UK – Speaking at last month’s British Pig & Poultry Fair, Bob Waller, a consultant from Partners in Welfare, said that a bit of attention to detail could be the difference between profit and loss.
His sentiments were similar to one of the other speakers at the event's Forum, Daniel Dring, who also emphasised the importance of attention to detail in the poultry meat sector.
Early stages in a flock's life are crucial
Mr Waller outlined some measures egg producers could use to improve performance.
The first of these is before pullets arrive: preparing the house and making sure it meets the standards required if the farm is registered under a scheme such as RSPCA Assured. Mr Waller said making any changes after the pullets arrive will stress them and bring production down.
“To me, the next stage is the most critical – the first ten days,” Mr Waller said.
He said producers should walk the house every night during this time and put any birds on the floor onto the perches, as many of them will not be used to using perches in pullet units. “It really is worthwhile to spend a little extra, take on some extra staff, make sure this is getting done.”
House and range maintenance is also important, Mr Waller said. Dealing with wet litter or feed and water leaks when they are first spotted will prevent further deterioration and resource loss and prevent the vermin population from increasing.
On ranges, wet areas can develop, particularly during wet winters. Mr Waller advised marking the area, and putting a drain in once it has dried out, to prevent water pooling there again. “With all the avian influenza threats about, best to get rid of all the wet areas on your range.”
Mr Waller identified fitting a water meter, reading it daily and keeping records as a key measure to identify bird health issues before they get out of hand. “It’s your best early warning system,” he said. “If something’s going wrong, water consumption will be the first thing that shows up. Catching it early will save you a great deal of cost.”
When it comes to time for bird collection, make sure everything is done neatly to allow the start of the next flock to run smoothly, for example knowing where the lorries will go when picking up the birds.
Housing environment key to hen performance
The second speaker in the egg performance Forum talk was James Baxter, vice-chairman of the British Free Range Egg Producers Association.
Mr Baxter said that although some of his ideas to improve profitability on egg farms require significant investment, they create a good return on investment.
His main area of interest is the hen’s internal and external environment. “I believe that it’s certainly the key to gaining that extra performance from your flock,” he said.
Mr Baxter’s business is unusual in that houses are heated all year round, providing a constant temperature for his free-range hens. That improves health due to the stable environment and reduces feed costs, as the hens are able to use feed more efficiently.
Mr Baxter cited a consumer survey showing the most important factor in a hen’s life for free-range egg consumers is fresh air. “Everybody knows that fresh air to us humans improves our health, and it has an uplifting, feel-good factor, and our hens can also enjoy this effect.”
Whilst hens can have constant access to fresh air while out on the range, it is important to remember they still need fresh air whilst inside.
But Mr Baxter said the number one enemy of fresh air and good quality litter in free range poultry houses is the cold, especially at night. High humidity and stale, slow-moving air causes a build-up of ammonia and pathogens, he said.
“Research shows that 23°C is the optimum temperature for egg production. Lower humidity is better for the respiratory system of the hen. High CO2 and ammonia inhibit egg production.”
All these problems can be tackle by heating the hens, Mr Baxter said. “This can be achieved by pulling fresh air from outside the building and delivering it through a heat exchanger to hen level inside the shed.”
Mr Baxter advocated combining these measures with feeding a probiotic to the hens to achieve increases in profitability.
“Since I started heating my hens and feeding probiotic, I’ve not spent a single pound at the vets.”
Read more content from the British Pig and Poultry Fair: