the complete feed, then the amount of methionine consumed by the bird can be inadequate for providing growth and feather development. Feeding of additional grains with complete poultry feeds is not recommended. We recommend not mixing maize or wheat in with the pellets in the feeder. Birds tend to pick out and fill up on the treat feed first. Use only as a treat feed and scatter on the shavings in the hen house so they turn it over preferably in the late afternoon.

6. Limit the kitchen scraps
Don’t feed out too much in kitchen scraps. Always best in the late afternoon when the chooks have eaten their balanced pellet diet. Be sensible and selective in what you feed out. Never feed out spoiled or rotten food. Just small quantities, as much as they can clean up in 10 minutes, otherwise you might as well send out an invitation to the mice!

7. Treat your birds with greens
Grow a patch of silverbeet for your chooks and feed out the outer leaves to your penned birds so they can enjoy having some greens regularly. Chooks also love nasturtiums, clover, chickweed and turnips. Avoid feeding out mowed grass as this can cause crop bind.

8. Supplement with grit
Commercial feeds should have the correct levels of soluble calcium in them to meet a laying hens needs. Providing some fine poultry shellgrit separately out in the run is also a good idea (especially if they are not free range) as the grit also aids with digestion.

9. Feed out pellets over mash
We recommend feeding out pellets over mash. Pellets are a complete ration in a peck unlike mash which is fine and powdery and wasteful at the best of times. When eating pellets chooks will peck at each pellet which will contain all of what they need to be top layers. When eating mash birds will often peck out the larger bits of grain and leave the dust to blow away. That dust will often contain many of the essential vitamins, amino acids and calcium all important for good production. Also the heat treatment during the pelleting process will have killed most bacteria present (eg: salmonella).

10. Remember fresh is best
Make sure the feed you buy is FRESH and not old stock. Commercial poultry feed has a shelf life of about 12 weeks. We recommend buying a bag at a time. A laying hen on average needs app. 120 to 140g a day …so 4 brown shaver hens on commercial feed should go through a 25kg bag of pellets in app. 7 weeks. Chooks love fresh pellets and not stale ones.

11. Fresh, clean water daily
And LOTS of it! Chooks drink twice as much as they eat by weight. So if your laying hen eats 120g of feed a day she will drink app. 240mls of water and even more on a hot day. Chooks drink little and often so make sure your girls have continuous access to fresh, clean water. Deprive a hen of water and it will impact on her egg production. A laying hen drinks twice as much as a non-laying hen. Use a purpose-made drinker that keeps the water, fresh and clean.

12. Same routine, same feed
Chooks like routine so don’t chop and change their diet. Stick with a quality, reliable brand and preferably a premium pellet. Here at Appletons we use and recommend Westons Peak Layer Pellets for your laying hens if you are South Island based and the Sharpes Hi Lay Pellets are available on the North Island. Both these brands contain animal protein in their poultry feeds.

So to sum it up: feed your birds the best you can!

Feed them the best feed and keep them in good health and they will lay well for you. It is a false economy to think that buying cheap feed, or just feeding out kitchen scraps or grains or leaving your chooks to forage will be sufficient to provide you with lots of lovely fresh eggs.

Fionna and Gordon Appleton
Appletons Hen Houses and Poultry Supplies