Whether a pullet rearer or introducing young birds into lay, getting hens off to a good start is essential to a healthy, productive flock. Avivet’s William Garton offers some pointers.
Getting pullet flocks to the correct, uniform weight, with a robust immune system before laying starts is fundamental to achieving higher egg numbers and better shell quality, according to poultry vet William Garton.
Dr Garton, a dedicated poultry and game bird vet with Avivets, says the process of introducing day-old chicks or transferring point-of-lay pullets, begins while the previous flock is still in place.
“Looking at the previous flock’s health record as it comes to depopulating, will focus attention on what the growth profile for chicks or egg production for layers, has been,” he says. With this knowledge, and identification of any other issues which have been problematic, better preparation can be made for the new flock.
Cleaning and disinfection
This task should be viewed, not as the last phase of the previous flock, but as preparation for the next one, says Dr Garton.
The cleaning and disinfection regime can then be devised to ensure the main problems are tackled and there is no carry over to the next flock.
It is essential to get advice on how various products work to meet a unit’s specific needs.
For example if coccidiosis has been a problem it is important to use a coccidiocidal product that will help penetrate the tough oocyst and break it down.
The downtime between flocks can also be used to assess water quality.
Pipelines should be tested for bacteria-harbouring biofilms and cleaned.
Water which is acidic can help to reduce harmful bacteria populations in the hen’s gut. Setting up a system that introduces organic acids to create a pH level of between 3.5-4 can improve gut health and overall performance.
However, organic acids and other water sanitisers can make water bitter if they are included at too high a dose rate.
“We know that hens don’t like bitterness and so this could depress consumption,” Dr Garton says.
Another issue that could reduce intakes is water temperature. Hens prefer water to be cooler than their body temperature. Colder water also helps to reduce biofilm development. It may be possible to introduce a cooling system or insulation particularly if the house is new.
Bird choice, whether for a brand new unit or an established set up, should be matched to the specific conditions of the farm and the system it operates.
It is worth talking to several genetic companies and comparing types before making the final choice. Some breeds are hardier while others are known for outright yield.
And, as outdoor units have grown, demand has increased for calmer strains that are less likely to show aggressive characteristics in larger groups.
If buying in pullets between 14 and 18 weeks, the housing temperature should be between 21°C to 25°C. Depending on the empty house temperature there may be a need to provide extra heating to minimise any stress. However, this should be monitored closely, particularly during the summer because the introduction of a large body mass will cause the temperature to rise and it could quickly exceed a safe level.
For day-old chicks the house temperature should be at 36-37°C on the day of arrival. After that the temperature should be reduced by daily increments to reach 21°C at about 7 to 8 weeks.
“The chicks should distribute themselves evenly throughout the house. If they are huddled, they are too cold and if they are at the edges they are too warm,” Dr Garton explains.
“Temperature should be adjusted accordingly and monitored. Any other distribution may indicate draughts and this should be addressed or the birds will become stressed,” he says.
Cleaning and Disinfection
Before C&D remove all manure, feed and litter;
Pressure wash from ceiling down using detergent to remove all organic
Allow drying period;
Spray or foam with disinfectant advised by consultant, vet or supplier;
Apply formalin through fogger;
Use tests to establish cleanliness of surfaces.