US - What is best for your flock and how can you help them produce the best eggs for your family? A poultry expert from Purina Animal Nutrition shares their insights.
Raising a backyard flock should be fun. You provide your hens shelter, care and quality feeds. They provide you nutritious eggs and undeniable companionship.
But what is best for your flock and how can you help them produce the best eggs for your family?
Dr Mikelle Roeder, a flock nutrition expert for Purina Animal Nutrition, says a quality hen care plan should include a thought-out management strategy and a complete nutrition programme.
Here are three of Dr Roeder’s tips for a successful laying season.
1. Provide at least 90 per cent of the diet through a complete high-quality layer feed, starting at 18 weeks of age.
"Laying eggs is a full-time job for our hens, so we need to provide them the nutrients they need to be most successful," says Dr Roeder.
"The number one tool we can give them is a complete and balanced diet when they begin to lay eggs around 18 weeks of age.
"Hens can produce more nutritious eggs when fed a premium feed, so feeding them well can result in better nutrition for both them and your family."
Complete layer feeds are formulated to include all of the nutrients hens require while laying eggs.
The diet should include: calcium for strong shells; amino acids, vitamins and minerals for enhanced egg quality and hen health; and probiotics, prebiotics and yeast to promote the hen’s digestive function.
The complete layer feed should comprise at least 90 per cent of the hen’s diet. The remaining 10 per cent can come from supplemental feeds, such as scratch grains, good quality table scraps and oyster shells.
"We don’t want to feed too much ‘extra’ feed, like scratch grains or table scraps, because it can dilute and unbalance the complete nutrition in the hen‘s pellets or crumbles, affecting her production and health," Dr Roeder says.
2. Prevent shell cracks by gathering eggs two-three times per day
Once hens begin laying eggs, be sure to gather eggs at least in the morning and in the evening.
This helps to keep the eggs cleaner and reduces chances for eggs to get cracked by hen traffic in the nests.
"Egg cracks can allow bacteria access to the interior of the egg," says Dr Roeder, explaining that not all shell cracks are visible to the naked eye.
"Microscopic cracks and large cracks can be a result of an inadequate diet and infrequent egg gathering.
"We have found that feeding a complete layer feed can improve shell strength, helping to address microscopic shell cracks and keeping bacteria from entering the egg."
"Gather eggs two-three times per day," Dr Roeder advises. “This helps prevent eggs from getting stepped on and thereby cracked or broken, which can lead to egg eating.
"Egg eating generally occurs when a hen finds a broken egg, tastes it, likes it and begins searching for other broken eggs, then learns to break them herself. Address egg eating by feeding our hens for strong shells and gathering eggs frequently."
3. Provide light for at least 17 hours per day
Light is a critical ingredient in egg laying. One primary reason hens may stop laying eggs is decreasing day length.
"Hens need a minimum of 17 hours of daylight to sustain strong production," Dr Roeder says.
"Without supplemental light, they will naturally stop laying eggs when daylight drops below 12 hours per day due to a hormonal response in the hen that is triggered by light."
To address this problematic hormonal response and promote long-term egg production, provide one incandescent 40-watt or LED nine to 13-watt bulb (brighter light is neither necessary nor advantageous) per 100 square feet of coop space.
Use an automatic timer to keep light and dark hours consistent so hens stay on a laying and sleeping schedule.
"As with nutrition and management, consistency is key when providing light to our hens," Dr Roeder says. "Just a day or two of change in any of these factors can hinder egg production."
To learn more flock nutrition and management tips, visit www.purinamills.com/chicken-feed or like Purina Poultry on Facebook.ThePoultrySite News Desk