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Layers 2013 Part 1: Reference of Health and Management Practices on Table-Egg Farms in the United States, 2013

29 July 2014


An overview of egg flock management in the US, based on a detailed survey of 328 farms with at least 3,000 birds across 19 states by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The results reflect the small but growing free-range and organic production sectors. Average mortality to 60 weeks of age was 5.2 per cent.

USDA APHIS

The Layers 2013 study questionnaire was administered to table-egg farms with 3,000 or more laying hens that had registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in compliance with the FDA egg safety rule.

This study was conducted to describe management practices on table-egg farms and, in particular, practices relevant to the control and prevention of Salmonella serotype Enteritidis on these farms.

Alternative Egg Production Systems

Cage-free and organic egg production are growing trends in the United States.

The percentage of farms with any cage-free housing ranged from 37.1 per cent of farms in the Southeast region to 55.6 per cent in the Central region. Cage-free housing accounted for 22.3 per cent of all layer houses. Overall, 27.6 per cent of farms had at least one certified organic house, accounting for 12.6 per cent of all houses.

The percentage of farms that were certified as organic ranged from 20.1 per cent in the Southeast region to 37.0 per cent in the Central region. Nearly two-thirds of small farms (fewer than 30,000 laying hens) were certified organic compared with less than two per cent of large farms (100,000 or more laying hens).

Manure Handling

The highest percentage of farms in the Northeast and Southeast regions used high-rise housing (pit at ground level with house above) to handle manure. Of farms in the Central region, the highest percentage used raised slats over the floor to handle manure, while farms in the West region used a variety of manure-handling methods.

The majority of medium (30,000 to 99,999 laying hens) and large (100,000 or more laying hens) farms used high-rise housing as their primary manure-handling method (61.1 and 62.0 per cent of farms, respectively), while the majority of small farms used raised slats over floor (62.9 per cent of farms).

Moulting

Overall, 37.1 per cent of farms routinely moulted their flocks. The percentage of farms that routinely moulted their flocks increased as farm size increased.

The percentage of farms that routinely moulted flocks ranged from 25.6 per cent in the Central region to 67.4 per cent in the West region.

When farms did moult flocks, the most common procedure was to feed an alternative diet rather than restrict or withhold feed.

Bird Health and Mortality

A small percentage of farms (10.5 per cent) administered antibiotics to birds during the laying cycle. A lower percentage of small farms than large farms administered antibiotics (4.2 and 16.1 per cent, respectively). When antibiotics were given to laying hens, the highest percentage of farms used bacitracin methylene disalicylate (BMD) and chlortetracycline. For farms that gave antibiotics to laying hens, 74.8 per cent gave antibiotics for disease treatment, and the antibiotics were usually administered in the feed.

About three out of 10 farms had problems with E. coli peritonitis in the last completed flock although the problems were generally mild.

Overall, 13.0 per cent of farms had problems with focal duodenal necrosis (FDN). Problems with FDN were not observed in the West region.

Overall, 5.2 per cent of hens in the last completed flock died by 60 weeks of age, and a total of 10.1 per cent died, regardless of age. About half of farms (49.0 per cent) had a 60-week mortality of less than four per cent. Sixty-week mortality did not vary substantially by farm size.

Egg Production, Handling and Markets

Overall, 29.9 per cent of farms produced 90 or more eggs per 100 hens per day during May 2013. The percentage of farms that produced 90 or more eggs per 100 hens per day ranged from 7.7 per cent in the Southeast region to 42.3 per cent in the Northeast region. A lower percentage of large farms (12.6 per cent) produced 90 or more eggs per 100 hens per day compared with small and medium farms (41.7 and 45.1 per cent, respectively).

About one of four farms in the Central region (22.6 per cent) produced eggs for breaking (or hard cooking) only compared with less than 10 per cent of farms in the other regions. These farms are only subject to the refrigeration requirements of the FDA egg safety rule and are not required to test for Salmonella Enteritidis.

Over half of eggs produced in the Central region (58.6 per cent) were for breaking, whereas the vast majority of eggs produced in the other regions were for table use. Less than one per cent of eggs produced on small farms were for breaking compared with over 20 per cent of eggs on medium and large farms (21.0 and 29.8 per cent, respectively).

About one of five small farms gathered eggs by hand, whereas nearly all large farms gathered eggs by belt with automated packing. Hand-gathering accounted for less than one per cent of eggs produced during May 2013.

The percentage of farms that processed eggs on-farm ranged from 16.4 per cent in the Northeast region to 42.2 per cent in the Southeast region.

The majority of large farms processed eggs on-farm (61.8 per cent), whereas nearly all small and medium farms processed eggs off-farm. About four out of 10 farms that processed eggs on-farm also processed eggs from other farms (side loading). Overall, about one of four farms processed eggs on-farm.

Biosecurity Measures and Standards

Over 75 per cent of farms required employees and crews to use footbaths (77.8 and 83.6 per cent, respectively). A higher percentage of farms required crews to change boots and clothing than required employees to do the same. The majority of farms did not allow employees and crews to own poultry or birds. The majority of farms required employees or crews to avoid other poultry for at least 24 hours before coming on the farm.

Mice were the biggest ongoing rodent problem on 62.0 per cent of farms, and rats were the biggest rodent problem on 8.3 per cent of farms; 29.7 per cent of farms had no problem with rodents.

When farms had rodent problems, they usually ranked the problems as low (minor impact on building or feed efficiency). The percentage of farms with any problem with mice (low, moderate, or high) ranged from 44.4 per cent in the West region to 82.0 per cent in the Southeast region. The percentage of farms with any problem with rats (low, moderate, or high) ranged from 18.2 per cent in the Northeast region to 57.1 per cent in the Southeast region. The severity of rodent problems did not vary substantially by farm size.

Nearly all farms monitored rodents using a rodent index as part of their rodent control programme. About nine of 10 farms typically had a rodent index of 0 to 10 (low) during the previous 12 months. No farm’s rodent index exceeded 26 or more (high).

Layer houses were empty of birds between flocks for 20.6 days, on average. More than 80 per cent of farms emptied feeders and feed hoppers; flushed water lines; dry cleaned cages, walls, or ceilings; and cleaned fans, ventilation systems, or cool cells after every flock.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

July 2014



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